Peter DeBoer, who is about to be officially named as the Sharks’ seventh (non-interim) head coach, has done something that the San Jose franchise and former coach Todd McLellan has never done before.
He’s been to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The 46-year-old led the New Jersey Devils to the NHL’s final round in 2012, losing in six games to the Los Angeles Kings. Although the Devils faltered over the next few years and never made it back to the postseason, leading to his firing on December 26, DeBoer was saddled with an increasingly weak roster that never had a chance to legitimately compete for a playoff spot headed into last season.
The Sharks will make the news official in a press conference on Thursday at 1 p.m., which will air on Comcast SportsNet. ESPN originally reported the hiring.
DeBoer, who was a finalist for the Sharks’ job seven years ago before they eventually chose McLellan, will be tasked with getting a San Jose club back to the playoffs after it missed for the first time in 11 seasons in 2014-15.
It won’t be easy, as the Sharks finished in 12th place in the 14-team Western Conference with a 40-33-9 mark, and have some serious question marks on top of an undercurrent of dysfunction. The goaltending situation and the lack of a captain are among the more pressing topics that will need to be addressed.
DeBoer will likely have a heavier hand than his predecessor. One of the central reasons that the Sharks and McLellan parted ways on April 20 was that management wasn’t always happy with McLellan giving his veteran or established players extended ice time, despite prolonged slumps or perceived weak efforts. That should change under DeBoer, who has never been afraid to send messages through reduced ice time or the occasional healthy scratching.
According to a Sharks source, the club likes the fact that DeBoer will make “tough decisions, but he’s also creative and innovative.”
DeBoer is also known as a strong puck possession coach, as more and more teams gravitate toward those types of so-called advanced metrics. The Sharks have typically been strong in that area, although they finished just 13th in the league in possession (as measured by shot attempts) in 2014-15.
In his press conference on April 20, Wilson said: “We’re trying to acquire players that are puck possession players, because that’s the style of game we believe in. You can see where we’re going and where we think the game is going. … We want to play a possession game.”
DeBoer has shown he can do that.
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The Devils steadily declined after their run to the Final, but it's difficult to determine just how much of that was DeBoer's doing.
Among the players that departed after the Devils’ successful run was star forward Zach Parise, who went to Minnesota as a free agent. High-scoring winger Ilya Kovalchuk went back to Russia’s KHL after the shortened 2013 season, while David Clarkson departed via free agency that summer, as well. Goaltender Martin Brodeur’s play declined, and the future Hall of Famer was not brought back after the 2013-14 season.
New Jersey’s front office made some questionable decisions in recent years, too, several of which Sharks followers should be familiar. An injury prone Ryane Clowe was signed to an ill-advised five-year, $24 million contract the summer of 2013 to replace Clarkson, and his playing days may be over due to multiple concussions.
The Devils added Martin Havlat and Scott Gomez for the most recent season. Havlat’s three-year tenure in San Jose was a disaster, leading to the first contract buyout in team history, while Gomez had one ineffective season with the Sharks in 2013. Havlat found himself frequently scratched late in the Devils' season after DeBoer was fired, surprising to no one that was familiar with Havlat's game in the Bay Area.
General manager Lou Lamoriello has since vacated that position and hired Ray Shero after New Jersey went on to finish in 7th place in the Metropolitan Division.
DeBoer began his NHL coaching career in Florida, serving there for three seasons from 2008-2011 before joining the Devils on July 19, 2011. A two-time OHL coach of the year, the Dunville, Ontario native recently served under McLellan at the World Championships in Prague, helping Canada win that tournament.
While in New Jersey, current Sharks director of player development Larry Robinson served as one of DeBoer’s assistants. Robinson, who will no longer be behind the Sharks' bench as he transitions to the front office full-time, likely played a large role in advising Doug Wilson on DeBoer.
Among the former NHL coaches candidates reportedly in the mix for the Sharks job were former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma (who will likely land in Buffalo, according to reports), and former Ducks and Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. Wilson also spoke with Mike Babcock before he landed in Toronto.