I hated Peter DeBoer all season last year. I thought DeBoer failed to make in-game adjustments throughout the season and was personally responsible for several losses throughout the year. His inability to read the flow of a game led to third period collapses. Much of the New Jersey Devils‘ stretches of offensive futility could be blamed on his failure to produce favorable matchups. I thought a fourth line with both Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton on it was an abomination unto the hockey world and an unforgivable sin. Why did the Devils sign a coach that the Florida Panthers didn’t want? It was almost as bad as the John MacLean era. Almost.
Then the Devils finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak and surged into the postseason, led primarily by line changes Peter DeBoer initiated. Stephen Gionta finally got his chance to shine in the NHL and made the most of it. The 5’7” grinder produced bigger hits in his short season than Boulton and Janssen did all year as “enforcers” – not to mention being a halfway talented hockey player in his own right. Before a faux pas in the Stanley Cup Finals cost Steve Bernier my respect, his presence on the fourth line gave the Devils depth. Suddenly, Peter DeBoer was a genius. He found talent no one knew existed and created a tenacious bottom two lines that would not be denied. His late-season shuffling produced one of the most exciting forechecks on one of the deepest teams in hockey. He led the New Jersey Devils past his old team in an exciting seven-game series with the Panthers, triumphed over a heavily-favored Philadelphia Flyers team, and avenged a 1994 Eastern Conference Finals loss to the New York Rangers.
His video game line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Zach Parise succeeded despite a perceived lack of chemistry. The second-line gelled, and the Devils had five 20-goal scorers and three scorers with 30. Adam Henrique prospered under DeBoer’s system and was a candidate for rookie of the year. Peter DeBoer deserves all the credit in the world for restoring a winning culture to the New Jersey Devils, and making the adjustments necessary to key a Stanley Cup run with the sixth-seeded Devils.
After an inspiring playoff push, what can we expect from Peter DeBoer in his sophomore season? The loss of Zach Parise means DeBoer’s best effort player is no longer with the team. Offense will also be a challenge, as Parise could be counted on to consistently produce at least 60 points. An old team got older. The New Jersey Devils have depth, but can DeBoer again find the magical combinations that took him 78 games to construct last season? Will his weaknesses with in-game adjustments reappear with a less talented roster?
Ultimately, the 2012-13 season is crucial for the career of Peter DeBoer. He won me over with his decision-making at the end of last season and throughout the playoffs. However, he also infuriated me for half a season. There’s a reason he was run out of Florida; The Panthers were a playoff team without DeBoer after a few minor adjustments. Peter DeBoer needs to show more consistency in 2012-13. He built an excellent foundation for a fine coaching career in New Jersey with his improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Peter DeBoer showed leadership and poise throughout the postseason. Still, he needs to continue to win. If he reverts to the Peter DeBoer that values six-man brawls more than legitimate hockey talent, all might be forgotten.