Peter DeBoer: A Seemingly Good Head Coach Hire for the New Jersey Devils

Peter DeBoer - Your 2011-12 Head Coach of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

As reported earlier today and confirmed by the team in a press conference this afternoon, Peter DeBoer has been hired as the head coach for the New Jersey Devils.   The Devils can scratch this crucial position from their offseason to-do list; leaving the efforts to try and re-sign Zach Parise and/or Mark Fraser before their arbitration hearings.

Now, that the coaching decision has finally happened, it's natural and understandable to ask a lot of questions and give a lot of first impressions.  Is Peter DeBoer the right choice? What can we expect from him?  Does he have a shot at staying long term?  What, if anything, should we worry about him?  Will he want new assistant coaches? What will he do with the captaincy?  Will he be a disciplinarian, or will he be more of a player's coach. These are all fair ones to ask.  At the same time, it's way too early to ask since we won't actually get any answers until he's behind the bench in a meaningful hockey game.

To that end, I say that hiring DeBoer is a seemingly good hire for the Devils.  I'll explain my rationale further after the jump.  Yet, as we saw with John MacLean last summer - a hire that most of the readership liked at the time - what we may initially think and feel, no matter how reasonable it may be, doesn't necessarily mean he'll do a good job like we hope.  Basically, I would take the following with some grains of salt.  What you shouldn't take with salt is an embedded video of DeBoer speaking to the media for the first time as Devils head coach after the jump as well.

First, the video from the Devils' website.  Turn up your volume because the audio's a bit low.

Back in late June, I attempted some kind of head coaching speculation post and mentioned DeBoer briefly.  He wasn't exactly a name that was being touted highly for the position, but I didn't think he should be overlooked.  Here's what I wrote then:

I don't think Peter DeBoer really got a fair shake in Florida, and he underwent three different GMs and owners in his time as head coach of the Panthers. While they didn't go anywhere, they weren't doormats when they easily could have been.  I feel that he was essentially fired for not being Dale Tallon's guy (the current GM) and not being able to make chicken salad out of chicken fecal matter.  Not many coaches can keep teams in playoff contention when their some of their best players are traded away season after season and the GM didn't provide decent depth.  I'd rather take the risk with DeBoer over Crawford, but maybe that's just me.

Now, the Devils took that risk and now they have him.  This should be seen as a welcome change in DeBoer's perspective.  He goes from an unstable management (ownership, GM) situation in Florida  to a very stable management situation in New Jersey - where Lou's the boss when it comes to hockey matters (and the players know this - which is why I'm not concerned about whether DeBoer will be initially respected or not).    He goes from a team that traded off their top players before they went UFA to a team that's got top quality players who will remain Devils for some time. He goes from a team whose depth could be best described as questionable to a team with a glut of depth players, who can be quite serviceable.  I think it's fair to say that this hire is as much of an upgrade for DeBoer as it is needed hire for New Jersey.

One of the benefits of DeBoer's hire is that he's relatively young and has NHL experience. This is ideal for those fans who want to see a head coach possibly last beyond two seasons with this franchise.  He's 43 and this will be his fourth season in the league as a head coach.  Most of the experiences and day-to-day responsibilities are going to be familiar with him.   He'll have to adjust to the Devils organization, sure, but it's not like he's brand new to the league.  Both are reasons to like the hire.

Another benefit is that I always got a sense that DeBoer's Panthers teams were competitive even when it was clear they had nothing to play for and their roster was short on quality.  That could be nothing more than confirmation bias and a sample size issue, since the Devils only played these Panthers 12 times in the last 3 seasons.  At the same time, it suggests that DeBoer isn't a passive coach. He got his players to listen to him and put in a full effort even when it seemed pointless.  That's got to count for something.  If this means he's a disciplinarian, then I really like this hire even more because last season showed to me that this team needs a coach who will crack the whip.

A major benefit is that DeBoer seems to grasp what the Devils organization has been about for the better part of the past two decades. Here's the important quote from from today's press conference, as reported by Rich Chere.

"I think every coach has his own identity and his own characteristics. We want to pursue the puck, dictate the pace of play. But the foundation of that is still good, solid defensive hockey and playing the right way. And I think that meshes with what they do here."

I will admit Florida didn't do a great job in this last season. They allowed 30.8 shots against per 60 at evens, and their possession was hovering around 50%.  Then again, that may be as more of a function of the talent he had as opposed to anything he could do about it. Still, this is as good of a pithy explanation of what the Devils have pushed for regardless of who has coached the team for the last 18 or so years.  That DeBoer gets that right from Day #1 is a positive, and it can only help his acclimation to this organization.  If Lou's comfortable with that (and his work as a head coach), then why not us?

Lastly, DeBoer will benefit from something that I really, really, really think (and hope) will bounce back in 11-12: the team's shooting percentage.   The Devils were by far the worst shooting team in the league last season, and the 10-11 Devils were the worst in the league over the past four seasons at even strength at 6.7%.   Given that luck drives these percentages - not luck alone, but a big part of it is - I have hope it won't be as bad next season.  That will mean more goals, which should hopefully to some more wins that DeBoer can reap the benefits from.   This doesn't mean DeBoer won't have to do anything.  It'll be on him to build his roster appropriately so the forwards can be utilized correctly to generate shots and get possession in his favor.  I'm just saying he hopefully won't suffer from awful percentages that he can't control.

That all said, there are reasons to be concerned as well.  Given that I prefer a strong possession game, I'm not exactly thrilled with how Florida did in terms of Corsi or Fenwick last season.  As acasser pointed out in this comment in the first DeBoer post, DeBoer's records in Florida aren't as impressive as they may seem due to the significant number of OT/SO losses they've racked up. As Tom also noted in those same comments that the Florida power play was terrible under DeBoer, consistently among the worst in the league.   Though, Donny Rivette noted that may have had more to do with Jim Hulton.   All of this can at least be partially explained away by the team DeBoer had.  After all, NHL head coaches don't get to decide who's on their roster - they may have some input, but ultimately, he'll has to make do with whoever the GM decides to get. 

Other fans were concerned about something Chris Roberts at Litterbox Cats wrote about DeBoer that Kevin included in the first DeBoer post:

After his initial success, DeBoer began to show some of the qualities that Panthers fans cringed at during the next two seasons, including his willingness to bench young players and call-ups after making mistakes, shorting players on minutes and a general passiveness when decisions needed to be made. DeBoer's coaching style seemed to switch to a more skill-oriented, fancy-smancy passing scheme (ala Detroit Red Wings) that simply didn't fit with the team he was given. Like most coaches who get canned, he tried to unsuccessfully force his playing style on a team that didn't work that way. This resulted in few goals, a horrendous powerplay, a lack of physicality and a lot of dump-and-chase.

I can see how many Devils fans will read this and immediately think the worst of DeBoer and start to dislike the hire (or justify their dislike of the hire).  I'm not as concerned about this because I can think of a few reasons why this could have happened.  Perhaps DeBoer got word from his new bosses to change things up regardless of what effect it'll have.  Perhaps DeBoer felt serious tactical changes were needed to stem the losses, which only made things worse for the Panthers. Perhaps this was true in some cases, but not entirely for the whole season, and these moves just stick out from history more than others.  I'm not doubting what Chris said - just that this is a reason to think this will immediately repeat in New Jersey.

The biggest concern that I have is that he'll struggle right out of the gate, leading to immediate comparisons to MacLean and undercut    While the bar is set rather low for DeBoer; he'll have to try really hard to do worse than 10 wins in the first three months of the season.  At the same time, the expectations are high for DeBoer because the team he'll get will be more talented, he won't have to worry about a new GM or owner next season that will dramatically effect what team he'll have, and so he has to prove he can manage them well enough for success - that he is a talented coach and can succeed with a better roster.

It's a tall challenge, but I wish Mr. DeBoer nothing but the best of luck in his time behind New Jersey's bench.  I think the benefits outweigh the concerns, since many of them have a big asterisk that reads "but he had some awful rosters, too."  Therefore, I think this is a good hire.  Rather, I think it's a seemingly good hire, until some actual hockey is played. Then we'll know whether it's truly good or not.

While many of you have expressed your feelings about this hire already, feel free to share them here.  Maybe there are other benefits I've missed; maybe there are other concerns I've missed; and maybe there's something else about this hire that should be discussed.  Please do all of that in the comments, and thank you for reading.  Lastly, here's a poll:

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