LAS VEGAS — Peter DeBoer is a smart guy. He didn’t need directions to the visitors locker room at T-Mobile Arena. After all, he had been familiar with the route from his time coaching the San Jose Sharks. And he certainly knew how to get to the home team’s room and he didn’t make that mistake on Monday.
DeBoer was back, this time as the coach of the Dallas Stars, facing his latest former team, the Vegas Golden Knights. DeBoer was fired last May 16 after missing the playoffs despite trying to coach a squad which had more than 500 man-games lost, including several star players.
“I want to thank Bill Foley and the people of Vegas,” DeBoer said during his pregame media scrum which was attended by virtually every Las Vegas news outlet. “They welcomed an arch-enemy with open arms.
” I loved my time here, I kept my house here and probably would consider retiring here. I just loved everything about it and it’s nice to be back.”
DeBoer, who has coached in the NHL for 16 seasons and had an overall percentage of .569 (528-391-130) going into Monday’s game, which the Stars won 4-0 to snap a two-game losing streak and claim a share of the top spot in the overall Western Conference standings along with Winnipeg. He had been hired back in early January 2020 replacing Gerard Gallant, the first coach of the Golden Knights. He got Vegas to the conference finals in each of his first two years, losing to Dallas in the Edmonton bubble in 2020, then to Montreal in 2021.
He probably deserved to stay on after last season’s failure to make the postseason. But management didn’t agree despite DeBoer’s record in Vegas of 98-50-12 (.650).
“I thought we played a lot of good hockey in the time I was here,” DeBoer said, reflecting on his time with the Knights. “I think we had unprecedented times with COVID, the bubble and adversity with injuries.
“In reflection, I’m proud of how we handled it as a staff and the people in that room.”
Enter Bruce Cassidy, who had been let go by the Boston Bruins and is a friend of DeBoer’s as the two had worked together with Team Canada during the 2022 Winter Olympics before the NHL opted out of the Games in Beijing, China and they stayed put with their respective clubs.
“Yeah, it’ll be good to see him,” Cassidy said of DeBoer. “I’ve known Pete a long time and he’s a heck of a coach. I don’t know how much we’ll get to talk other than say hello and spend a minute. We’ll probably have more time at the All-Star Game.”
Ah yes, the All-Star Game. In a delicious set of happenstance, Cassidy, who replaced DeBoer in Vegas, is coaching the Pacific Division team. DeBoer, who replaced Rick Bowness, who had replaced Jim Montgomery in Dallas, is the Central Division coach. Montgomery, who took over the Bruins following Cassidy’s dismissal, is the Atlantic Division coach.
“I’m sure it’ll be a story on a slow day,” Cassidy said of the triangulation of the coaching trio going against each other in Sunrise, Fla. come Feb. 4. “It’s kinda like that Kevin Bacon six degrees of separation thing.”
DeBoer said it didn’t surprise him.
“Let’s be honest, all three of those groups are really good groups,” he said. “I’m not surprised at how the teams are having the success they’re having. Bruce is a really good coach and (Montgomery) is having a great year in Boston.”
After the sting of being let go by Vegas wore off, DeBoer landed on his feet in Dallas, where he was reunited with center Joe Pavelski, one of his favorites from his time in San Jose. Of course, Golden Knights fans have bitter memories of those days, stemming from Game 7 of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs where Pavelski was hit by Cody Eakin following a face-off and Eakin was assessed a five-minute major.
The Sharks, who were trailing 3-0 at the time, scored four unanswered goals to take a 4-3 lead. The Knights tied it but would eventually lose Game 7 and the series in overtime, 5-4. Less than nine months later, DeBoer was coaching Vegas.
Now, he’s in charge in Dallas. He gets to work with Jason Robertson, who is currently fourth in the NHL in scoring in 2022-23 with 29 goals and 60 points. It’s a big part of the Stars’ first-half success as they catapulted to the top of the Central, along with Winnipeg, which is coached by Bowness, who was behind the bench in Dallas prior to DeBoer’s arrival from Vegas.
DeBoer, who has coached some big-time players over the years, including Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias in New Jersey, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Tomas Hertl in San Jose and Marc-Andre Fleury, Alex Pietrangelo and Max Pacioretty in Vegas, certainly appreciates what Robertson, a second-round pick of the Stars in 2017, can do. He is delivering at more than a point-per-game pace during his NHL career to date with 185 points (87 goals, 98 assists) in just 172 games played.
“You watch him and he’s quiet,” DeBoer said. “Suddenly he’s got a couple goals and an assist or two. He’s more subtle. He’s like a silent assassin.”
Robertson was silent Monday as he was kept off the scoresheet by Vegas. But that was hardly something to celebrate. The Knights are losing players every game. This time, it was defenseman Alec Martinez who went down with an injury in the first period and never returned. The Knights also played without forwards Mark Stone and William Carrier and continue to be without defensemen Shea Theodore and Zach Whitecloud.
Alex Pietrangelo, who had a tough day with two of the Dallas goals deflecting off him, wound up playing 30 minutes, 47 seconds and overall, the team didn’t do much offensively. Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger faced just 27 shots in recording his third shutout of the season.
“Not an NHL effort tonight,” Cassidy said after his team dropped its third in four games and is just 2-3 on the season-long seven-game homestand which continues Thursday against Detroit. “Not close to being good enough and our effort has not been good enough through most of this (homestand).”
“Leadership starts at the top. It’s up to me to get them ready. And I’ve said this before that once the puck drops, it’s up to the players.You lose some guys, the execution drops off. But the effort’s got to be better.”