NEWARK, N.J. — After missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996, the New Jersey Devils have turned to Peter DeBoer to get them to the back to the postseason.
It’s a simple assignment, but seemingly an odd choice by Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello.
The 43-year-old DeBoer spent the past three seasons as the coach of the Florida Panthers and was fired in April after failing to lead them to the playoffs during his tenure.
Lamoriello wasn’t concerned about DeBoer’s qualifications on Tuesday after ending a nearly four-month search to find a replacement for Jacques Lemaire, who went back into retirement after the season ended.
Lamoriello insisted that DeBoer was one of the best young coaches in the business, and his three seasons with the Panthers only made him a better coach.
“Coming out of junior, he was the most highly sought after junior coach,” Lamoriello said. “But I also know from experience there is a transition and when you go through a transition, you make mistakes. If you are intelligent and admit them and learn from them, you can only be a better coach and better person.”
Lamoriello began courting DeBoer after the season ended and the two stayed in touch over the 15-plus weeks since the season ended.
DeBoer said he knew Lamoriello considered others for the coaching job and he remained patient as word that former NHL coaches Ken Hitchcock, Guy Carbonneau and Michel Therrien and current Devils assistant Larry Robinson were in the mix.
Lamoriello eventually turned to DeBoer and finalized the deal on Tuesday morning. A hastily called news conference at the Prudential Center followed with the Devils refusing to confirm their new coach until he walked into the room with Lamoriello.
The coaching change is the ninth for the Devils since the late Pat Burns stepped down after being diagnosed with cancer in 2005. The last major introductory news conference took place roughly 13 months ago, when former Devils star forward John MacLean was introduced. He lasted until Dec. 23, when he was fired with the Devils dead last in the Atlantic Division.
Lemaire came out of retirement and the Devils made a run at the playoffs, but fell short. They finished with a 38-39-5 record.
DeBoer knows the Devils’ coaching history. He also knows that he needs to produce … and quickly.
“I think Lou is looking for some stability in this position and it’s my responsibility that I don’t give him a reason to make a change,” DeBoer said. “That’s on me to make sure we have success and make sure we play the right way so that’s not an option.”
Lamoriello did not make any excuses for the many coaching changes through the years.
“You want to win,” he said. “Stability brings winning, but you want to win. If you are not winning, what good is stability? It’s as simple as that. I don’t apologize for it.”
DeBoer plans to meet with Robinson and fellow assistants Adam Oates and Chris Terreri before deciding on his coaching staff.
DeBoer never missed the playoffs in his 13-year coaching career in the OHL and he believes Devils have the talent with Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Martin Brodeur to get back to the playoffs next season.
“We want to pursue the puck and dictate the pace of play,” DeBoer said. “But at the foundation of that is still good solid, defensive hockey and playing the right way. I think that meshes perfectly with that they do here.”
DeBoer posted a 103-107-36 record with the Panthers, leading them to the second-best finish in franchise history in 2008-09. They won 43 games that season, and posted 93 points. They struggled his final two years.
“The one thing I didn’t have was any regrets about doing it my way,” DeBoer said. “I did it my way with Florida. That was the advice I got coming into the league and I did that.”
And what he learned along the way, was how to deal with players on a daily basis.
DeBoer has served as a head coach for 16 consecutive seasons, including 13 years in the Ontario Hockey League with Kitchener (2001-08), Plymouth (1997-2001), and Detroit (1995-97). In seven seasons with the OHL Rangers, he posted 297 wins, a .676 winning percentage, and led the club to the 2003 Memorial Cup Championship and the 2008 OHL Championship.
He is a native of Dunnville, Ontario.
The Devils, who won three Stanley Cup titles from 1995-2003, have not been past the second round since.