The Daily Chum: What should the Sharks do with Peter DeBoer?
DeBoer must learn from his mistakes, but the Sharks must learn from mistakes made by management at his previous stops, too.
Eerie similarities emerged this season between the Peter DeBoer-coached San Jose Sharks, and his previous stops with the Florida Panthers. Not only did DeBoer make some of the mistakes that had previously doomed him, the same factors outside of his control that played a role in his previous firings reappeared or appear on the horizon.
It would be foolish to fire the only coach to lead the Sharks to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final because of that. But if DeBoer is unable to learn from his own mistakes, and if Doug Wilson and management cannot avoid the mistakes of management teams DeBoer worked under in the past? He may not be in San Jose much longer.
DeBoer guided the Sharks to their second consecutive playoff appearance this year, the first time he had done so in his NHL coaching career. It helped that, unlike the second season at his previous stops, DeBoer did not lose the team’s best player via trade or free agency in the offseason, and that the Sharks actually improved their roster.
Yet, some worrisome trends that emerged in DeBoer’s previous stops reared their ugly heads nonetheless. Just as it did in his second seasons in Florida and New Jersey, the Sharks’ power play converted at a lower percentage, despite utilizing largely the same personnel as the previous season.
Those numbers continued to drop in his third season in Florida, but rebounded significantly in his third season in New Jersey. What did not appear to change was DeBoer’s handling of young players.
Rookie forwards Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc never seemed to fully earn the trust of DeBoer and the coaching staff, as the pair was shuffled back and forth between the Barracuda. Labanc endured a long scoring drought and was a decent possession player, but Meier led the Sharks in both score-and-venue adjusted Corsi (58.25%) and Fenwick (57.17%), and was one of the Sharks’ more effective players in the playoffs despite not finding the scoresheet.
DeBoer’s reputation of not adequately integrating young players into the lineup dates back to his time in Florida. Consider what Chris Roberts of SB Nation’s Litter Box Cats told the folks at All About the Jersey about DeBoer when the Devils first hired him in 2011:
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.
More famously, defenseman and 2011 fourth overall pick Adam Larsson was not trusted much by DeBoer initially. Although he seemed to enter the coach’s good graces more over time, Larsson and Eric Gelinas were not trusted as much as some of the Devils’ other younger defensemen, who weren’t as effective, as Dave Lozo wrote at the time of DeBoer’s 2014 Boxing Day firing in New Jersey:
DeBoer's stubborn nature when it comes to playing certain young defensemen (Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas) and a blinding love of others (Jon Merrill, Damon Severson) never made much sense either. DeBoer and the Devils put Larsson's development on the back burner when the playoffs became a reality during the 2011-12 season, and that's where the fourth pick in the 2011 draft has mostly remained.
Larsson (50.8 percent Fenwick) and Gelinas (49.1) have played much better than Merrill (45.0) at 5-on-5 this season, yet it's Merrill playing about six minutes more per game than Larsson and Gelinas.
While an imperfect comparison, his handling of Larsson, Gelinas, and Merrill evokes Meier (55.21 CF% this postseason) coming out of the lineup in game 6, while Marcus Sorensen (45.24 CF%) stayed in the lineup.
The power play’s decline and his handling of young players raise some red flags, but so do the forces outside of his control that played a role in his departures from Florida and New Jersey.
In back-to-back offseasons, the Panthers traded their best defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester, and their best forward, Nathan Horton. In back-to-back offseasons in New Jersey, DeBoer watched as Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk left for Minnesota and the KHL, respectively.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are not as young as any of those other players were when they left. But much like Florida and New Jersey, San Jose doesn’t have any internal options to wholly replace its departed stars, either.
DeBoer is also dealing with an aging roster, as he did at the end of his time in New Jersey. In another passage that will sound reminiscent of this Sharks season, Greg Wyshynski asked the following a month before DeBoer’s firing:
But is it on DeBoer that Patrik Elias decided to act his age this season, with just one goal in his last 23 games? Is it on DeBoer that little injuries to key players like Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique have added up, while Ryane Clowe’s noggin continues to make his signing one of the most baffling and reactionary in Lou Lamoriello’s tenure?
Again, doesn’t this sound familiar? Joel Ward certainly acted his age this season, while Joonas Donskoi managed just 17 points in 61 games in a season in which he separated his shoulder twice.
Despite aging and injuries, the Sharks still managed to improve on their 2015-16 record, albeit barely. Considering the drop-off the Devils experienced between DeBoer’s third and fourth seasons, when his rosters were consistent if not improved as was the case in San Jose this season, that’s encouraging.
DeBoer undoubtedly needs to improve in some areas, but like many other coaches, can only be expected to do so much with the roster put in front of him. Sure, he can somewhat mitigate the effects of an aging roster by further incorporating the team’s young players, which the Sharks are arguably better equipped to do than his Panthers or Devils were. But, injuries and talented players heading elsewhere are out of his control.
If DeBoer is to avoid the fate of his previous stops, he needs to learn from his own mistakes, but management must also put him in a position to succeed. Failing to do one, let alone both of these things will likely ensure DeBoer’s ending in San Jose is the same as the one he experienced in Florida and New Jersey.