The Stanley Cup Finals start today, as this meandering and memorable year of hockey for Panther fans is drawing to a close. We’ve seen incredible scoring prowess from a great top line, some fantastic saves from each of our capable goaltenders, and a solid postseason showing for the first time in more than a decade. To make matters even better, our homegrown young talent is developing in the background, preparing to make the Panthers perennial Cup contenders like the “blueprint” drew things up.
Yes, things are going great if you’re a Panther fan. But there is one item on a preseason agenda that we would’ve liked to have checked off: to have Pete DeBoer and the New Jersey Devils have an awful year. In this case, you just can’t get everything. Pete and his gang are representing the Eastern Conference in the Cup Finals, and they took the Panthers down to get there. It stands to reason that the New Jersey Devils could win the whole damn thing. Not exactly an awful year.
We here at The Rat Trick still haven’t totally warmed up to DeBoer after his exit from Sunrise. In general, it’s tough for any fan to have warmed up by now. The man called “DeBoring” after his style of hockey had trouble stirring up Panther fans when he was coach, and he certainly has trouble with PR now down here. But the more Pete is finding success with his new franchise, the more pointless it gets for us to dislike him.
But that’s not to say I wouldn’t want to hate DeBoer. He had a whole bunch of offenses down here in Florida that helped make his tenure unsuccessful. One could start with his general unpopularity among the players, as evidenced by this Scott Clemmensen quote:
“There was friction between (DeBoer) and a lot of players at some point. I just think that was his coaching style. There’s the pat on the back type of coach and the kick in the (butt) type of coach. I think he was more of the latter. It didn’t mean we weren’t all pulling in the same direction. Everybody wanted the same thing here and it was frustrating at times. To say the least.
Also consider his apparent lack of hockey intellect demonstrated behind the benches. DeBoer’s strategy seemed to be mostly consistent of “Let’s stumble on some goals in the first two periods and sit on our lead in the third. And pray we don’t go to a shootout.” As would be apropos of his reign in Sunrise, DeBoer’s teams often had trouble holding on to late leads, mostly because his team would stop attacking and start turtling into a prevent defense brand of hockey. It’s tough to win games with only one side of the puck. What drove many Panther fans especially crazy about these things was the silly look on his face at all times, leaning against the glass behind him with a disinterested facial expression and his hands in his pockets. But worst of all his team’s overall performance with a 103-107-36 record. He couldn’t push his team to the next level and make the playoffs, his only goal with the team.
But it’s important to keep in mind that despite all these offenses that DeBoer had the deck stacked against him right off the bat. His teams were woefully short on individual skill, which was amplified by his defensive state of mind of hockey. Some of the GM moves made during his tenure were “puzzling”, and the team could never make much of a splash in free agency or via trade to improve the roster. The final straw for DeBoer was Dale Tallon’s purging of the roster in last year’s trade deadline. He had an AHL team to work with at an NHL level. When Hugh Jessiman was on the top line along with Stephen Weiss and David Booth, that was rock bottom for our team. After three years with rapidly decreasing talent, most of us probably shouldn’t blame DeBoer for wanting to ditch and start over with another team. DeBoer didn’t have the patience or the mentality to deal with young players and see through the Blueprint. Shortly after the end of the year, DeBoer was canned with a year left on his contract, and I’m sure that move wasn’t met by much opposition by DeBoer.
So as much as Panther fans would like to see DeBoer struggle in his exit from Sunrise, it probably just won’t happen. In New Jersey, DeBoer has a roster he can work with. He has two elite scorers in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, a solid supporting cast in Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac, a couple good young players in Adam Larsson and Adam Henrique, a first ballot Hall-of-Fame goaltender in Martin Brodeur, and productive bottom six forwards including Stephen Gionta and David Clarkson. There really is no comparison between the weak Panther teams and the Cup-contending veteran roster that DeBoer found himself coaching. Pete has the roster he wanted when he coached the Panthers, one he couldn’t get for various reasons.
The Panthers’ success, or lack thereof, with DeBoer can mostlybe chalked up to the coach and team being a poor fit for each other. Both have moved on, both have found success, and both jave bright futures ahead. So maybe its tine to ley bygones be bygones and remove a hatred of DeBoer from our heads. We can all hate the Hirricanes and Capitals instead.
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