You have to take Peter DeBoer’s qualifications as the next coach of the San Jose Sharks on faith because his CV in Florida and New Jersey says you shouldn’t.
Of course, the CVs of the Panthers and Devils indicate one team in shambles from the ownership suite on down, and the other as a team finishing a long run of success with Jacques Lemaire. In other words, we’re not exactly sure what this hiring is supposed to represent.
Because, as it turns out, we don’t know what to make of the Sharks.
DeBoer’s success in New Jersey was with a clever veteran team, and his failure was with a young, inexpensive and talent-deprived team.
His time in Florida was spent trying to herd cats above and below him and almost shouldn’t count at all.
So his vision of how to repair the Sharks is largely dependent upon what he thinks the Sharks are, and how well he can sell himself to a team that is neither old nor young but is plenty scarred and unfamiliar with change.
Like every coach except maybe Randy Carlyle, he believes in puck possession, which is the new rage in the sport even though it has always been that way even when terms like “puck possession” were considered too hoidy-toidy for an honest working Canadian lad.
But the homework he did with Larry Robinson, who worked with DeBoer in his first year in New Jersey, presumably goes some way toward dealing with the odd state in which the Sharks currently reside. It is equal parts 3-0-blown-series scarring, the apparent disintegration of the Doug Wilson-Joe Thornton relationship, the collapse of the team’s will during the playoff rush and their worst finish as a franchise since 2003.
We mention all the slaggy bad times because that is the hand with which DeBoer must deal. This is a room still in transition, and the one-step-back-to-take-two-steps-forward philosophy Wilson espoused last year only really works in theory. One of San Jose’s greatest weapons was its stability; that is now clearly gone, and not just because DeBoer replaced Todd McLellan.
But he also has to heal the team from within, because the employees who bear (and in some cases inflicted) those scars are still mostly in place, and in both important and fringe positions. In other words, the Sharks are still closer to where they’ve already been than where they hope to be going.
DeBoer surely knows this; if not, he would have not done his homework and would be clearly unqualified to have the job. But knowing the job and making it work are two different things, and the fact that he provides a different voice and presence than McLellan really isn’t enough. He has to convince the players that his voice isn’t just different, but better, even though he believes in most of the same stylistic and tactical tenets that McLellan espoused and until 2015 accomplished.
So now we’ve corralled the problem. DeBoer must be the same, yet different; mindful of the past while pushing toward the future; substantial yet still stylish. In other words, he needs to be a quality red wine – different flavors for different palates.
As a sidelight that Wilson will dismiss as unimportant, he will also be coming into an area that elevates and fetishizes its coaches. Jim Harbaugh won despite being mad as a brush, and he entertained in an often bizarre and always impetuous way. Bruce Bochy wins with a quiet sureness that sucks people in when his on-camera rhetoric does not, and the same is true of Bob Melvin, even though the winning has dried a bit. Steve Kerr is enjoying the tail end of his fabulous honeymoon – unless you think this is the start of multiple years in which the Warriors win 81 percent of their games.
DeBoer is part of the new class of coaches, with Jim Tomsula and Jack Del Rio. Del Rio is the best of the thespians, but he may be working in another town as soon as next year. Tomsula is still repairing the public damage of a disastrous first day for which the organization deserves much of the blame.
In short, Peter DeBoer has to fix an ailing hockey team, while making his place in a crowded field. It’s a competitive world out there, and the Bay Area gravitates toward style almost more than it does success.
So maybe he shows up to his first presser in a coat borrowed from Don Cherry, just to show us his whimsical side. I mean, he does have a whimsical side. He must. Right? Doesn’t he?