Leading up to Wednesday's Game 1, Puck Daddy is previewing every facet of the Stanley Cup Finals between the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings— on the ice and off the ice.
Peter DeBoer and Darryl Sutter aren't nominated for the Jack Adams this season, but we're sure the conference championships to which they've led the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings are a decent consolation prize.
DeBoer was hired last summer to replace Jacques Lemaire, who opted not to return after pulling off a near-miracle in rallying the Devils from John MacLean's early season abyss to within sniffing distance of the playoffs. He had previously toiled for three seasons with the Florida Panthers, finishing with 93 points in his first season but falling to 77 and 72 in his other two campaigns.
He was fired from Florida after the 2010-11 season; GM Lou Lamoriello surprised more than a few people in naming him the Devils' next coach, being that he (a) never coached or played for Lamoriello and (b) had no discernible ties to the Montreal Canadiens.
DeBoer's Devils were 48-28-6, breaking the 100-point mark for the 12th time since 1997.
Sutter was hired after Terry Murray was dismissed 33 games into the season, taking over a disappointing team that was one game over .500 and managing just 2.18 goals per game. His record in 49 games was 25-13-11, earning the No. 8 seed in the playoffs and raising their offense to 2.29 GFA. After three straight upsets in the postseason, the faith GM Dean Lombardi — Sutter's old boss with the San Jose Sharks — put in him paid off.
In the playoffs, both men have done a stellar job. But which one gives his team the advantage in the Stanley Cup Final?
Here's how we see things breaking down between someone who looks like a tax attorney vs. an elderly Carl Spackler:
New Jersey Devils
Pete DeBoer knows what to ask from his team, and when.
With 10 games left in the regular season, the DeBoer noticed the Devils have been "spinning their wheels" and not playing good hockey. So he challenged them to finish strong; they responded by finishing with six straight wins.
In the third game of the Devils' first-round series against the Florida Panthers, DeBoer pulled Marty Brodeur from a tie game, after he blew the 3-0 lead the Devils had built. Ostensibly a momentum-shifting move, it was also a challenge to Brodeur — be better than he'd been in the previous few postseasons, when soft goals and squandered opportunities sunk his team's chances.
Brodeur responded with a Game 4 shutout, and has been in top form ever since.
DeBoer has been every bit the star that Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk have been for the Devils during this playoff run. He's pushed the right personnel buttons, from bold scratches (like veteran Petr Sykora) to scrambling his lines twice to change the course of the Rangers' series. He built and deployed an stellar fourth line, and he's juggled his talented forwards well.
But DeBoer's greatest asset has been his augmentation of the Devils' typical formula. Yes, they can collapse around Brodeur when they need to; but more often than not, their aggressive forecheck has been an asset both in creating offensive chances and pinning teams down in their zone after the Devils take a lead.
With less than two minutes left in a game they're leading by a goal, the Devils will send three forwards into the attacking zone to chase the puck.
Peter DeBoer's Devils aren't your stereotypical Devils.
Los Angeles Kings
Much like for DeBoer, Sutter arrived with a defensive foundation in place. Terry Murray had taught his team to play well in front of Jonathan Quick … but simply didn't have the confidence or the plan in place to let them loose in the offensive end.
Sutter knew that couldn't last. "The change that we tried to make was not to spend as much time in our zone," Sutter told Frozen Royalty. "It was defending to the point of—that's all you did was defend. Especially with a young team, it has to be firm and clear. They have to be allowed to use their ability. That's the biggest thing that I've found here."
Where Murray was laid back with players, Sutter was stern and held everyone from rookies to veterans accountable — and, conversely, lauded them when they'd play well. Where Murray allowed his team to sleepwalk through games, Sutter raised the level of intensity for the team and got them engaged.
At the same time, he's a quirky sort — mumbling through postgame pressers and between-periods speeches. Exhibiting what Drew Doughty called "sarcastic-ness" in dealing with players and the media.
There are plenty of people who saw Sutter's hiring as a lateral move — one veteran coach for another, and both of them with an fondness for defensive play. But Sutter has transformed this team into an offensively aggressive group that can also shut you down — while beating you up on both ends of the ice.
There are echoes to his 2004 Calgary Flames team — the star goaltender, the dominating power forward, the way every player knows his role and is buying in completely. Like that team, the Kings won the West. Can they close the deal in a way Sutter's Flames could not?
Both coaches have had an incredible impact on their teams from a philosophical standpoint. DeBoer has done more in these playoffs because the Devils' close series in the first and third rounds necessitated it. Sutter, meanwhile, has his team humming along at a juggernaut's pace.
Ultimately, Sutter gets the nod here thanks to his experience in the Cup Final. You know if the Kings face adversity, he has their ear to find a way out of it. Said Dustin Penner, on whom Sutter has had a considerable influence: "You could say we struck oil with Darryl. It just clicked. The guy loves hockey as much as we do. He's so intense that you just know how much he cares. At a subconscious level, it affects you in a positive way."
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