In 2003, the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League captured the coveted Memorial Cup after besting not only their own circuit, but the best teams from the West and Quebec as well (as the Memorial Cup works). The Rangers had their best season (46-14-5-3) since 1988 and finished first in the Midwest Division.
Head coach Peter DeBoer was pivotal in carrying the team to such a record and subsequent championship. DeBoer was in charge of teenage talents like Derek Roy, Greg Campbell, Andre Benoit, Steve Eminger and Mike Richards, all of whom went on to have considerable National Hockey League careers. DeBoer knew exactly what to do with them to make them successful on such a large stage.
Fast forward 13 years to the summer of 2015. DeBoer has run the bench for both the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils, each of which were relatively short tenures. In three seasons with the Florida Panthers he never made the playoffs once; in fact, his group held a .500 record in his first season only.
After being fired by the Panthers, DeBoer was hired on to coach a stingy New Jersey Devils club, known for boring hockey, low scoring and fantastic goaltending. Again, in his first season with the club, he was successful. He brought the team to the Stanley Cup Final, losing in six games to the Los Angeles Kings. His magic was beginning to show.
After the Stanley Cup loss, his Devils never regained their pizazz. The following two seasons saw the Devils miss the playoffs both years and just 36 games into the 2014-15 season, after a dismal start to the year, DeBoer was relieved of his duties. Not a stellar seven-year start to your NHL coaching career. It gets more interesting beneath the surface, though…
Components are everything for an NHL roster
What the Devils and Panthers had in common during DeBoer’s time coaching was this: 1) no commitment to bringing in offensive talent, 2) a lack of organizational… organization, and 3) a desire to just ‘get by’. Unlike his time with Kitchener in the OHL, neither Florida nor New Jersey hosted any significant talent that DeBoer could unleash on opposing squads.
Even in 2011-2012 when DeBoer directed New Jersey into the Stanley Cup Final and had players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and David Clarkson (the one we all used to know), it always felt a bit like an orphanage, where a few good players departed to either get paid, or because they had no other choice.
Enter San Jose. What DeBoer has sitting in front of him now is a highly skilled, fast, physical, veteran squad of players, flanked by some extremely promising young talent. Now DeBoer has players like Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto, Joel Ward and Tommy Wingels.; not to mention he’s got a top-notch defensive core to work with in Brent Burns, Paul Martin, M.E. Vlasic and Brendan Dillon. DeBoer hasn’t ever been given a fair shot at showing his NHL coaching abilities. Well Pete, now’s the time.
If DeBoer made New Jersey successful, even just once, he’ll thrive in San Jose
We can’t forget that DeBoer helped get a ragtag group of Devils into the Stanley Cup Finals. That was done with precise coaching. Even though his pieces were limited, DeBoer was able to showcase his versatility as a coach, something that surely caught Doug Wilson’s attention when previous San Jose head coach Todd McLellan was let go back in May.
The time has come, San Jose, to not fear the future of the club after releasing the winningest coach in its history, or after saying goodbye to a franchise goaltender. The time is now to rejoice in the next chapter of Sharks victories, because let me be clear, with DeBoer behind the bench of a team that finally has pieces for him to play with, he is chomping at the bit to prove everyone wrong.
Welcome to the West, Pete.