Editor's note: The above video is from May 28, when Peter DeBoer was introduced as head coach of the Sharks.
SAN JOSE – The phrase “clean slate” is pretty common this time of year in NHL practice rinks among teams that weren’t as successful as they had hoped the previous season. A head coaching change all but guarantees that the metaphor of wiping the board clean and starting fresh will be utilized ad nauseam.
Still, for new Sharks coach Pete DeBoer, it isn’t just a cliché. The 47-year-old said on the day he was hired that he wasn’t going to spend too much time watching tape from the Sharks’ failed 2014-15 campaign. Despite not being personally familiar with most of the players on the roster, DeBoer wanted to form his own opinions.
He’s stuck to that in the months that followed the late May announcement that he was the Sharks’ new bench boss, replacing Todd McLellan after seven seasons.
“I did, as much as you could without compromising your preparation for this year,” DeBoer said recently. “But, I really wanted to try and stick with that and go in this year with everybody coming in with a clean slate. The guys who had off years, obviously that’s something that they would want. The guys who had good years are going to have to come into camp and show us again. I think that’s the good part of a new staff, is everybody gets an opportunity to show what they can do again.”
The last time DeBoer took over a new NHL team was in 2011-12, when he was brought in by the Devils. He admitted that it took some time for him to get on the same page with his players, saying it wasn’t until Christmastime that they moved “seamlessly around the ice.”
That team eventually charged all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Los Angeles Kings.
In San Jose, DeBoer apparently won’t toss McLellan’s playbook into the incinerator, so he doesn’t anticipate taking nearly as long to ice a cohesive unit. Instead, indications are that he’ll be looking for a little more emotion and desperation from his players, who may have been suffering through a season-long hangover from their miserable playoff defeat to the Kings in 2014 (and ensuing pointed comments from management in the offseason).
“The way this team has played in the past, we’re not going to make wholesale systematic changes,” DeBoer said. “Our focus really is going to be not as much on the system as our commitment within the system to do things that maybe this group got away from. That’s being harder to play against, being tougher defensively, and being tougher in front of the other team’s net offensively.”
DeBoer homed in on the Sharks’ five-on-five play as one particular area that needs fixing. The Sharks finished 24th in the league in that category, and none of the teams below them made it to the postseason, either, demonstrating how important it will be to get that particular aspect of their game turned around.
According to DeBoer, the Sharks were a little too focused on their sixth-ranked power play unit last season. In other words, opposing coaches were probably telling their clubs that if you shut down the Sharks power play, you’ll likely win the game.
“The identity of this team can’t be that they’re just a power play team, which is what I feel looking from the outside in last year, it was starting to trend towards,” DeBoer said. “We’re going to get our five-on-five identity back, and our commitment to play and defend, and offensively, five-on-five.”
Off of the ice, the captaincy and official leadership structure will be set before opening night, once the new coach gets a feel for the various personalities on the ice and in the dressing room after the four rotating alternate captain experiment last season proved to be a failure.
Again, the clean slate metaphor is applicable here, too, even if Joe Pavelski seems like the obvious next choice to wear the C.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time with the group, talking to individuals, getting a sense of who is fitting where, and we’ll make those decisions,” DeBoer said.
Regarding Pavelski, he said: “I think when you’re talking about candidates, he’s definitely on that list of candidates. With the clean slate idea, I’m not spending a lot of time on what went on here last year. I’m going to get to know this group myself. Our coaches are going to get to know the group. Obviously they come with some reputations that we’re not going to ignore, but we’re going to personally get to know these guys and make some decisions.”
Let the process begin.