PITTSBURGH – NHL coaches are often depicted as cruel taskmasters that skate their teams into the ground and crush the spirits of players who don’t conform to their physically demanding standards. And then there’s Peter DeBoer, man. Like, practice, don’t practice. It’s cool, whatever. “There was a stretch when he pretty much just told us, ‘Hey, you guys aren’t practicing anymore. You guys prepare hard enough,’” said San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. “A lot of days off. A lot of rest time. Guys have benefitted from that,” said defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. When DeBoer took over as head coach of the San Jose Sharks this season, he walked into a situation that was like a gumbo of stress and strain. The Sharks missed the playoffs for only the second time since 1998. Rumors swirled about the futures of stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and frankly that of the rest of the roster. The players had tuned out previous coach Todd McLellan. The captaincy was, at last check, being shared by roughly 30 players. At that point, hiring a personality like that of Pete DeBoer was like hiring a loud Hawaiian shirt to be your head coach. Or a hammock. Or Jeffrey Lebowski (and not just because there are a couple of beards on the Sharks’ players that look like they belong submerged in a White Russian). Darryl Sutter might have the market cornered on California-based Zen in the NHL, but Pete DeBoer is the League’s greatest slacker whisperer. *** The first order of business for DeBoer was to figure out what approach would work with this group. In the past, the laidback demeanor of the team, especially its stars, was demonized as the players "not caring enough." But what if the coaching staff leaned into that curve rather than attempting to force a work ethic on players that wouldn’t take to it? Considering the amount of travel the Sharks had, DeBoer thought it best to build in as many off days and optional practices that he could. It was, to say the least, an unusual change for the Sharks, many of whom had been hardwired to practice as often as possible. To wit, while the practices were optional, DeBoer found too many Sharks were taking the option. “It was a little weird halfway through the season, when he saw all of us always going out for optionals and he was kicking us off the ice,” said Patrick Marleau. “It wasn’t something we were used to, but you can see it pay off later in the season. He wants us 100-percent for important games.” Perhaps that rest and the lack of grinding practice time aren't the sole reasons the San Jose Sharks are playing for their first Stanley Cup beginning Monday at the Pittsburgh Penguins. But it’s one significant reason. “He identified that from the get-go. Rest throughout the year really pays off at this time of year. He’s done a great job in managing guys’ minutes. He’s managed to keep the veteran guys here fresh,” said forward Tommy Wingels. “And he’s managed to give the younger guys a rest too.” Like, for example, Tomas Hertl. He followed his outstanding rookie season with a 13-goal dud in 2014-15. Now, at 22 years old, Hertl had 21 goals in the regular season and five more in 18 playoffs games. “We had a lot of optional skating. Relaxing. Making everybody feel good. I know [Joe Thornton] was really excited when he got a lot of optional practices. He go skate, or no. And we feel great all season,” said Hertl. “Everybody says ‘you’re young. You should be all the time skating,’ but I don’t think so. It’s an 82-game season. We fly most in the NHL. So we have a lot of optional skates. If you want to skate, you skate. If not, you get some rest. Maybe some bike. I felt really good, all year. Last year, it was all the time skating and I was like ‘oh my god I am so tired.’ I think it’s a big thing. Everybody felt good.” That includes their head coach, who’s come a long way from being fired on Christmas Day.
PITTSBURGH – Injuries limited Pascal Dupuis’ final three seasons in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and over that time he’s become better at one thing: being a cheerleader. “Well, I’ve got a lot of practice doing it. I’ve been doing it for three years basically,” joked Dupuis to Yahoo! Sports on Sunday during Stanley Cup Final Media Day. Issues related to blood clots forced the 37-year-old Dupuis to step away from the game for good in December. But despite his career ending, he’s been a constant presence around the team as they marched their way to the Stanley Cup Final. Who was the first person to greet Sidney Crosby in the dressing room following his Game 2 overtime goal in the conference final? That was Dupuis . Who was on the ice after the Penguins celebrated a fifth Prince of Wales Trophy conquest after Game 7? Dupuis was there, too . No athlete wants to be told that their career is over; they want to say goodbye on their own terms. It’s been nearly six months since doctors told Dupuis he couldn’t play hockey again and the transition hasn’t been an easy. “When I come to the rink I still think I’m a player, so I change in my gear and my underwear and I hang out with the players,” Dupuis said. “When the game starts I put a suit on. I’ll watch a little bit of video before practices, try to help the coaching staff about details of the game, whatever I see from up there. But deep inside I still think I’m a player, so it’s still kind of hard.” Dupuis said he’ll be on blood thinners likely for the rest of his life. Right now he’s on a dose that allows him to do everyday things with his wife and kids. While he still feels like a player, unfortunately he can’t be around his teammates on the ice due to new medication and the risk factor of a potential cut. That hasn’t stopped Dupuis, of course, from remaining a part of this Penguins team, even if it’s in a different role. It might be painful now for him to watch, but he says that’s fine if it results in another Cup for the franchise. “Just staying around is great, but that’s the hardest part, though, for me, to be around and not to go on,” Dupuis said. “But at the same time I care so much about these guys, about these guys winning, and teammates that I’ve won with to win again, if it means being hurtful for me a little bit to be around and for them to win, I’m definitely willing to do it.” - - - - - - - Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY :