When things go well, head coaches never seem to get enough credit.
That wasn’t the case last season, however, as New Jersey Devils head coach Peter DeBoer received endless praise for his bold coaching tactics that led to a Stanley Cup run. He masterfully manipulated his lines into four grinding, scoring, attacking groups of forwards, while he managed his defensive talent effectively in front of the greatest goalie who ever lived.
The New Jersey Devils forecheck was the best in hockey, and its chemistry was unrivaled in the conference as the season ended.
Last season’s playoff run almost made us forget some of the coaching blunders that held New Jersey back last season. Deboer’s fourth line goons saw too many minutes at inopportune times, while his inability to make effective in-game adjustments crippled the Devils.
In a season-long experiment, DeBoer finally found a way to turn arguably the best collection of top-six forwards in hockey into effective combinations in the final weeks – just in time for a playoff run. Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, David Clarkson, and Patrik Elias combined for 142 goals, with Zajac missing almost the entire season.
Imagine if someone of the coaching talent of Jacques Lemaire had that kind of ability at his disposal.
Although it may be a bit unfair to bring it up, one year after DeBoer left the Florida Panthers, the Cats emerged from the depths of the Southeast Division to make the playoffs. A few small changes, most notably at head coach, propelled the Florida Panthers to a three-seed that took the 100-point New Jersey Devils to seven games in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer is most to blame for the sudden collapse of his team. The offense is sputtering because DeBoer has failed to find line combinations that work, and he abandons them before they can develop chemistry. No line is safe, as he even broke up the Gionta-Carter-Bernier line, his only effective group of players of late.
His top-line has seen Ilya Kovalchuk stuck with AHL call ups and third-line conversions, while constant in-game adjustments have failed to generate offense. The decision to ride a slumping Johan Hedberg into the ground this month may have crushed the confidence of the Devils’ backup goaltender for good.
Most of all, Peter DeBoer tampered with his defensive units to the point that they have completely collapsed. The New Jersey Devils entered the season thinking their eight-man rotation of NHL-caliber defensemen would be a source of depth and strength.
Marek Zidlicky has been exposed as all but useless defensively, and DeBoer has failed to pair him with a partner who can hide his weaknesses and complement him offensively. DeBoer’s perplexing rotation of healthy scratches has proven to be incredibly detrimental, as a rusty Henrik Tallinder slowly returned to form after a lengthy stay on the bench.
Perhaps most alarming of all was the decision to bench Adam Larsson to start the year, which showed a frightening inability to evaluate talent, chemistry, and the needs of his team.
Random lines, double shifts, half shifts, terrible in-game decisions, overusing a slumping goalie, bad penalty kills, inept power plays, and terrible management of the New Jersey Devils defensive corps has DeBoer’s team riding a six-game winless streak.
At some point, with this much talent and a Stanley Cup Finals roster, the coach has to be at fault for this precipitous fall from the top of the Eastern Conference – in this case, it’s DeBoer.
You can’t blame the coach for the poor play of the players, but you can blame him for putting his players in poor position to win games.