Pete DeBoer has been the head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights for about 15 months now. He’s led the team to an excellent 37-15 record including two playoff series wins.
But still, mainly due to the pandemic, it feels like we are still getting to know DeBoer and his style and tendencies.
We’ve seen surprise healthy scratches, line jumbles, and a system that is built on structure in all three zones. Because he’s only had one playoff run, and it ended with a whimper, the biggest question mark surrounding DeBoer’s coaching style is his willingness to adapt to different situations.
In the playoffs against the Canucks, and then even more so against the Stars, we saw the Golden Knights’ opponent start to play an ultra-conservative style which was focused on keeping Vegas to the outside and cleaning up and rebound chances. It led to Thatcher Demko and Anton Khudobin, two goalies far from the league’s elite, posting incredible numbers and the Golden Knights offense going bone dry for about two weeks.
Personally, I’ll never forget DeBoer’s comment on the off-day prior to Game 5 against the Stars, as the Golden Knights trailed in the series 3-1 and had posted just six goals in four games to that point.
The worst thing we can do is to change our game. -DeBoer on 9/13/20
It was a massive head-scratcher to me as the Golden Knights were staring down the barrell of their season ending and the coach was sticking to his guns. But what it also represented was a look into the coaching style of Pete DeBoer.
Things were not going Vegas’ way in that series and it was starting to look like a golden opportunity to win the Cup was slipping away. Yet here is the head coach of the team coming out with a vote of confidence both in the team’s system and structure, but also in the players themselves. He truly believed if they kept grinding, things would eventually turn around.
In that instance, they didn’t, but that doesn’t neccesarily mean the philsosphy is a failure or even flawed. Just go back one series before, to the Vancouver series, the first time the offense dried up. They stuck to their game and eventually pulled through with a Game 7 win to advance to the Western Conference Final.
It’s a style that shows a certain confidence that not all coaches have. That sentiment was recently echoed by a former assistant coach of DeBoer’s in an interview with SanJoseHockeyNow.com.
I worked with Pete DeBoer, as well. I was really impressed with Pete because he was very — whatever he thought was the right way to do things, he didn’t deviate from that. He just thought, ‘This is the way we’re going to do it and we’re going to try to do it better than anyone else.’ So, that was kind of his mindset, and he kind of stuck to his guns that way, so it was good. I learned a lot from Pete. –Rob Zettler, Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach
To this point in DeBoer’s VGK career, they have “done it” better than everyone else.
Compared to the Gerard Gallant led teams, the Golden Knights are alloweing fewer goals per game, they are killing penalties at a higher rate, they are much cleaner breaking out of their own zone consistently, and most importantly their winning percentage has risen from an already impressive 55% to an astounding 71%.
There’s no questioning that DeBoer is an excellent NHL head coach. His playoff win percentage is a stellar 56%, he’s guided three different teams to the conference finals, and has two Stanley Cup Final appearances.
But, he, like Vegas’ 21-year veteran President of Hockey Operations, George McPhee, has never lifted the Stanley Cup.
Both of their plans are to change that this season, and they certainly may have the horses to do it. But just remember, when the going gets tough, don’t expect a brand new system to arrive overnight. Either DeBoer’s plan works or it doesn’t, and he’s not going to depart from it.