All summer there was one head coaching job waiting to be filled in New Jersey to work for GM Lou Lamoriello and find a way to bring the Devils back to the playoffs after a brutal season last year that saw them fail too often to recover. With Ilya Kovalchuk leading the way and Zach Parise needing to be re-signed and healthy after missing most of last season with a knee injury, pressure is high in Jersey to get things back to normal.
The Devils opted to go away from seemingly obvious potential coaches in Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien and hired former Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer to be their new bench boss. In his three years with the Panthers, DeBoer went 103-107-36 and never led the Panthers to the playoffs. His best season was his first one back in 2008-2009 where the Panthers went 41-30-11 finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference tied with Montreal with 93 points and missed the playoffs thanks to not having the tiebreaker with the Habs.
That Panthers team had little scoring with just two players with 60+ points and had stellar goaltending from Tomas Vokoun. Goaltending and tricky defense did that team well and DeBoer will bring that kind of teaching to New Jersey where he’ll have more talent all around and an aging future Hall of Fame goalie in Martin Brodeur. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello sees a lot in DeBoer that he likes and he’s been watching him for a long time.
“Peter DeBoer is an individual who I have watched coach over the past two decades at the junior, international, and professional levels. His teams have always been well-prepared and disciplined, while maximizing their effort each and every night.” said Lamoriello. “I am looking forward to working with him.”
At 43 DeBoer is a young guy to be leading a team that’s got a healthy mix of veterans and youth. He has some familiarity with at least one guy in David Clarkson having coached him in junior hockey and he’s a guy the Devils are hoping evolves into more of a two-way threat at right wing.
Where DeBoer will have his work cut out for him is keeping Kovalchuk and Parise balanced and scoring. Premiere talent like those two cannot struggle for stretches the way they did under John MacLean last year. He’ll also have to find a way to command the room the way Jacques Lemaire could, something most Devils coaches have struggled in doing over the last few years.
If DeBoer struggles, Lamoriello won’t hesitate to make a change if it’s needed as we’ve seen in the past. Hell, if things are even going well Lamoriello will make a move. Here’s to hoping that DeBoer is ready to potentially coach on eggshells. The challenge is a big one and the stress is high, especially when trying to get the Devils back to the playoffs.