I remember the first NHL practice I ever covered back in late 2009. The Florida Panthers were mired in anonymity, and I was one of about four reporters in a “scrum” with head coach Peter DeBoer.
Little did I know at the time, there were bigger and better things on the horizon for the polite, mild-mannered DeBoer. He’s now done something that seemed impossible one short year ago: create a winning culture for the San Jose Sharks.
DeBoer never posted a winning season in Florida, topping out at 41-41 in 2008-09. Yet that didn’t stop the New Jersey Devils from hiring him in 2011, and the move was rewarded when DeBoer guided the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals. Yet somehow, DeBoer had only made one playoff appearance in six-plus seasons as a coach and was fired a day after Christmas in 2014.
So what has made DeBoer and the eternally-disappointed San Jose Sharks such an ideal fit?
Maybe DeBoer doesn’t get the credit he deserves because of his laid-back nature. He doesn’t push the team in practices the way some coaches do, but his style seems like a welcome change from the departed Todd McClellan. There has long been a perception that a media-friendly market like San Jose creates too much of a lax environment for players and that there isn’t pressure to succeed in the postseason.
In reality, it may have just been the opposite of that during the McClellan years. The Sharks have never been devoid of talent, but the veterans were growing disgruntled under McClellan. Now, it seems as if a weight has been lifted from the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Logan Couture. And let’s not forget about the key addition of clutch playoff performer Joel Ward, either.
One thing that has been particularly impressive about DeBoer’s first season in San Jose is his team’s road-warrior mentality. The Sharks set a franchise record for road wins, amassing 28 and 59 points for the best mark in the NHL in 2015-16. In a postseason already chock-full of road team victories, the Sharks are right on schedule.
Whether the Sharks can go the distance is another story. Even if they don’t, a first-round win over the Los Angeles Kings speaks volumes. Remember it was just two short years ago that the Sharks inexplicably squandered a 3-0 lead to the Kings in their opening-round showdown.
If the Sharks do continue their run, let’s give credit where credit is due to DeBoer.