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30 Sharks: DeBoer Leads San Jose to Stanley Cup Final



Peter DeBoer San Jose Sharks
Credit: Ryan Cowley

When he was hired in 2015, Peter DeBoer needed to make a solid first impression on a playoff-less San Jose Sharks. He did exactly that.

After surrendering a 3-0 playoff series lead and losing in 2014 to missing the playoffs altogether in 2015, the San Jose Sharks found themselves in unfamiliar territory. It had been 12 years since the club had missed the playoffs, so something had to change. One of those changes was behind the bench as Todd McLellan was out as head coach and Peter DeBoer was in.

The Dunnville, Ont., native went right to work in restoring his new team’s winning culture. The end result was a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the first in the Sharks’ 24-year history.

In this installment of my “30 Sharks” series for San Jose Hockey Now, I speak with Peter DeBoer about his career in Northern California, which includes first joining the Sharks, how fun the job was, and making way for friend and former colleague, Bob Boughner.

Win As If No One’s Watching

During their playoff streak from 2004 to 2014, the San Jose Sharks, while a consistent team, had also gained notoriety for being playoff underachievers.

During those years, the club had reached the Western Conference Final three times (2004, 2010, 2011) but lost on each occasion. Then, the Sharks’ inability to make the playoffs in 2015 provided substantial fodder that this team was, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, never going to win again.

For those skeptics, DeBoer’s arrival to San Jose was pressure-filled. The new Sharks’ bench boss, however, came in with a more refreshing mindset — one that involved, so to speak, having the last laugh.

“When I joined the Sharks, it was the first time the team had missed the playoffs in 12 years and everybody in hockey said that the window for the Sharks to win was closing, or closed,” DeBoer remembered. “But, when everyone in that dressing room — [Joe] Thornton, [Joe] Pavelski, [Brent] Burns, [Marc-Edouard] Vlasic — knew that the window wasn’t closed and that there was a lot of gas left in the tank, the only pressure we felt was the pressure to prove people wrong, and that’s exactly what we did.”

There is something — granted, a small something — that might take away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final when everyone expects it. On the flipside, there’s a little something special about making the Final when no one expects it.

This was the case for DeBoer and company in 2016.

“Stanley Cup Final and a Conference Final over the next four years showed that the window wasn’t even close to being closed yet.”

The 2016 Stanley Cup Final

To go from a non-playoff team to a Stanley Cup finalist is no easy feat by any stretch of the imagination. Thanks in large part to DeBoer’s contributions, though, the San Jose Sharks made that transition a reality in the spring of 2016.

They began their playoff run by avenging their 2014 playoff defeat to the Los Angeles Kings by eliminating their state rivals in five games. Then, a grueling series against the Nashville Predators saw the Sharks prevail in seven games before capping off their first West Final victory, eliminating the St. Louis Blues in six.

Of course, regardless of talent level and expectations, every team needs quite a few things to go right if they have any shot of battling for hockey’s Holiest prize.

DeBoer addressed the most significant factors that helped his team’s Finals run become a reality.

“The biggest factors were definitely a group of proud veteran players that were embarrassed about missing the playoffs the year before and were out to prove the world wrong,” the 52-year-old noted. “That motivation went a long way and I think that we had great chemistry on that team. One of the best dressing rooms I’ve been in as far as leadership and guys getting along and wanting to be around each other at the rink everyday.”

Of course, there were a few key additions made to the roster that certainly didn’t hurt, either.

“Then, Doug [Wilson] went out and made some key playoff additions at the trade deadline in Roman Polak and Nick Spaling and Dainius Zubrus that really helped us,” DeBoer added.

As for the night the Sharks clinched their spot in the Stanley Cup Final May 25, 2016, it was memorable, to say the least, for the bench boss.

“I just remember we hung around the dressing room for a long time,” DeBoer recalled of the series-clinching 5-2 Game Six victory over the Blues. “The [SAP Center] was electric that night and some of those players and fans had waited so long for that. It was great.”

San Jose would lose in the Final to Pittsburgh in six games, but it was a history-making campaign for the franchise.

Making Way for Boughner

In 361 regular-season games for the San Jose Sharks, Peter DeBoer amassed an impressive 198-129-34 record, along with a 32-28 postseason mark. However, 33 games into the 2019-20 season, shockwaves were sent through the hockey world when DeBoer was relieved of his duties. In his place, the Sharks promoted assistant Bob Boughner to be the club’s next head coach.

While an unexpected firing might leave some feeling bitter, this was not the case for DeBoer.

While he was admittedly shocked and disappointed, the former Kitchener Rangers coach was happy for his colleague and long-time friend.

“I love Bob,” DeBoer beamed. “Bob was a real key part to our success that first year in San Jose. I had known Bob for 30 years. We went to high school together, played junior against each other, coached in junior against each other.”

Boughner, whom DeBoer handpicked as an assistant in 2015, became an integral part in boosting the Sharks’ Western Conference-winning defensive unit — something that never went unnoticed by DeBoer.

“I thought he did an exceptional job with our group of defensemen that first year in San Jose — Brent Burns won the Norris Trophy — and that group was just great,” the former Sharks coach reflected. “I was not surprised when he got the opportunity to get the head job in Florida and moved on, but the minute he got fired [in the summer of 2019], I called him and said that the door was always open for him to return, to work with us in San Jose, and he wanted to.”

While the circumstances may not have been ideal, the situation that resulted in Boughner becoming the Sharks’ next head coach left his predecessor with a refreshing perspective.

“You know, if you’re going to get replaced in this league, you hope it’s by a guy you admire and respect, and that’s what happened,” emphasized DeBoer.

Just weeks after leaving the Sharks, DeBoer was hired by the Vegas Golden Knights to be their next head coach. This came immediately after the club made their own shocking move in relieving Gerard Gallant of his coaching duties.

Wonderful Times in San Jose

While he enjoyed his coaching stints in Florida and New Jersey — and also took the Devils to the 2012 Final — there was something about the San Jose Sharks that reminded Peter DeBoer that a job doesn’t have to feel like a job.

While he helped garner a plethora of success for the team, it was what went on between games that helped DeBoer enjoy his time with the Sharks to the fullest.

“My favorite memories with the Sharks was the daily dressing room banter with that group,” he fondly noted. “They were the most fun group that I’ve been around in hockey. It started with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns and on and on. But, every day, the interactions between the players, between the coaches and the players, the trainers and the players, it was just a lot of fun and those guys set the table for that. It was just a great place to come to work every day.”

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