Peter DeBoer

Sharks players laud Bob Boughner's performance as interim head coach

Sharks players laud Bob Boughner's performance as interim head coach

Being an interim head coach is never easy. The title itself implies something previously went wrong with someone at the top during the flow of a season, and that was certainly the case when Bob Boughner took over the Sharks on Dec. 11, 2019 after Pete DeBoer got sacked.

The once-mighty Sharks were floundering, in desperate need of an about-face the front office hoped radical change could provide. San Jose improved but not enough to make a real playoff push. The Sharks even failed to qualify for an expanded, 24-team playoff format designed to restart the NHL season after pausing it due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a long offseason ahead to sort out their issues.

Finding a head coach definitely is one, though after doing due diligence, it’s possible the Sharks simply lift the interim tag off Boughner’s title.

“We have time to build the staff that’s best going forward for this team,” San Jose general manager Doug Wilson told NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “Bob has certainly got the inside track. … We’re still in the middle of that process. We’ll be very thorough.”

Players don’t have the ultimate say in that decision, but they were impressed by what Boughner was able to do after taking DeBoer’s place.

“I don’t think he entered a very easy situation,” defenseman Erik Karlsson said Thursday in a video conference with local reporters. “He did the best he could with what he had. He clearly thought about what he needed to fix immediately, and also had a long-term plan even though his future was uncertain.

“I think he did the right thing for the team and the organization moving forward. I think he did everything he could to be the best coach he could be. I think we got a boost from [him], but I think we were a little bit too far gone to really be saved.”

The Sharks were 15-16-2 under DeBoer and 14-20-3 under Boughner, though the latter dealt with season-ending injuries to Karlsson and Tomas Hertl and played several weeks without captain Logan Couture.

Boughner helped improve a porous defense and held players accountable for poor play and missteps. Long-tenured defenseman Brent Burns was impressed by Boughner’s effort, seeing a change in his style after returning to the team following two seasons as head coach of the Florida Panthers.

“You could see there was a difference in him from being a head coach during the time he was in Florida, but he was still ‘Bougy,’” Burns said. “He has all those positive things that made him great as an assistant. He learned to be a head coach, so he evolved and became a bit more authoritative. He has the ability to interact with guys like he’s still a player. He’s a great communicator. He gets what’s going on and sees it, but at the end of the day, he has a little bit of that "fear of god" in him.

“I think he learned a lot from Pete, learning from a great coach. He was great before, but you could see he evolved and was better. The atmosphere he creates is good. That’s tough to say with how sh--ty everything was going, but he did a great job with where he was at and where we were at.”

[RELATED: Couture says Sharks have ambition to sustain long offseason]

Boughner already knew most of the longer-tenured Sharks, but also found a way to connect with younger players.

“I learned a lot from him,” defenseman Mario Ferraro said. “He held me accountable out there and gave me a lot of advice as a young player in the league. I like the way he coaches and, if I were to make a mistake, he’s going to be hard on me but show me a way I can improve with video and stuff in practice. The season was pretty hilly for me, and when I was on the downhill, he would try to pick me back up. It’s a privilege to play for him.”

Peter DeBoer calls Golden Knights, not Sharks, his most talented team

Peter DeBoer calls Golden Knights, not Sharks, his most talented team

That's one way to keep the rivalry alive while sports remain on pause.

Former Sharks coach Peter DeBoer already has declared the Vegas Golden Knights are the best team he has ever coached. 

"It's the most talented team I've had in my coaching career," DeBoer said on The Chirp with Darren Millard podcast. "It seems like a great combination of talent and character and leadership."

DeBoer was fired by the Sharks this season on Dec. 11 when San Jose was just 15-16-2. He was hired just over a month later by the Sharks' biggest rivals, the Golden Knights, on Jan. 15. Vegas started off 4-3-2 under DeBoer but then won eight straight and were 15-5-2 under him after the coaching change. 

The Golden Knights (39-24-8) were first in the Pacific Division when the NHL season was paused March 12 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 pandemic).

"I'm a big believer that everything that happens in hockey happens for a reason," DeBoer said. "One door closing, the way my career has gone, another door opens with a better opportunity. For me, as tough as it was to leave San Jose 33 games after going to the [Western Conference Final] the year before, the Vegas situation is an opportunity of a lifetime."

DeBoer coached the Sharks for four-plus seasons and had a 198-129-34 regular-season record. San Jose reached the playoffs every year under DeBoer and even made the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, his first year as the Sharks' head coach. 

[RELATED: Ex-Sharks coach DeBoer first felt 'uncomfortable' in Vegas]

The Sharks also had some epic matches with Vegas during DeBoer's tenure. San Jose pulled off an epic comeback to beat the Golden Knights in seven games last season in the first round of the playoffs.

"I got the Vegas job … and had to address a group of men who hated my guts for the last three years," DeBoer joked.

Why Peter DeBoer's Sharks-to-Golden Knights switch was 'uncomfortable'


Why Peter DeBoer's Sharks-to-Golden Knights switch was 'uncomfortable'

Editor's note: Relive the Sharks' epic Game 7 comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday, April 12 at 9 p.m. PT on NBC Sports California.

Peter DeBoer coached the team that completed the greatest comeback in NHL playoff history. Less than a year later, he was coaching the team that was on the wrong side of that history.

All Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights coaches, players and fans know the game in question. Trailing by three goals in the third period of Game 7 -- after trailing the series three games to one -- San Jose scored not one, not two, not three ... count 'em ... FOUR goals on a single major power-play to flip the game script on its head. The drama was only beginning, though. Jonathan Marchessault tied things up in the final minute of regulation, and then after nearly a full 20-minute overtime period, Barclay Goodrow received a pass from Erik Karlsson, broke into the offensive zone and played the hero, scoring one of the most memorable goals in Sharks franchise history.

Though the two teams had already considered themselves rivals, that legendary game cemented that status for a long time to come. The Sharks and Golden Knights can't stand each other, and that animosity extends to the fanbases.

Tonight, they'll all get a chance to relive the climax of their head-to-head history when "The Comeback" is re-aired on NBC Sports California at 9 p.m.

DeBoer will be behind the Sharks' bench for that broadcast, but he doesn't reside there any longer. After being fired by San Jose on Dec. 11, 2019, he wasn't out of a job for much more than a month, as the rival Golden Knights fired their former coach Gerard Gallant on Jan. 15, 2020 and replaced him with DeBoer.

If you can imagine what it would have been like for Gallant to replace DeBoer and walk into San Jose's locker room after the bad blood shared between the two teams, you get a pretty good idea of the situation DeBoer inherited in Vegas.

"I'll be honest with you. It was a little uncomfortable walking in," DeBoer said on the "ESPN On Ice With Wyshynski and Kaplan" podcast last week. "We had some epic battles with that group over the last three years, having played them in the playoffs twice. All the baggage. Some of the games we had in the regular season. So my first meeting with the group was a little uncomfortable."

"From a fan perspective," DeBoer added, "I got a lot of, 'boy I hated you when you coached in San Jose, but we're starting to get used to you.' So that's good."

Though it took some time for the Golden Knights to turn things around after the coaching change, they soon hit their stride with DeBoer at the helm and won 11 of their last 13 games before the season was indefinitely paused due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As DeBoer explained, "winning helps."

[RELATED: Sharks' Karlsson adjusting well to being stay-at-home dad]

The Sharks didn't experience quite the same turnaround following their coaching switch, but they still have a crucial element of the rivalry.

"Evander [Kane] was definitely Public Enemy No. 1," DeBoer said with a laugh. "I was No. 2."

As for who likely is No. 3, well, stick around for the end of the game tonight.