Is the Devils’ Marriage to Peter DeBoer Nearing an End?


When Peter DeBoer was hired as the head coach of the New Jersey Devils prior to the 2011-12 season, it was a move that drew the ire of many Devils fans.

DeBoer was coming off of a three-year stint as head coach of the Florida Panthers, where he led the Panthers to a 41-30-11 record during the 2008-09 season, missing the playoffs. The Panthers subsequently went 62-77-15, a .402 winning percentage, over the next two seasons, missing the playoffs, leading to his firing following the 2010-11 campaign.

When he arrived in New Jersey, however, he led the Devils to a 48-28-6 record, good enough for 102 points and a fourth-place finish in the very competitive Atlantic Division. The Devils would go on to take home the Eastern Conference crown, losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, the Devils’ first Final appearance since winning the Stanley Cup in 2003.

But in the two-plus seasons since that magical spring, DeBoer has led the Devils 62-57-30 record in 149 games, causing New Jersey to miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the mid-80s. New Jersey’s winning percentage over that time, .416, is nearly identical to DeBoer’s latter two seasons in Florida.

In the 30 months that have passed since New Jersey’s 2012 Cup run, Devils’ fans have been dragged on a roller coaster ride, starting from the bottom, quickly reaching the pinnacle, then slowly crashing down to earth. And now many are calling for DeBoer’s firing.

In DeBoer’s defense, the Devils did lose their top three goal scorers from the 2011-12 season in Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson to free agency or “retirement” in the two off-seasons that followed their 2012 journey into June.

But several weeks ago, I came across this post from one of my followers on Twitter:

I thought it was interesting at the time, and it was something I have been keeping an eye on ever since. At the time, the Devils were 3-2-2 and coming off of back-to-back overtime losses. In the 13 games since, New Jersey has gone 5-7-1, not exactly a record to be thrilled about.

The aforementioned tweet sets November 30 as a target date for DeBoer’s potential firing. The Devils have five games between today and that date, four of which are on the road. The five game stretch concludes with games against the division-rival Detroit Red Wings and New York Islanders.

Yes, the Devils have been bitten by the injury bug often thus far, with key players such as Adam Henrique, Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat, and Ryane Clowe all missing significant time with various injuries. Those injuries have no doubt had an adverse affect on the Devils’ performance this season.

But while injuries can be noted as part of the problem, they do not account for the whole problem.

Penalty Kill

The Devils’ penalty kill, while flawless over the past four games, started the season in an inexplicably atrocious fashion, allowing 21 power play goals in 60 chances – a 65 percent success rate, good enough for dead last in the National Hockey League. Is that success rate, or lack thereof, attributed to the players’ performance on the ice? Or is it a result of poor strategy? Perhaps a combination of both, but either way, blame for that falls on coaching.

Nov 10, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; New Jersey Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador (24) and Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic (17) battle for position during the first period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

When healthy, Bryce Salvador was a key cog in the Devils’ penalty kill unit. However, he was on the ice for the majority of goals allowed by New Jersey when shorthanded. Coincidentally, the Devils haven’t allowed a power play goal since Salvador has been sidelined, but that is beside the point.

As a coach, part of fixing the problem is to first identify it. Fans are always quick to judge and often make irrational comments to support their stance on a topic. But in this scenario, not a single fan has defended DeBoer’s repeated stance that Salvador is a necessary piece of the Devils’ penalty kill, and rightfully so, as evidenced by the team’s drastic improvement while shorthanded over the last week minus Salvador.

DeBoer should have identified that Salvador was problematic on the penalty kill and taken him off of the unit, end of story.


While the Devils’ penalty kill has improved, they have been shorthanded 15 times over the past four games. And despite killing all 15 penalties, the Devils are still taking as many penalties as they’ve been taking all season, averaging near four per game.

A team’s time on attack is going to suffer when a team is spending at least eight minutes per game shorthanded. Break it down, and the Devils are shooting themselves in the foot by spending nearly half of one full period down a man.

Poor discipline is attributed to coaching as well, and that again falls on DeBoer and staff.


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  • Lastly, there is the Devils’ inability to play a complete game. This was a problem last season, and continues to be one this season. Can the on-ice personnel be blamed for this? Of course they can, after all, they are the ones making the plays.

    But who is actually on the ice during those crucial moments of a game is attributed to coaching.

    Should Dainius Zubrus and Ryane Clowe, who are arguably the Devils’ two slowest skaters, have been on the ice together in overtime against one of the fastest teams in the league in the New York Rangers? No, but this was the case in the Devils’ 4-3 overtime loss to New York on October 21, and the Rangers scored the game-winning goal while the Devils’ duo was on the ice.

    Not to mention that Zubrus, now on New Jersey’s fourth line, was playing on the Devils’ first line while Mike Cammalleri was out with an injury.

    Is Steve Bernier a solid fourth-line forward? One can make an argument for yes. But should Bernier be on the Devils’ power play unit late in the third period in a one-goal game? Absolutely not, but he has been this season.

    Having the right players on the ice is essential in winning, and DeBoer continually fails to correctly utilize the players he has – and this also includes the continual scratching of Adam Larsson and Damien Brunner earlier this season.

    Can the Devils continue to improve? Absolutely. But the majority of the shortcomings can be solely plced on the head coach, and if he doesn’t find a way to improve soon, the chances of DeBoer losing his job around November 30 are becoming increasingly likely.

    What are your thoughts on the Devils’ coaching situation? Let us know in the comments section below.

    Read More: Pete DeBoer: What Will Cause Him to be Fired?