A Thought On NHL Coach Firings

By: Topher Scott

It has been a tough few months for the NHL and specifically its coaches in the wake of some stories that have surfaced about coaching misconduct.

More than ever now, coaches will have a microscope on their every move.  And not just what we see on the ice but the way they treat people away from it.  With the new code of conduct and other steps that have been put into place, there will certainly be a higher accountability factor for everybody in the league.

Accountability, though, can be a tricky thing at times.  Even with an established code of conduct it can be difficult dishing out the appropriate punishment for certain infractions.  No situation is typically the same and differing variables within those situations can make judgements difficult to say the least.

You can look at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety as a perfect example.  They will always get scrutinized on their fines or suspensions given out for dangerous plays during a game.  They will be wrong (or right) depending on who you are talking to and how that person sees a certain play.  It’s a losing battle and a tough job to say the least.

Relating this back to NHL coaches, I want to touch on some of the firings that have transpired since the start of the season.  And one in particular.

To start, it was clear that Bill Peters had to go.  What he did and what he said was inexcusable and there was no other way to handle it other than kicking him out of the game.

Then it goes to Babcock, who also didn’t have the greatest stories told about him and his ways.  Then to John Hynes who struggled to put wins together in New Jersey while management went all in to win now.  Then to Jim Montgomery where the story is still yet to be told.  There’s more gray area to these firings, but one could argue that they could be justified.

And that brings us to Pete DeBoer.  This one I don’t understand.

The guy took the team to its first ever Stanley Cup Final a few years ago.  Last year he took them back to the Western Conference Final while they were leaking oil and missing some of their top players.

And yes, the team has been inconsistent this year.  And I admittedly have no insight into what is going on behind the scenes in San Jose.

But they are saying that this is purely a hockey decision? A guy who has a winning percentage in San Jose of over 60% and took the team to the Final Four of the league LAST YEAR?

I have a few thoughts on this.

I’ll tell you exactly when Pete DeBoer’s demise came.  Because it wasn’t during his last losing streak.

It’s when management decided to give almost 50 million dollars to Evander Kane and draft Ryan Merkley with their first round pick a few years ago.  If this is the direction the Sharks are going with their player selection…it doesn’t matter who the coach is, he’s doomed.

DeBoer had a winning percentage of .603 for the Sharks.  That is a pretty good statistic.  But here’s another one:

In his 11 year NHL career…while playing for only 3 organizations…Evander Kane has now played for 8 different head coaches.

And before getting to San Jose and playing for DeBoer, he had never played a playoff game.  In eight years.

There were culture problems in Winnipeg (https://www.tsn.ca/talent/more-questions-arise-in-kane-jets-drama-1.200583).

There were culture problems in Buffalo (https://www.si.com/nhl/2016/08/03/evander-kane-buffalo-sabres-assault-accusations-troubled-history).

There are more problems in San Jose (https://www.cbssports.com/nhl/news/sharks-evander-kane-sued-by-las-vegas-casino-over-unpaid-500000-gambling-debt/).

I admittedly don’t have any idea on what’s going on in San Jose.  And Kane might be a good guy, I don’t know him to say the least. But I do know that management gave 50 shmillion dollars to a player who has had issues everywhere he’s been.

The decision also gobbled up too much cap space to resign their heart-and-soul captain (and 38 goal scorer last year) Joe Pavelski.  A guy whose teammates talk about him like this: https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/04/24/emotional-joe-thornton-on-comeback-joe-pavelski-this-is-for-pavs/

Pretty stark difference.

Management was quoted as saying the team this year is lacking consistency.  Well, yeah.  Their 50 million a year guy can’t consistently be on the ice because he gets suspended and does stupid things on the ice.

He was suspended for the first three games this year for abuse of officials (all San Jose losses…probably wouldn’t have happened had he been in the lineup).  He was suspended in the playoffs last year.

Even the last two games DeBoer coached in San Jose Kane got misconducts for instigating fights.  The fights weren’t for sticking up for teammates or anything like that.  It was all about him.  He was out for over 15 minutes of both those games (both losses).

Pete DeBoer is widely known as one of the more honest and better guys in the game.  He has a great track record.  But he didn’t have a chance.  And if Kane hasn’t changed by now, neither does Bob Boughner.  Or any other coach.  You hear it all the time:

One bad apple can spoil a whole bunch.  Especially when that bad apple is one of the team’s best players.

It’s happened with Kane everywhere he’s gone and seven coaches presumably have gotten their pink slips because of it.

And for a team that has consistently drafted amazing and been one of the better organizations in the league because of it…they take Ryan Merkley with their first round pick two years ago.  A player who was supposed to be a top 5 NHL pick but slid to them in the 20s because of character issues.  A player who is already on his third OHL team in four years despite his incredible talent.

I’m not sure where Doug Wilson and Doug Wilson Jr. are going with these decisions, but the accountability of these decisions is on them.  Investing in high talent but questionable character players is a risky, risky proposition.

And while I’m sure there was more going on with Pete DeBoer in San Jose than I know, he was the scapegoat for a poor management decision…possibly even philosophy…that I think is going to haunt them moving forward if they continue to go down this road.

*Photo at top courtesy of fearthefin.com*