New Coach Could be Right Fit…
In just a few hours the San Jose Sharks are set to officially introduce Peter DeBoer as their next head coach. The 46-year-old veteran has been a head coach twice previously in the NHL, most recently with the New Jersey Devils. DeBoer is known for being more of a disciplinarian but also for puck possession prowess. With that in mind, hiring DeBoer does make sense in terms of replacing a “players coach” in Todd McLellan.
GM Doug Wilson could have made a far worse choice for McLellan’s replacement. Among the candidates were apparently Randy Carlyle and Adam Oates, who had poor reputations at their last jobs. DeBoer meanwhile comes with a strong reputation from taking the Devils to the Stanley Cup final back in 2012. Can’t really blame DeBoer for the Devils’ recent struggles when they lost their best two forwards in Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk to free agency and the KHL.
…But Sharks Still Have the Same Problems
While it is difficult to criticize the Deboer hire, it is likewise hard to praise the move. While yours truly was not a fan of Todd McLellan, the recently departed head coach was far from the main problem this past season. The debate over where to play Brent Burns blew up because Wilson decided to move him from a position he dominated, to one where we struggled away from the puck. The entire captaincy issue, stripping Thornton of the C and then not telling him about it was all on Wilson. Then there was the dust up over the captaincy issue in March when Wilson criticized Thornton’s ability to handle stress as captain in a talk with season ticket holders. Those comments from Wilson sparked Thornton’s “Doug needs to shut his mouth” response. It would have been oh so simple to have left Burns at forward and the captaincy with Thornton. The Sharks’ playoff streak likely would still be alive had Wilson just left well enough alone.
Unfortunately Wilson overreacted to the 2014 loss to the Kings. The two big changes regarding Burns and Thornton backfired big time. Plus Wilson failed to make smart changes in the three most problematic areas of the team. As team owner Hasso Plattner noted recently, the team needs a better fourth line and a couple more (read better) defensemen. I’ll add in better goaltending to round out the three areas. Yet the Sharks have needed a better fourth (and often a better third) line, better defense, and better goaltending for the last 3-4 years now. It is the same old story, the same old problems aren’t getting addressed in terms of the on ice personnel. DeBoer might be the right coach to change the message up behind the bench but he can’t go out there and skate fourth line minutes. He can’t go out there and stop 92% of the pucks shot on net from the opposition. He can’t make the appropriate D-to-D reverse pass.
McLellan was coach for seven years and it was time for a change. Most NHL coaches don’t last that long without winning a Stanley Cup. Heck, Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma won a Stanley Cup but didn’t last as long with Pittsburgh as McLellan did with the Sharks.
At this point in time DeBoer might be the right guy for the Sharks, but that doesn’t mean he is any better than McLellan or Ron Wilson before him. If the Sharks are going to turn their fortunes around and win a Stanley Cup in the next few seasons, it won’t be because of the head coach. They will win because they will have finally addressed their three most prominent personnel weaknesses.