Peter DeBoer saw some tough luck in his first seven seasons of NHL coaching. After 13 stellar years of work in the OHL (including two Coach of the Year awards and a Memorial Cup win in 2003), DeBoer was viewed as the Next Big Coach to enter the NHL. But 7 seasons later and he has just one playoff appearance and only two 40+ win seasons to show for it. He was fired from his job in Florida in 2011 and was fired by New Jersey this past December.
The San Jose Sharks are in an awkward rebuild/win now mode where they have the star players and the talent to make up a good team but they also want to keep an eye on the future, especially with some of the recent issues their star players have been having.
When the Sharks announced the hiring of Pete DeBoer, it seemed like an odd fit. DeBoer’s not really the kind of coach you’d bring in for the early stages of a rebuild. And if you’re bringing in the formerly-highly-touted coach in order to win now, then, erm, well, he hasn’t really been a winner in the NHL to any extent.
But the thing about DeBoer is that he can’t be completely at fault for his NHL futility. He started out coaching an unimpressive Florida Panthers team that progressively got worse. With the Devils, he quickly lost a Zach Parise and an Ilya Kovalchuk and never really had any toys to play with there. And even with those weak teams, DeBoer still got a lot out of them, somehow making quality-possession teams out of relatively weak rosters. This post on Yahoo sports details how DeBoer’s bad fortunes can be chalked up to bad luck in the shootout, some suspect goaltending, and a cast of unimpressive players.
While I agree that DeBoer shouldn’t necessarily be faulted for his past failures, there were definitely areas where he could have used better judgement. And one of those areas, in particular, are certainly prevalent with his new job in San Jose.
San Jose’s Leadership Problem
After getting reverse-swept by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, one of the Sharks’ most interesting moves in the offseason was stripping Joe Thornton of his captaincy.
This, of course, led to an NHL version of Too Many Cooks where too many people focussed on the lack of clear leadership in the dressing room and it may have been a distraction for the team. The Sharks missed the playoffs this season for the first time in ten years and things came to a head when Joe Thornton got into it with team GM Doug Wilson. In a meeting with season ticket holders, Doug Wilson mentioned that the stress of being captain made Thornton lash out at people. When asked about his GM’s comment, Thornton said, “Doug needs to shut his mouth.”
Coach Todd McLellan was fired in the offseason and now one of the biggest question for the new coach going into next season is who the next team captain is going to be. And with all the turmoil from the end of the season with Joe Thornton, this should be a very interesting decision for Pete DeBoer.
DeBoer’s Leadership Problem
Selecting a captain can be a tough job for a coach to do. You need to have a high understanding of the character of your players, the feel of the locker room, and the direction of the team.
Pete DeBoer has struggled with that recently.
When Zach Parise signed with Minnesota Wild in the 2012 offseason, DeBoer had some decision-making to do. The Devils were coming off a shocking run to the Stanley Cup Final and now they were left without the heart and soul of that team and they needed to find a captain to replace Parise.
Fans were buzzing about who the newest captain was going to be. Candidates included David Clarkson, Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, and maybe one or two others.
Ultimately, the recently-re-signed Salvador was given the “C” to be the tenth captain in team history. The big defenceman was coming off an impressive playoff run with the team, getting 10 points in their 24 games, earning the 3 year, $3.167 contract he signed that summer.
Unfortunately, the captaincy hasn’t really worked out for either party. They’ve missed the playoffs in both seasons under Salvador’s tutelage.
Sure, Salvador was a big factor in the playoffs in 2012 but he wasn’t actually that effective. He finished with a CF% of just 49.2% and his point total could be attributed to his sky-high 103.5 PDO. Salvador also only has two seasons in his career in which he finished in the green in CF%, usually finishing around the 46% range. That isn’t very good.
Bryce Salvador has been playing some pretty bad hockey lately pic.twitter.com/WW3phH1SX7
— Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell) January 29, 2014
Everybody praised Salvador at the time for the way in which he’s a great guy and that he “leads by example”. But perhaps this 36-year-old, slow, bad-and-getting-worse defenceman wasn’t the best choice for captain.
The better choice would probably have been Ilya Kovalchuk who was A) signed until the sun exploded, B) the best offensive player on the team by a mile and a half, and C) would have been named captain of this team eventually anyway. And who knows. Maybe if Kovalchuk was given the “C” he wouldn’t have bailed for Mother Russia.
This year things completely fell apart for the Devils, leadership-wise, when Salvador finished his season just 15 games in because of a back injury. Without Salvador in the lineup, the Devils got to dress 3 alternate captains on a nightly basis. DeBoer couldn’t seem to make up his mind, though, on who he wanted to wear the “A” as he had different players wearing it every night. In all, seven different Devils played a game as an alternate captain this season. This instability with leadership created a Devils team which constantly appeared misguided and unenthusiastic.
Given DeBoer’s track record, his first task as the Sharks’ head coach might be the most crucial for him. One thing the Sharks need to do in order to get back into the postseason is to get some steady leadership back in the locker room and erase the distraction that was created without one. DeBoer has plenty of solid candidates to choose from and I’m sure he’ll think long and hard before making that decision.