Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Updated: July 20, 10:15 AM ET
Peter DeBoer takes over Devils
By Mike Mazzeo
Special to ESPNNewYork.com
NEWARK, N.J. -- The wait is finally over.
Peter DeBoer has been named the head coach of the New Jersey Devils.
More than three months after Jacques Lemaire retired on April 10, general manager Lou Lamoriello announced during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that DeBoer, who coached the Florida Panthers for three seasons before being fired on April 10, would succeed Lemaire at the helm.
"In my mind he's just an outstanding coach," Lamoriello said. "I've known Pete and watched Pete coach for many years. He's technically as sound as anyone."
DeBoer's hiring marks the ninth coaching change by the Devils since 2005 when Pat Burns was forced to give up the position due to illness.
"You'd always like to have stability, but the thing about it is, you want to win," Lamoriello said. "Stability brings winning, but if you're not winning, what good is stability? It's as simple as that, and I don't apologize for that."
The Devils failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96 last season, and they're hoping that DeBoer, who compiled a 103-107-36 record with the Panthers and never made the playoffs, can guide the franchise to a quick turnaround.
"You look around at our profession and that (winning or being let go) kind of comes with the territory," DeBoer, 43, a part owner of the Ontario Hockey League's Oshawa Generals and a two-time OHL Coach of the Year (1999 and 2000), said. "Lou seems like he's looking for stability and it's going to be my responsibility not to give him a reason to make a change."
DeBoer, a native of Dunnville, Ontario, has served as a head coach for 16 consecutive seasons, including 13 years in the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers (2001-08), Plymouth Whalers (1997-2001), and Detroit Whalers (1995-97). In seven seasons with the Rangers, he posted 297 wins, a .676 winning percentage, and led the club to the 2003 Memorial Cup Championship and the 2008 OHL Championship.
"I found out (Tuesday) morning that I was getting the job," DeBoer said. "This (the press conference) is the first order of business. Now it's time for me to role up my sleeves and start calling my players (Wednesday)."
Ken Hitchcock's and Michel Therrien's names had come up as possible candidates during the process, but it was DeBoer who emerged seemingly out of nowhere to land the position.
"I had to be very patient," said DeBoer, who turned down several NHL coaching positions, including a chance to be an assistant under his friend, Brent Sutter, with the Calgary Flames. "But Lou was very forthright from our first conversation (shortly after the season ended). We met and had a good talk. He kept me updated on when our next conversations were going to be, but at no point in the process did he say 'The job's yours, and I'm not looking at other candidates.'"
DeBoer was asked to describe his coaching style. Throughout their history, the Devils, who have won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003, have always been known as an organization whose foundation begins and ends with defense.
"Like I said, philosophically I think (Lou and me) are on the same page, we believe in the same things," DeBoer said. "I think every coach has his own identity and his own characteristics. We want to pursue the puck. We want to dictate the pace of the play. But at the same time the foundation of that is still good, solid defensive hockey and playing the right way, and I think that meshes perfectly with what they do here."
At the same time, DeBoer realizes he's going to have to revamp the team offensively. Last season, the Devils finished last in both goals scored (171) and goals per game (2.09). And he understands that that's going to begin and end with superstar left winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who endured a tumultuous first season in New Jersey.
Kovalchuk clashed with John MacLean, but had the ultimate respect for Lemaire, and flourished after he took over for MacLean.
"I think that respect is much more important than a relationship," DeBoer said. "From what I know about Ilya, I hear his heart's in the right place. He plays hard, he practices hard and he's a good person. I get along with players like that. I don't have a problem with that."
DeBoer said it still eats at him that he was never able to qualify for the postseason in Florida and hopes that changes in New Jersey.
"You're in this job to win and to play in the playoffs," DeBoer said. "Up until the last three years, I'd never missed the playoffs in my coaching career, so it was something that ate at me every day. This is a perennial playoff team and should have a chance to win."
DeBoer has had experience coaching some of the players on the Devils' roster.
"I had David Clarkson as a 17-year-old in Kitchener," DeBoer said. "And Mark Fraser was my captain in junior. I had Travis Zajac as well."
At this point, DeBoer doesn't how he's going to assemble his coaching staff.
"My plan is to reach out to everyone on the staff," DeBoer said. "I know they have some great people here."
New Jersey's offseason has been highlighted by the addition of 18-year-old defenseman Adam Larsson, who was drafted by the team with the fourth overall pick in the first round of the 2011 NHL entry draft.
However, the Devils are unsure as to whether or not the much ballyhooed rookie will make the club out of training camp.
The Devils also retained free-agent defenseman Andy Greene and backup goaltender Johan Hedberg, signing them to four and one-year contracts, respectively. They inked enforcers Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen to add depth up front.
Sniper Zach Parise, who missed most of last season with a torn meniscus in his right knee, has an arbitration hearing set for Aug. 3.
Lamoriello hired former Devils winger MacLean at the start of the 2010-11 campaign, but the team struggled to a 9-22-2 record out of the gate, which led to MacLean's firing.
Lemaire took over out of respect for Lamoriello and guided the team back into playoff contention, but they sputtered down the stretch after a remarkable run, ultimately missing out on postseason contention for the first time in 14 seasons.
After taking over the Panthers job in 2008-09, DeBoer guided Florida to a 41-30-11 record and 93 points -- the second-most in franchise history -- but the Panthers finished in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and missed out on the playoffs.
"It was the first time I'd ever been fired," DeBoer said. "You run the gamut of emotions. You hope that someone notices the job you did there despite the results, when you looked at the results, and I think that Lou recognized that, and I'm appreciative of the opportunity to work here."
As a player, DeBoer played with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires and the IHL's Milwaukee Admirals but never reached the NHL. He scored 84 goals in the OHL and 48 in the IHL.
Since Burns left, the Devils have had eight different coaches including Lemaire and Lamoriello, twice. The others have been Larry Robinson, Claude Julien, Sutter, MacLean and now DeBoer.
DeBoer said he had lunch with Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek before he was hired.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity to be part of any organization of winning and to work with Lou," DeBoer said. "It's always nice when a coach can have a GM that has had a coaching background. I think it's a great asset for me as a coach."
Mike Mazzeo is a frequent contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.