By Jeff O’Connor
You never know with general manager Lou Lamoriello, but I’m almost willing to bet that Pete DeBoer is going to be the head coach of the New Jersey Devils for a longtime. Going to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first season, DeBoer had his finger on the pulse of this team after three months on the job and they thrived one year removed from missing the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. There are plenty of reasons why he is the perfect coach for the Devils, now and in the future.
The one thing I love about DeBoer is his even-keeled demeanor. He’s not pumping his fist after a goal but he’s also not screaming at his players on the bench after they give up a pair of goals in a 30-second span. I feel like this type of personality is the one that a lot of TODAY’s NHL player will listen to rather than a coach who constantly screams or is too lax and hands off. DeBoer realizes how much pressure comes with being the head coach under Lamoriello but he’s not taking every game like it’s do-or-die. He knows the context of game during the course of the season and knows, either good or bad, that game doesn’t determine how the year will go.
DeBoer tells it like it is. He doesn’t sugar coat. He doesn’t single out players or blame aspects of the game. Here’s a comparison: remember when John Tortorella ripped his power play a few weeks ago after they lost to the Devils? After that game, they were 3-for-35 with the man advantage. Well, that’s all fine and well to get on your players but after so many repeated failures, shouldn’t some blame go to the head coach?
Now let’s take a look at DeBoer telling it like it is. Remember the team’s first regulation loss? A 5-1 drubbing at Pittsburgh after a few games in a row where they earned points, but didn’t play that well. After the game, DeBoer said this:
“For me, if you’re going to play that way, you might as well get beat 5-1 or 6-1 rather than 2-1 and fool yourself. It’s a good lesson for us. We’ve only lost one game in regulation but we have to get back to work here.”
Not that he/we wanted the team to lose, but sometimes you need that game to give you a kick in the a**. DeBoer recognized it as just that and bluntly said it in the postgame. Not enough coaches in the NHL do this and I’m glad he does.
He clearly gets the most out of whatever player is on the ice, as long as they understand his system. How about Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter? The Devils picked them up in the middle of last season. DeBoer liked what he saw from them when he coached them in Florida. They have probably hit their career ceilings as role players, but they came in right away and not only fit in and understood the system; they began to thrive instantly. Peter Harrold was a reliable defenseman in the postseason after playing just 164 regular season games. Ilya Kovalchuk flourished as a right winger.
His system is one that finally fits the Devils skill set. Recently under Jacques Lemaire, the Devils won a lot of tight, low-scoring games. DeBoer’s system is versatile. On any given night, the team can win a 2-1 game or if need be, a 5-4 contest. He has created a more up-tempo offense through a thorough forecheck. He’s done this without sacrificing the team’s foundation over the last 20-some years; defense. It involves keeping the puck in the offensive zone as much as possible and being aggressive. Last year, I can’t even count how many great pinch-ins along the boards there were by defensemen. They forced the Flyers and Rangers to cough up the puck so much in their own end during the playoffs. It was honestly astounding how effective it was; unlike anything we’ve seen under the many head coaches that have come to the Garden State.
There just appears to be a new atmosphere, a sense of stability under DeBoer following that 2010-11 season. Almost every coaching decision or player personnel decision he has made, has paid off. Bernier. Carter. Calling up Stephen Gionta right before the end of the regular season. Putting Harrold in the lineup. Switching line combinations in the playoffs and having them gel relatively quickly. He never seems to make a glaringly wrong move.
Look at the elite teams in the NHL. They keep their coaches for a long time, no matter if there is a bad season in there or not. I can only hope that Lamoriello is starting to see this around the league. Keeping DeBoer around for a while is a very smart move for this organization. Continuity is an undervalued thing. Players have already bought in to DeBoer’s system and have been extremely successful. There’s no reason to ax DeBoer over a bad end to the regular season or a tough slump. His first year with the team and already solid success in Year No. 2 is enough to know that this guy is meant to be the next great, long-time coach of the New Jersey Devils.