"At the end of the day, you need the players. I don't think he had that here, those guys you could lean on to get the job done." — Center Stephen Weiss(notes), after the Florida Panthers fired coach Peter DeBoer
New Jersey Devils President/GM/Ruler of All He Surveys Lou Lamoriello is a contrarian. On this, there can be no debate. So while the hockey world was focused on which coach with ties to the Montreal Canadiens — or who used to coach the Devils — Lamoriello would hire to fill the NHL's last vacancy, Lou had someone else in mind.
That would be Peter DeBoer, a 43-year-old coach with a losing NHL record (103-107-36) over three seasons, who has never coached in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and who has none of the obvious connections or history that usually attracts Lamoriello to a coaching candidate.
What drew Lou to DeBoer?
According to various reports, DeBoer interviewed twice with the Devils after the Panthers decided to fire him and hire Kevin Dineen after the season. (He had one year left on his deal with the Panthers.)
He said during his introductory press conference that he was being courted by former Devils coach Brent Sutter to join his staff with the Calgary Flames, but instead opted for the bench boss gig in Jersey.
From the Devils:
"Peter DeBoer is an individual who I have watched coach over the past two decades at the junior, international, and professional levels. His teams have always been well-prepared and disciplined, while maximizing their effort each and every night." said Lamoriello. "I am looking forward to working with him."
"Philosophically, we're on the same page. We believe in the same things. I think that every coach has his own identity and his own characteristics. We want to pursue the puck. We want to dictate the pace of the play. But the foundation of that is still good solid defensive hockey."
Meet the new guy in Jersey:
His name wasn't listed among the Devils' candidates. Names like Michel Therrien and Ken Hitchcock and Jacques Lemaire (despite Lamoriello's denials Tuesday that he was ever asked to return) were on those lists, and fit a very specific mold: Veteran coaches that have won before and could, in the short term, get something out of a vet-laden roster filled with high price tags.
DeBoer doesn't fit that mold. He's a coach with potential, not a track record of success.
John MacLean, whom Lamoriello hired last summer only to fire him three months into the season after a disastrous start, had potential, too. The difference is that DeBoer has managed an NHL roster for three seasons and squeezed a 90-point campaign out of the Panthers two years ago.
DeBoer's time in Florida was an education. From the Miami Herald, after his firing:
"When I first started, I was cocky, confident we could do it all,'' DeBoer said last week. "Then I realized it's all about the players. You have to have the horses to be successful in this league.''
The Devils have a deeper, more talented roster than anything DeBoer had in Florida. That has its obvious benefits, but also its drawbacks: Let's face it, part of the gamble here is that Pete DeBoer can be one of the few coaches to get Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) to play effective two-way hockey. That ain't easy.
Said DeBoer on Kovalchuk:
"Respect is more important than relationship. What I know about Kovalchuk is that his heart's in the right place. He plays hard, he practices hard and he's a good person. I get along with players like that."
It's going to be interesting to see what DeBoer, a well-respected guy in the coaching community, is able to do with a bigger toy chest — and, as always, working under a general manager who isn't afraid to jettison his coach if standards of excellence aren't maintained.
If he isn't the latest Lamorielloian casualty before the playoffs, then DeBoer is a coach that one could see growing with this team, beyond the end of the Brodeur era. He's not a short-term hire, contrary to what the Devils appeared to need in 2011-12.