A couple weeks after the Golden Knights missed the playoffs despite going all-in, Peter DeBoer is no longer their head coach. The Golden Knights “relieved DeBoer of his duties” on Monday.
The most interesting part of a canned quote from GM Kelly McCrimmon was probably ” … after lengthy discussions over the last two weeks, we believe that a new coach will put us in the best position to succeed next season.”
Golden Knights fire DeBoer after missing playoffs; Run ended with Lehner rift
Again, most pressingly, Peter DeBoer couldn’t navigate a season filled with injuries to at least get the Golden Knights to the playoffs.
While there were some NHL teams hit harder by injuries by sheer volume, the Golden Knights saw key losses with Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and others. They also traded for Jack Eichel in-season, realizing that he was still recovering from neck surgery.
NHL top 5, points in standings lost due to injured players and health protocols (Lost-ps metric, lost point shares due to injured players)
1 VEG 40.6 points lost
2 MTL 32.9
3 CBJ 32.3
4 BUF 30.2
5 PIT 27.4https://t.co/lRequqYI1r
— Man-Games Lost NHL (@ManGamesLostNHL) May 2, 2022
Eventually, that injury bug bit Robin Lehner.
That’s where things got stranger, and uglier for DeBoer and the Golden Knights. Near the end of the season, it appeared that Lehner wasn’t happy with criticism of his performance, as he was playing hurt.
Elliotte Friedman on the Lehner situation in Vegas.
Spot on take. #VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/a7ul5O6yos
— Lindsay 🌸 (@LindsMAF29) April 24, 2022
That eventually led to an odd back-and-forth between Lehner and DeBoer in the media. Ultimately, the big goalie was shut down for the remainder of the season.
It’s unclear how much DeBoer’s brusque handling of Lehner factored into the Golden Knights firing him. Personally, it felt like it made a murky decision feel almost inevitable.
Quite a bit of success under DeBoer
Memorably, the Golden Knights hired DeBoer in-season in early 2020 despite Gerard Gallant enjoying pretty incredible big-picture success. That move helped shape the image of Vegas as a franchise that was cutthroat in chasing a Stanley Cup. Successful wasn’t always a high enough standard.
Right now, it’s still unclear if that knee-jerk reaction was the right one.
Take a look at DeBoer’s year-by-year results as Golden Knights head coach:
Remainder of 2019-20: 15-5-2 (.727 points percentage), won two playoff series.
2020-21: 40-14-2 (.732 points percentage), won two playoff series.
2021-22: 43-32-8 (.573 points percentage), missed playoffs.
A less reactive team might give this another go. After all, the Golden Knights barely missed the playoffs with all of those injuries.
But, if there’s a more reactive NHL franchise than the Golden Knights, then the list is short.
It will be fascinating to see A) who the Golden Knights hire as their next head coach and B) if DeBoer gets another top gig in the NHL. DeBoer’s enjoyed some highs and lows with four different coaching jobs, but interestingly has only coached a team for five seasons or less.
Big test for Vegas management coming — assuming they’re still in charge
Over the years, the Golden Knights have been ruthless in moving on from popular, productive players to try to get even better. They haven’t accepted stumbles from their coaches. Thus far, the top of their front office has been safe from such bottom-line decisions.
As a reminder, they didn’t fire George McPhee; he was essentially elevated, while Kelly McCrimmon ascended to GM.
No doubt, that front office enjoyed a ton of success. Really, they probably set the bar unfairly high for Ron Francis and the Seattle Kraken.
Still, they’ve made their mistakes. For all of the Golden Knights’ successes, they’ve mostly relied on free agents and trades, rather than in-house development. When it comes to choosing which prospects to grow, and which to trade, there have been blunders. Notably, the Golden Knights chose to trade current Habs star Nick Suzuki instead of project-at-best Cody Glass in the Max Pacioretty swap.
For every splashy move that was a huge success (Pacioretty, Stone), there were moves that were either whiffs, or still need to be determined.
So far, Lehner hasn’t been the Fleury upgrade they hoped for.
More quietly but just as alarmingly, it’s possible the Alex Pietrangelo investment might be shaky. Consider his underlying numbers via Evolving Hockey:
In sweatily grasping at bringing a Stanley Cup to the desert, Golden Knights management started to stack up gambles that got them in trouble.
[Other coaching news: Islanders name longtime Trotz assistant Lambert as head coach]
Sure, there were logistical reasons for why the Evgenii Dadonov trade didn’t happen. But it’s on Vegas management for relying so much on LTIR and other maneuvers to barely remain technically salary-cap-compliant.
It’s the sort of thing that might get a GM fired, at least if a franchise wants to show that everyone faces such extreme accountability. That hasn’t happened.
At least, so far. If you’re like me, you raised an eyebrow at former player Deryk Engelland representing the Golden Knights at the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery.
Deryk Engelland is representing the Knights at the draft lottery.
Adjust your odds accordingly.
— Ben Gotz (@BenSGotz) May 10, 2022
Assuming the Golden Knights give McCrimmon + McPhee another shot, they have their work cut out for them this offseason.
Right now, the Golden Knights are already projected by Cap Friendly to scratch the ceiling of the salary cap. And that’s assuming they allow free agents such as Reilly Smith to walk.
Will a revised Dadonov trade happen? With a cramped salary cap situation, how will the Golden Knights improve?
Oh, and of course: who should be the next head coach? For a team that loves collecting big names, maybe the reflex answer is Barry Trotz. But would Trotz’s all-encompassing defensive style mesh well with the roster at hand?
And, once more: should McCrimmon and McPhee make that call? Even those who question DeBoer’s coaching would admit that this failed Golden Knights season wasn’t just his fault.
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.