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Peter DeBoer? Devils Make Head-Scratching Selection

Peter DeBoer became the seventh coach for the Devils in the past seven years. Photo Credit: Andy Marlin/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils finally finished their coaching search two days ago, becoming the last team to fill that spot. The selection is still a bit of a head-scratcher.

Several big names were linked to the team’s open spot. Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therien, two veteran coaches with playoff experience, seemed destined for the job at one time or another. The Montreal Canadiens link still existed, with Guy Carbonneau finding his name attached to the position. Assistants like Mike Haviland were thrown into the discussion. Reports even had the Devils dipping into the college ranks, with Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves possibly taking over. Surprisngly, none of these guys earned the job.

Instead, Devils’ president and general manager Lou Lamoriello decided to hire Peter DeBoer. Does it ring a bell? DeBoer spent the past three seasons as the Florida Panthers coach, compiling a less-than-stellar 103-107-36 record. He never made the playoffs, but came close, losing out to the Canadiens in a tiebreaker during the 2008-09 season. Before coaching in the NHL, he spent seven seasons as the Kitchner Rangers head coach. That team won the Memorial Cup in 2003 and featured right-winger David Clarkson.

Clarkson gave the hire a ringing endorsement.

“I think Pete is going to be a great fit,” Clarkson told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record yesterday. “Wherever he goes, he finds a way to get the best out of the players.”

Lamoriello believes DeBoer can serve a dual purpose. First and foremost, the team needed a coach who could bring them back to the playoffs. The veteran-laden roster is seeing their championship window close rapidly. The organization’s 14-year playoff streak snapped last year, and Lamoriello doesn’t want to make that an every year occurance.

He also needed a coach who could relate to young players. The Devils relied heavily on rookies last season, and their better prospects are knocking on the NHL door. DeBoer spent the past three years coaching young players with Florida. The teams weren’t great, but it gave him the opportunity to learn the ropes. Lamoriello believes that experience served him well.

“He’s young,” Lamoriello said to Gulitti. “He has excellent experiences in dealing with all types of players. He also served as an assistant where he an opportunity in international play with league players and to (be able to) sit and watch how other people handed them. And I think he’s had three years of outstanding apprenticeship (with Florida), if that’s what you want to call it.”

New Jersey needs stability behind the bench. They’ve burned through seven coaches in seven seasons. Brent Sutter is the only coach to spend longer than one year behind the Devils’ bench. It’s an issue that’s come up time and time again this offseason, and is so important that Zach Parise mentioned it when talking about his desire to re-sign with New Jersey long-term. DeBoer acknowledged the challenges of being a Devils coach and the expectations behind it.

“You look around at our profession and that kind of comes with the territory,” DeBoer told Gulitti. “But I think Lou’s looking for some stability in my conversations in this position and it’s going to be my responsibility to make sure that I don’t give him reason to make a change. That’s on me to make sure we have enough success and play the right way that that’s not an option.”

The stability issue eliminated more qualified candidates. Both Therien and Hitchcock are older and would bring a shorter shelf life. DeBoer can grow with the players on the roster and hopefully set them up for future success. But their taking a huge risk on that potential. Sure, he’s shown potential at the junior level. He also spent three years with a subpar roster in Florida. But MacLean showed potential too, and flamed out.

In the end, DeBoer is a wild-card signing. He could be a huge hit, but his track record isn’t outstanding. It’s a risk, and a possibly dangerous one.

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