Frank Rekas, the head of Fansided’s NHL Blog Network and the lead writer for the Florida Panthers (at The Rat Trick) has been generous enough to answer some questions on Peter DeBoer, former Panthers’ (and now current Devils’) head coach. DeBoer spent three years as head coach in Florida, in which the Panthers’ record declined each year after reaching an impressive 41-30-11 in his rookie season.
Q: Do you feel your team’s decision to fire DeBoer was entirely results-based, or was there a more visible reason as to why he was not the right fit in Florida?
A: The first issue here is that he was not a Dale Tallon hire. When Tallon took over as general manager, you got the feeling that unless DeBoer produced exceptional results, he wasn’t long for the job. Every GM wants his own guy. Granted DeBoer didn’t have the strongest roster, but for most of the season (until the salary dumping began) the Panthers were close in most of their games. Something was missing however.
Q: During his introductory press conference at the Prudential Center, DeBoer would not specify as to whether he was more of a forechecking or defensive-minded coach, calling himself a “hybrid”. How would you sum up his coaching style, and do you think he was/is able to adjust?
A: I think that all coaches have a style. The question is do you have the players to play that style, and will they buy into it. The Panthers were never exciting in my mind, but had spurts where they seemed top play up-tempo. In the end though, DeBoer was defensive minded, but he had to be, as the Panthers weren’t offensively gifted. The typical style more nights than most resembled a 1-3-1 style, which will both be perfect for the history of the Devils, and continue to drive the fans insane. His stubbornness to realize that the team needed some toughness in the lineup creates an issue for me. Your fourth line may not see a lot of action, thus draining your top two lines.
Q: During his first season as an NHL head coach, DeBoer led the Panthers to a surprising 93-point-performance (missing the playoffs by way of a tiebreaker). How much credit do you give him for that season overall, and what did DeBoer seem to “do right” that year?
A: The 93 point season was a surprising one for sure. A mixture of youngsters and vets, the roster was made of of players that weren’t flashy, or of star quality. They worked hard and seemed to buy into what DeBoer was preaching. From a defensive standpoint, they gave up way too many shots due to a collapsing defense. I think for the better portion of the season we were in the hunt, staying close to a playoff spot. The story of his relationship with Nick Boynton, and the shouting match that came out of it, resulting in Boynton seeing some press box time had a very negative effect on the team. That seemed to be a turning point and killed any momentum they may have had.
Q: If you could name an outstanding positive and negative about DeBoer, what would these be?
A: An outstanding positive is that he knows the game and is prepared for them. A negative, and there are a few, but the one that sticks out for me is a lack of passion exhibited. All the X’s and O’s are great, but you have to be able to light a fire under your team. I don’t get that feeling from Pete.
Q: People have given credit to DeBoer for getting the most out of his teams effort-wise. Did you see that during his tenure, and if so, to what degree?
A: He really didn’t have a lot to work with during his three seasons. David Booth and Stephen Weiss, and for two seasons, Nathan Horton were the offensive threats. Those guys don’t scare anyone. While Booth and Weiss probably played to their fullest capacity, they aren’t first line players, yet were forced into those roles. That said, I expected more from Weiss, but realize that 60 points will be all he’ll ever get, and for your first line center, that’s not enough. As for Horton, he was lazy at times. Not sure who to blame, and he wanted out for various reasons. He deserved to be benched, but never seemed to have any discipline tossed his way. There was always talk of making players accountable, but I don’t think we ever saw that. Talk is talk; actions, however, speak louder than words. Last year the effort wasn’t always there. A trademark is that while DeBoer may have been prepared for games, there were many, many nights the players weren’t. Slow starts to games were frustrating. That’s a coaching issue. Waking up in in the last 10 minutes of the third to apply an offensive outburst is just too late. I think a more seasoned coach could have gotten more out of the roster last season.
Q: In his first year as head coach, DeBoer was faced with a difficult goaltending situation (with Craig Anderson and Tomas Vokoun). How do you feel he handled this, and would he necessarily “ride the hot hand” in net?
A: No mistake about it, his relationship with Vokoun appeared to be strained more often than not. Tomas is a very dedicated and professional player. He’s determined, outspoken, and wants to win. He also expected the defence in front of him to be in position and do their jobs. Many nights Vokoun was vocal about this, and rightfully so. I don’t think that DeBoer backed him as much as he should have, resulting in Tomas being frustrated. As for Craig Anderson, he’s a backup. He’s had one really good year year which was with a spirited Colorado team. I have no problem with the fact that he wasn’t retained. I wouldn’t say that Anderson outplayed Vokoun, forcing DeBoer to play the hot hand. I think there were other variables that played into that.
Q: Obviously, DeBoer’s record over the last two years is not pretty, and declined from year to year. Would you blame such a decline more on the coaching staff and their handling of the lines, special teams’ units, etc., or on the consecutive trades of Jay Boumeester and Nathan Horton (among other moves) after DeBoer’s first and second seasons (respectively)?
A: Again, and this bears repeating, DeBoer wasn’t given a “real” roster to work with. Many nights he had a bunch of 3rd and 4th liners filling out his unit. With no weapons on offense, the Panthers were forced to rely on goaltending and a patched defense. That resulted in the team playing not to lose, instead of trying to win. At times they were fragile. Way too many leads and games lost in the final moments of the third period. For all the hype that DeBoer seems to get, your team needs to close games out. The Panthers didn’t display that killer instinct. There was very little emotion behind the bench and for me that was a glaring problem. He was not at fault completely for the Panthers’ woes, but had he been more vibrant and more aggressive, the team may have followed suit. They played scared a lot, and showed no confidence. The lack of response on the David Booth hit in Philly, and other similar situations was troubling. To me.
Q: Us Devils fans have watched our lines constantly change over the last two years (at least since the famed Z-Z-Pops line of 08-09). Do you feel DeBoer would do the same, trying to find the right combination as soon as possible, or would give some of his lines more time to gel together as a unit?
A: He’ll try to find the right combination and leave them for a bit. I don’t see much changing especially the way your roster is built. So I do think he’ll give them time to gel and see what combinations work the best. He doesn’t do a lot of tweaking. Then again, he didn’t have much to work with.
Q: Overall, did you agree with the decision to fire DeBoer? Either way, do you feel what we saw in Florida was his head coaching potential, or that he could really gel successfully with the right group of players?
A: I agreed with the move. Nothing against Pete as a person, and I will be curious to see how he does with a real roster, but he wasn’t going to take Florida to the next level. I think his handling of veteran players will be severely tested. The only high-profile player he’s had to deal with is Tomas Vokoun, and look at how that got screwed up. Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are gifted players, and Marty runs that dressing room. It will be interesting to see if, when Pete cracks the whip, who is on his side.
Q: As a hockey fan, do you believe the Devils made the right decision? Does DeBoer need more time, or is that not a factor?
A: I was surprised, shocked, and caught way off-guard. The Devils are a team that needs to get back into the playoffs now. While Pete may have learned some things here in Florida, we can’t make excuses for him anymore. He’ll have a solid roster with star players, something he hasn’t had before. I wish him well, but I can’t say that he’ll be successful. While Lou Lamoriello may not have wanted a coach with a strong personality from his angle, the players needed a coach with a better track record at the pro level. Pete doesn’t have that. So to answer the question, no, I don’t think it was the right decision. Ken Hitchcock may have been too strong of a choice, but Guy Carbonneau may have been perfect.
Thanks to Frank for offering to help out with an evaluation of DeBoer. Certainly, the Devils made an interesting hire on Tuesday; however, no matter how you feel about the choice, we must all give him his chance here in New Jersey. DeBoer has shown that he can be a head coach at this level, and although his record (especially over the last two years) in Florida is not very impressive, neither, for that matter, was the roster of players he coached each night.