After the San Jose Sharks picked up 11 wins and suffered only four losses throughout the entire month of November, it appeared as though coach Peter DeBoer’s job was safe, that he had navigated his team through rough early-season waters and was set to guide them back to post-season contention.
Alas, one five-game losing streak later and any amount of safety DeBoer had secured vanished. On Wednesday night, the Sharks announced that DeBoer, along with three members of his staff, had been let go, the bench boss fired less than halfway through his fifth season with the franchise.
As we noted earlier, it’s not as though the firing came as a surprise. A Tuesday loss to the Nashville Predators marked San Jose’s second five-game losing streak and third losing streak of at least three games this season, and with mid-season and the holiday break on the horizon, the Sharks woke up Wednesday morning several points out of a playoff spot with a perilously low points percentage and near league-worst goal differential. Add it all together and the case for DeBoer’s firing was fairly cut-and-dried.
Despite the way the Sharks played en route to DeBoer’s exit, though, he had his fair share of success across his four-plus season tenure in San Jose. In his first season, he led the Sharks to the Stanley Cup final and he proceeded to coach them to four consecutive playoff berths and six playoff series victories over that span. Add in the Sharks’ 430 points over the past four-plus seasons, the seventh-most in the NHL, and there’s a case to be made DeBoer was among the league’s most successful coaches over the back half of the past decade.
The long and short of it is that we likely haven’t seen the last of DeBoer behind an NHL bench, particularly not given the league’s propensity for recycling coaches who have a track record of success. But if he is going to step back into a big-league job in the future, where will it be?
Here’s a look five potential destinations:
Speaking Tuesday following the dismissal of coach Jim Montgomery, Stars GM Jim Nill indicated interim coach Rick Bowness was going to remain behind the bench for the foreseeable future. And, hey, maybe that’s still the case. It’s not as though Bowness is some newcomer with no experience. He’s been around the league in some coaching capacity for three-plus decades. Meanwhile, the promotion of AHL bench boss Derek Laxdal gives the former Texas Stars coach a chance to get his feet wet if he’s being groomed for an NHL role someday.
Now, with that in mind, if the Stars are looking for an experienced coach who has proven he can have success with a talented roster, look no further than DeBoer. He did wonders with plenty of high-end talent in San Jose, and if Dallas wants to play a more freewheeling style, DeBoer could be the go-to guy. The bonus? DeBoer’s relationship with Joe Pavelski and understanding of the former Sharks captain’s game might be exactly what’s needed to get the most out of the veteran. Pavelski is on pace for the worst output of his career. That he's on such pace during first season of a three-year, $21-million pact he signed with the Stars this past summer is concerning.
Detroit Red Wings
Is anyone still harboring any illusions that Jeff Blashill will remain behind the Red Wings bench beyond this season? Detroit has lost each of its past dozen games, 10 consecutive in regulation and, if they lose Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets, Detroit will have gone an entire month without a victory. The Red Wings are on the superhighway to top draft-lottery odds. As far as lame-duck coaches go, Blashill might be the lame-duckiest the NHL has seen in years. Chances are he knows it, too.
But what makes DeBoer a worthwhile replacement? Before arriving in the NHL, he was regarded as one of the best junior coaches in the game. His OHL record, which includes one CHL and two OHL coach of the year nods, speaks for itself, as does his OHL title, Memorial Cup victory and World Junior Championship gold medal. Why is that important? Well, it speaks to his ability to work with and develop young talent, of which the Red Wings will have a boatload in the near future. Finding a coach who can shape the up-and-comers into legitimate and productive NHLers will be essential to Detroit’s future success.
The Wild find themselves as a potential destination for all the reasons one would expect. With Bruce Boudreau’s contract set to expire, GM Bill Guerin can explore options to find a coach he thinks can guide the team forward. Of course, Minnesota’s recent success – they have points in 11 of their past 12, including seven victories – could alter Guerin's plans and it's possible he's seeing what Boudreau is doing with a roster that, frankly, shouldn’t be in post-season position and considering the prospect of re-upping the veteran coach before he hits the open market.
However, most are in agreement that what the Wild need is a reset or retooling or full-scale rebuild. That could mean Boudreau is out regardless of his results. Heck, it might even mean DeBoer isn’t considered for the gig if Guerin is aiming for a bottom-of-the-standings finish. That said, if you’re looking for an end-of-season opening, you might not need to look much further than Minnesota.
New Jersey Devils
OK, yes, this probably seem like a puzzling inclusion given DeBoer’s prior NHL gig before he landed with the Sharks was with the Devils. But there is precedent for a coach returning to a franchise from which he was fired not long ago. After nine seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, Paul Maurice was canned early in the 2003-04 campaign. He was back behind an NHL bench in 2006-07, spending the next two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and then he was scooped up by Carolina once again come the 2008-09 campaign. That’s four seasons between Maurice’s two stints behind the Hurricanes bench.
So, that at least opens the door for DeBoer in New Jersey, right? And it's worth pondering. He would be able to take some of his expertise with young players and his knowledge from several successful seasons in San Jose and apply it to a return to the Devils bench. The one concern, however, is whether his approach would help fix the woeful goaltending situation in New Jersey. We’ve seen the recent results with the Sharks. The Devils’ crease isn’t much better.
Seattle is going to be a fixture on any list of this ilk until they finally name a bench boss. But if the no-name expansion Seattle franchise is looking to land someone who has experience, a history of success in the regular season and playoffs and can work with some of the younger skaters in need of an opportunity that Seattle is sure to select through the expansion draft, DeBoer sure seems as though he can check all those boxes.
The thing about DeBoer’s candidacy for the job, too, is that he has no need to rush into anything right now. According to CapFriendly, the two-year extension he signed in July 2018, a deal that covered the current campaign and next season, will pay him $6 million. He has no reason to rush into his next job.
As for the Seattle gig, you can rest assured DeBoer, like any coach, would leap at the opportunity. It should be noted, as well, that DeBoer has history in a management position. He split time as coach and GM of the Plymouth Whalers and Kitchener Rangers during his years in the OHL. He’s seen the game from both sides and that could be valuable in Seattle.
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