(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)
Thursday, the San Jose Sharks held a press conference to introduce Peter DeBoer as head coach. DeBoer made a telling comment in relation to how or whether the team would select a new captain: “It’s a deep leadership group. I’m looking forward to getting to know the group and the players. I think what I have going for me here is I’m fresh to this group. I don’t have a history with them, I wasn’t around for the successes or the failures. I’m looking forward to going in with a clean slate and getting to know this group and we’ll make those decisions going forward.”
DeBoer was part of the coaching staff for USA at the World Championships this season. This gave him a chance to work with Sharks defenseman Brent Burns and also Todd McLellan. Once he realized that he was being seriously considered for the Sharks coaching position, his commitment to the idea of a clean slate was so strong that he resisted quizzing McLellan on the Sharks players.
When I first talked to Doug I didn’t know whether I was going to get the job or not, it was a fairly informal interview, the first one on the phone. So I started to do a little background with Todd on the organization and his feelings. I quickly found out Doug wanted to do a second interview with me back in Toronto and that’s when I knew it was going to get serious and I made a conscious effort, it’s like not opening a box on Christmas. You want to ask as many questions as you can but you force yourself not to because I didn’t want to go in with preconceived notions of this group. I want to be clear and clean and give everybody a clear, clean slate.
Apart from coaching Brent Burns at the worlds, DeBoer worked with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau many years ago, at the under 18 level. Presumably, those brief experiences will not impact his desire to start with a blank slate.
DeBoer was behind the bench when the New Jersey Devils went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. His one NHL post before that was with the Florida Panthers, where he coached the team to what was then their second best season record with 93 points.
What DeBoer lacked in splashy recognition (which that Cup run with New Jersey should have remedied) he makes up for in experience. With Dale Tallon’s Panthers, he navigated a tumultuous ownership situation. With Lou Lamoriello’s Devils, he revived older veterans and honed inexperienced youngsters. He may have only had a few seasons with each club, but six-plus seasons in the NHL should be plenty to give DeBoer veteran status as a head coach. His best records with each team came in his first seasons as head coach, so at the very least Sharks fans can look forward to a good season to come.
Many expected Doug Wilson to hire someone without prior experience as an NHL head coach. That expectation was based on a small sample size of prior decisions, as San Jose was Todd McLellan’s first stint as a head coach in the NHL. Doug Wilson described DeBoer as a top priority to interview when the Sharks commenced their coaching search:
When the head coaching position became available this year he just so happened to be available also. That to me was why he was opn eof the priority interviews right from the beginning. He was busy at the time, going over and pursuing another goal, part of the coaching staff that brought back the gold from the World Championships
Wilson also mentioned that the Sharks received input from two people who had worked with DeBoer:
We’re very very fortunate that one of the most respected men in hockey, part of our staff, coached with Peter when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals, and that’s Larry Robinson. Larry is not only respected as a player but as a coach. Nine Stanley Cups, six as a player, three as a coach. And his character reference and his knowledge of working side by side with Peter had a lot to do with it.
Another guy who had a huge impact on us is one of the most beloved players we’ve ever had here, is Adam Graves… Adam was probably one of the strongest references for Peter. That meant an awful lot to us.
For DeBoer’s part, he cited the fan enthusiasm that he had witnessed as a visiting coach among the factors that helped him choose the Sharks.
Coming in here as a visiting coach for the last seven years in the NHL, this has always been one of the most intimidating buildings in the league because of the fan base, because of the passion of the crowd and also because of the style of play and the pressure the Sharks put on you. We want to make sure we get back to that this year. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves here and get to work.
DeBoer kept his opening comments very short and threw the floor out to media questions after just a few lines.
The first question was about the team being in a rebuild mode and what DeBoer’s expectations would be for the coming season. DeBoer said that his expectations would not be dampened by the age or experience level of his roster:
I think if you enter the San Jose Sharks organization like I am as a head coach, the expectation is to win right now, regardless of the ages or the birth certificates of the players. There’s a tradition here of winning and of challenging to go deep into the playoffs and that’s my expectation, I think that’s Doug’s expectation and I don’t think anyone’s looking for anything less than that here.
David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News asked DeBoer how he is different as a coach now than he was in 2008. DeBoer said:
I know coming out of Junior I didn’t give enough credence to experience at the NHL level… I’ve come to appreciate the value of experience in coaching. Over the last six or seven years I’ve dealt with a lot of different situations both on and off the ice and if I didn’t have that experience… some I handled well, some I didn’t. We’d like to change things. It’s like any business, experience accounts for a lot I’m a much better coach today than I was three, four years ago when I went to the Stanley Cup Final and definitely better than when I entered the league seven years ago.
You get the feeling that DeBoer may be the kind of coach that puts a lot of stock in positive reinforcement. He twice complimented reporters on their good questions, and he never gave the impression that he was being evasive. The only time he did not give a fairly direct answer was to the question: what changes have to be made in San Jose?
I don’t think there’s one thing, I think there’s a lot of things. I want to talk to the players, I’ve had some good conversations with Doug. I want to watch some more game film. I’ve got some ideas in my head but I can’t box it up for you here in one package here. I can tell you that I think it’s fixable.
He went on to explain why he thinks the team’s troubles are fixable:
The most comforting thing to me is the character of this group. You’ve got a lot of proud people here that aren’t too happy about where they were sitting at the end of last season. My history with that is if you’ve got character and you’ve been through that, you’re ready to push back. I think we’re going to see that.
An interesting biographical fact about DeBoer is that he has a law degree. He acquired it after playing minor pro hockey and realizing he was not going to make it to the NHL as a player. He originally thought the degree would translate into work in some other aspect of the hockey business. While in law school, a roommate introduced him to coaching, but that was not the only way the degree has benefited him:
I feel I use the law degree every day in coaching. I think it’s served me very well. Really coaching today’s athlete is sitting him down and making a case why you want them to do something, how it’s going to benefit them, how it’s going to benefit the team.
That roommate was Paul Maurice, current coach of the Winnipeg Jets.
Three current Sharks players were present at the press conference: Patrick Marleau, Tommy Wingels and Al Stalock.