DeBoer jumps back in as Stars coach, looks to spark offense
DALLAS (AP) — Pete DeBoer didn’t really hesitate to jump right back into coaching with the Dallas Stars about a month after he was fired by the Vegas Golden Knights.
Now the 54-year-old is ready to try to spark the offense of the only playoff team to get outscored during the 2021-22 regular season.
“The Vegas one rattled me,” DeBoer said during his introductory news conference Wednesday, sitting next to general manager Jim Nill with captain Jamie Benn in the audience.
“I think as a coach and a veteran coach that’s gone through it before, you lick your wounds for a couple of days, you reflect on what you could have done differently,” he said. “And then the phone starts ringing and you start diving into the teams that are interested and you start getting excited again.”
It made sense that DeBoer wouldn’t wait for his fifth chance as a head coach in the NHL. The Vegas firing bothered him because he thought the coaching staff kept playoff hopes alive longer than expected in an injury-plagued season.
Besides, DeBoer never took a year off between the other stints. In fact, Vegas hired him the same season he was fired in San Jose (2019-20), and he led the Golden Knights to the Western Conference final in the playoff bubble in Canada before they lost to Dallas.
DeBoer, whose first NHL head coaching job was with Florida, has reached the Stanley Cup Final twice in a first season — with New Jersey in 2011-12 and with San Jose four years later. Since Nill believes Dallas has a roster capable of such a run, he said this decision was easy.
“I’m a big resume guy,” Nill said. “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations. I know Pete can do it.”
The Stars want to score more goals without sacrificing the defensive structure that was the priority under Rick Bowness, who led Dallas to the Stanley Cup Final in the bubble as the interim coach before getting a two-year contract.
After an overtime loss to Calgary in Game 7 of the first round, the 67-year-old Bowness said he was stepping away.
Dallas had the second highest-scoring line in franchise history with Jason Robertson, the fourth 40-goal scorer in Stars history, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, the soon-to-be 38-year-old who was DeBoer’s captain with the Sharks and signed a one-year extension with Dallas during the season.
The problem has been the highest-paid players, and previously high-scoring forwards, in Benn and Tyler Seguin.
Benn had only 18 goals and a minus-13 rating that was the worst in his 13 NHL seasons. Seguin, a six-time All-Star who missed all but three games in 2020-21 because of a torn hip labrum and knee surgery, was minus-21 with 24 goals (49 points). Seguin played the end of this season and against Calgary with a fractured bone in his left foot.
“I don’t think it’s a secret,” DeBoer said. “We want to unlock some of the offensive game to this group. What can we do better style of play wise in order to be better? The second thing is, individually, what individual players can we get more out of and what’s the plan to do that? And that goes hand-in-hand sometimes with style of play.”
Dallas has one of the best young defensemen in the league in Miro Heiskanen, who turns 23 next month. When the season starts, he will be the same age as goalie Jake Oettinger, whose breakout season ended with a stellar showing against Calgary.
Anton Khudobin, the 36-year-old with one year left on his contract, should be healthy again next season, and DeBoer has a history of giving veteran goalies another chance after shifting away from them.
“Like all young goalies, you’ve got to temper that. We all saw what he did in the playoffs,” DeBoer said of Oettinger, who played at Boston University with DeBoer’s son. “It’s following it up the next year. And our responsibility as coaches, and as a team, is to make sure we keep that foundation and structure around him.”
Nill hired DeBoer will just one year left on his own contract, but the coach said he received assurances from owner Tom Gaglardi that Nill would be “part of this while I’m here.” The 64-year-old Nill said he planned to be GM for several years and was working with Gaglardi on a succession plan.
“I think when you step outside of this organization and you get a perspective from the outside and you look at the drafting and the young talent coming and the blend of veterans and young guys, the future of this organization is really bright,” DeBoer said. “That’s a big part of Jim and what he does, so that was a big piece for me.”