Can Stars’ hiring of DeBoer lead to another quick turnaround?
There always seems to be an NHL head coaching job waiting for Peter DeBoer.
“Pete brings a wealth of experience to our dressing room, and we’re thrilled to name him our next head coach,” said Stars general manager Jim Nill. “Every team that he has taken over has not only shown immediate improvement but has been ultra-competitive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has taken five teams to the Conference Finals, and two of those to the Stanley Cup Final, in his 14 years as a head coach. His resume displays the high standards he sets and his ability to get his team to play up to that level consistently. We’re excited to welcome Pete and his family to Dallas.”
This will be DeBoer’s fifth different NHL head coaching job since the 2008-09 season as he has previously coached the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, San Jose Sharks, and Vegas Golden Knights. He was fired by the Golden Knights in May after the team missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Less than a month later, he’s back in a job.
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There are a couple of different ways to look at this.
The first is that the NHL’s head coaching recycling plant is in perfect operation. Teams seem to be more resistant to unknown commodities behind their bench than any of the other major North American sports, as teams always tend to go for the devil they know versus the one they don’t. DeBoer is seemingly Exhibit A for that process, as four previous teams have fired him only to have another almost instantly scoop him up. For a coach that has only once stuck with a team for more than four full seasons only once and missed the playoffs in half of his seasons as a head coach, that is certainly eye opening and speaks to the lack of creativity and original thought front offices around the league.
That is the cynical and negative approach.
The optimistic approach is that whatever flaws DeBoer might have as a coach, his teams -- generally -- perform very well. Especially early in his tenure.
[Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]
While he has missed the playoffs in half of his full seasons as head coach, he has also reached the conference finals five different times in 14 years with three different teams (New Jersey, San Jose, Vegas). That includes two trips to the Stanley Cup Final with two different teams (New Jersey and San Jose).
In each of his past three stops as a head coach his teams have reached the conference finals in his first year, including the two aforementioned Stanley Cup Final years. In each of those years the Cup Final team missed the playoffs entirely in the previous year.
There are a lot of NHL head coaches right now who do not have that sort of resume and track record. Given that, you can kind of understand why the Stars would want someone with a track record of success and quick turnarounds to be behind their bench. Especially the general manager, in this case Nill, who is entering the final year of his contract.
The question is whether that trend can repeat itself in Dallas.
The Stars have a lot of pieces in place that should make them a competitive team in very short order.
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Their top line of Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz is one of the NHL’s best. Tyler Seguin can still be a very good player. Jake Oettinger took a star turn in the playoffs and has the look of a franchise goalie. Even though they might lose John Klingberg in free agency, it is still a very good defensive team. And that is one area where DeBoer’s teams tend to do well. In every stop his teams have been very strong in possession that do a good job suppressing chances. His teams average a top-10 finish in terms of expected goals against during 5-on-5 play, and have finished in the top-seven five different teams, including three times at the absolute top of the league.
If nothing else DeBoer shows the difficulty of properly evaluating head coaching in the NHL.
There is a reason he has a relatively short shelf life with teams and keeps getting replaced. Most recently, his Vegas tenure was not without its flaws (particularly as it relates to handling the goaltending situation with Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner, and then the issues with Lehner at the end of the 2021-22 regular season) and even with the injury situation the dealt with it had no excuse for actually missing the playoffs.
But his track record as a head coach is still very good with a pretty significant amount of postseason success. There is a lot to question here. There is also a lot to like. No matter which way it goes over the next few years there will probably another team ready to hire him if and when the Stars go in a different direction.