TORONTO - A year ago, when Pat Burns was nearing the end of his life, an online Facebook push began to have the former coach inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
At the time, it seemed both the right thing and the populist thing to do.
But nowhere was there mention of the late Freddie Shero. Nowhere was that banner being carried in public, because it wasn’t necessarily emotional, wasn’t necessarily connected to our market, didn’t have any voices speaking on behalf of the championship years of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Burns passed away last fall just after the Hall inductors passed on him: When he is eventually rewarded, his family will represent him well. But a question to ask, this year and every year, is why not Shero, who died in the fall 21 years ago, some 10 years after he coached his last game in the National Hockey League?
Why not Freddie The Fog for the Hall of Fame?
A little bit of history: In the past three decades, the Hockey Hall of Fame has inducted a builder — and in some cases, two — in each and every year. Until this year. This year, they elected no one. No coaches. No general managers. No executives. No owners.
The reason: Oh, they don’t give reasons for that kind of thing. Everything they do is behind closed doors.
So we will supply our own reason. They didn’t induct Burns ostensibly because the optics of voting him in the year after he died — and the year after there was so much pressure to do the right thing — would not have looked right to the Hall committee. But why not Shero as a coach, in the builders’ category that is over-represented with general managers and under-represented by coaches, which just plays into the Hall’s reputation of being something of an old boys’ club?
Fred Shero was never a member of any club that would have him. He was his own man. He did things his own way, things that had never been done before in hockey history. And he has never been completely acknowledged for his success.
Keith Allen, the general manager of the Flyers’ two championship teams, is in the Hall. He was elected to the Hall of Fame 19 years ago. The coach who made it all possible remains on the outside looking in.
If Burns is the sure-thing Hall of Fame choice most of us believe him to be, then Shero should be there alongside of him. You can argue he should be there first. He won two Stanley Cups, Burns won one. He was a pioneer, the first NHL coach to employ an assistant coach, the first to make tangible use of video, one of the first to favour systems over free-flow play. Fast forward to today, where every NHL team has a bevy of assistant coaches, where every team uses video daily, where system play is basically the only play in hockey, and you see the lasting imprint Shero left on the game.
Those who argue against Shero talk about the Broad Street Bullies days and the violent way in which the Philadelphia teams won their two Stanley Cups. That can’t be downplayed but how does the Hall find Allen a builder, so much so for being the first expansion team to win the Cup and ignore the coach who made it all possible?
There is a general manager-coach disconnect in the builders’ section of the Hall. Allen is in, but none of his coaches are. Emile Francis is in, but none of his coaches. Same with Harry Sinden and Jimmy Devellano and Lou Lamoriello, all of them in the Hall, mostly for their managing. For whatever reasons, coaches have been overlooked, starting with Shero, pushing to Burns and you can include Mike Keenan on that list.
Like Burns, Keenan coached one Stanley Cup winner. Unlike Burns, Keenan won one coach of the year award, not the three Burns won. But Keenan won 672 games as an NHL coach, almost 300 more wins than Shero, 170 more wins than Burns. Each of them, Shero, Burns and Keenan have as much merit as many of the hockey builders, and moreso, than some of the general managers or executives already in the Hall.
But if the order is proper and respectful, Shero, whose son manages the Pittsburgh Penguins, should go in first, Burns second, Keenan third. In his career, Shero’s teams averaged 100 points a season, played for or won the Stanley Cup four times, missed the playoffs once. Of all the oversights of the normally friendly Hockey Hall, his exclusion might be the most blatant.