Here’s a difficult question: how much of a difference does an NHL coach make?
When it comes to gauging a coach in just about any sport, there’s some subjectivity. There’s also incomplete information. A seemingly foolish decision might have some hidden meaning. Maybe some real-life Ted Lasso aims to impart some soul-searching lessons. Perhaps a coach is simply lucky or doomed.
Yet, even compared to other sports, it can be especially tricky to grade NHL coaches.
After taking those thoughts into consideration, it’s still worth saying. However Golden Knights – Avalanche Game 6 goes on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN), Peter DeBoer’s really starting to build an impressive resume as an effective NHL coach.
As far as anyone can really tell.
DeBoer deserves some credit for Golden Knights frustrating MacKinnon, Avs
When you’re trying to beat Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon and the high-flying, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Avalanche, you’re going to need to do a lot right.
Call it luck or not, but the Golden Knights have done a masterful job nullifying MacKinnon and some of the Avalanche’s other best weapons heading into Game 6.
After MacKinnon (2G, 1A) and the Avalanche obliterated the Golden Knights in Game 1, Vegas went from improving to dominating.
Most simply, MacKinnon hasn’t generated a single point in his last three games. He’s also on a four-game goal drought, as he was limited to an assist in Game 2. While Mikko Rantanen has remained productive, the Avs have largely kept other top scorers like Cale Makar and Gabriel Landeskog in check.
[PRE-GAME COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]
Understandably, a lot of the credit goes to Mark Stone, who is backing up his Selke Trophy nomination by greatly limiting MacKinnon’s chances.
You can get into some chicken-and-the-egg coaching vs. talent debates when it comes to doling out credit for slowing down MacKinnon, though. It’s the same subjective story as wondering how much Phil Jackson had to do with his 11 titles, or maybe overreacting to Tom Brady winning a Super Bowl without Bill Belichick.
You’d think DeBoer has something to do with the Golden Knights’ success, particularly against MacKinnon and the Avalanche, right?
On Wednesday, Sin Bin Vegas’ Ken Boehlke essentially wondered if DeBoer serves as Nathan MacKinnon’s kryptonite.
In the 49 game playoff career of MacKinnon, there have only been two stretches when he has been held off the score sheet completely in three consecutive games in the same postseason. These last three games and Games 5-7 in 2019 against the San Jose Sharks.
In other words, in the past eight postseason games MacKinnon has gone against a DeBoer-coached team, he’s come up pointless in six of them. Remember, this is a player that has registered a goal or an assist in all but 15 of his 49 playoff games. DeBoer has been responsible for six of them, or 40%, in just the last eight games!
If your first thought was “Yes, those are impressive results against Nathan MacKinnon, but those are still some small sample sizes,” well:
- That’s true.
- And maybe get out of my brain?
Anyway, it’s hasty to pose Peter DeBoer as some sort of MacKinnon – Avs antidote. Really, it might put the whammy on Vegas in Game 6, and during that far-from-finished series, in general.
[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
So, instead, this is an opportunity to give DeBoer some due, overall. Let’s summarize his increasingly impressive coaching resume.
- In 933 regular-season games between the Golden Knights, Sharks, Devils, and Panthers, DeBoer’s teams have gone 470-348-115 (.565 points percentage). He’s coached 116 playoff games (and counting), with a 65-51 record.
- During the 2011-12 season, DeBoer coached the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, falling to the Kings in six games. Since then, the Devils only made the playoffs once. (The Devils fired DeBoer during the 2014-15 season.)
- DeBoer couldn’t break the Sharks’ Stanley Cup curse, but he did help them get to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. You also may remember DeBoer feuding with then-Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant, and DeBoer’s Sharks shocking Vegas in a memorable Game 7 rally.
- Yes, it was weird for a while for DeBoer to be Golden Knights head coach.
- Now fasten a “to be continued” on this Golden Knights run.
That’s … the sort of resume that’s tougher and tougher to deny, eh?
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 Second Round schedule, TV info]
Again, there’s room to debate how much credit DeBoer deserves. After all, Gerard Gallant left a strong setup in place, and his firing seemed (and maybe still seems) strange.
But, hey, even if you believe DeBoer’s mainly “not messed anything up,” well … there’s value in that, right? A lesser coach might have thrown out things that worked, just to put their particular stamp on a gig.
Credit DeBoer with tweaking around the margins. Really, it fits the Golden Knights’ larger aims. This is a team that’s been good for a while, but wants to make that extra step.
Can DeBoer and the Golden Knights clear those final hurdles to actually win it all? We’ll see. The biggest ones remain ahead — and you could definitely argue that it still doesn’t get any tougher than actually eliminating MacKinnon and the Avalanche.
AVALANCHE VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (VGK leads 3-2) – series livestream link
Game 1: Avalanche 7, Golden Knights 1
Game 2: Avalanche 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Game 3: Golden Knights 3, Avalanche 2
Game 4: Golden Knights 5, Avalanche 1
Game 5: Golden Knights 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)
Game 6: Thurs. June 10: Avalanche at Golden Knights, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
*Game 7: Sat. June 12: Golden Knights at Avalanche, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.