NEWARK, N.J. -- The best-kept secret in the NHL finally was revealed Tuesday afternoon at Prudential Center when New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello introduced Peter DeBoer as the 21st coach in franchise history.
DeBoer, who did not earn a playoff berth in his three seasons as coach of the Florida Panthers, is certainly looking forward to a fresh start in the Garden State.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity to have a chance to work in an organization with such a great tradition … a tradition of winning Stanley Cups," DeBoer said during a press conference at Prudential Center. "My first conversation with Lou was shortly after the season ended and culminated, literally, (Tuesday) morning (when he was offered the job). It was great to sit down with Lou and have him give me the keys to coach this team. It's something I take great pride and responsibility in and am looking forward to it.
Under the turbulent circumstances, however, he put up a very respectable 103-107-36 during three non-playoff seasons in South Florida.
He lost the Panthers' gig more because the management group that hired him was gone and the franchise was again seeking change more than anything he did wrong behind the bench.
Now, armed with those three seasons of NHL experience, DeBoer comes to the League's coaching graveyard to make his mark. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has made a habit -- sometimes not by choice (see Brent Sutter) -- of coach juggling.
Lamoriello himself has taken two turns behind the bench, while Lemaire came off the couch for a third stint last December.
So I have to wonder, can DeBoer survive and thrive in Newark?
He passed the first test by keeping his mouth shut. Lamoriello values secrecy above all else. There were several names that came up during the prolonged coaching search. DeBoer's was not one of them.
The next test will be gaining the respect of high-priced star winger Ilya Kovalchuk and franchise icon Marty Brodeur. That is a must.
I figure if he can navigate that, he'll have a chance.
In coaching circles, DeBoer is very well respected. Detroit bench boss Mike Babcock, who was interested in adding the ex-Panthers coach to his revamped staff, came away very impressed during recent conversations with DeBoer.
"He's a real smart guy who wants to get better," Babcock says. "He's going to coach in this League for a long time."
Whether or not that long time is going to be in New Jersey is yet to be seen, but Lamoriello seems to have found a good fit for his changing franchise.
He gets a highly-motivated young guy complete with NHL experience. With those three years under his belt, the 43-year-old DeBoer has a much better chance to succeed in New Jersey than he did coming out of the Ontario Hockey League three years ago.
-- E.J. Hradek
"Now it's time to roll up the sleeves and start calling players."
Lamoriello was asked why the delay in naming a coach. Prior to Tuesday's announcement, the Devils were the only team in the League without one.
"When time is on your side, you use it," Lamoriello said.
DeBoer, 43, is the seventh different coach hired by Lamoriello in the last seven seasons. Despite the fact he failed to make the playoffs in three seasons in Florida, DeBoer said he learned plenty. He also realizes the expectations that come with coaching the Devils.
"We want to be back in the playoffs," DeBoer said. "I don't think when you talk to Lou or anyone else, no one was happy not making the playoffs last season. Having seen them a few times over the second half (of last season), I thought they played very well."
DeBoer said he spoke with Calgary Flames coach and good friend Brent Sutter a month ago regarding the vacant coaching position in New Jersey. Sutter coached the Devils for two seasons (2007-08 and 2008-09).
"I had a beer with Brent in Calgary and we talked a little bit about the situation here and he couldn't say enough good things about it," DeBoer said. "He talked about working with Lou, about the area and the facilities and the potential of the team. He spoke glowingly about it."
DeBoer was named coach of the Panthers on June 13, 2008, and would lead the club to the second-best point total in team history in his first season (93 points) and a 41-30-11 mark. It was not enough for the Panthers to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, however, as they finished ninth in the Eastern Conference.
"I've known and watched Peter for many years in junior (hockey) … known people and the players he's worked with and watched him in Florida the last three years," Lamoriello said. "He's technically as sound as anyone out there, he's disciplined and he works at it. In my mind, he is an outstanding coach."
DeBoer joined the Panthers following 13 seasons of leading teams in the Ontario Hockey League. The current part-owner of the OHL's Oshawa Generals is a two-time winner of the OHL Coach of the Year -- both coming with the Plymouth Whalers 1998-99 and 1999-2000. He also coached current Devils forward David Clarkson on the Memorial Cup-winning Kitchener Rangers in 2003.
"I haven't spoken to David yet, but I'm sure I'll get a call from Clarkie about more power-play time," DeBoer quipped.
DeBoer also served as an assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2010 World Championships and was a member of the gold medal-winning Canadian staff at the 2005 World Junior Championship.
In 2009-10, Florida finished last in the Southeast Division with 77 points and the Panthers’ total of 72 points in 2010-11 was the lowest in the Eastern Conference and third-fewest in the NHL. Florida general manager Dale Tallon fired DeBoer with one year remaining on his contract and hired Kevin Dineen on June 1. The Panthers haven't qualified for the playoffs since 1999-2000. DeBoer compiled a 103-107-36 record in three seasons with Florida.
DeBoer doesn't believe he'll need to change or even tweak his coaching style to conform to the Devils systematic approach on the ice.
"My plan is to keep the defensive structure which has made this organization successful," he said. "Philosophically, we're on the same page, we believe in same things. I think every coach has his own identity and his own characteristics. We want to pursue the puck, dictate the pace of play. But at the foundation of that is still good, sound, defensive hockey and playing the right way and that meshes perfectly with what they do here."
DeBoer intends to sit down with all the current coaches within the organization before determining his plan on assistants. He'll also speak with all of the players before naming a captain.
"When I was fired in Florida, that was the first time I was ever fired from a job," DeBoer said. "You always hope, at the end of the day, someone notices the job you did despite the results. I think Lou recognized that, and I appreciate the opportunity."
DeBoer knows it's now up to him to make certain he can provide some stability at a position that has become a revolving door during the past decade.
"I think Lou's looking for some stability in this position and it's going to be my responsibility to make sure I don't give him any reason to make a change," he said. "I think that's on me to make sure we have enough success and play the right way that that wouldn't be an option."