SUNRISE, Fla. -- San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer was back in familiar territory Thursday when he returned to BB&T Center, but much about the Florida Panthers was different.
DeBoer coached the Panthers from 2008-11 in his first head coaching job in the NHL.
The Panthers have come a long way as an organization since then. They stand in first place in the Atlantic Division and appear to have the nucleus in place to be contenders beyond this season.
"This organization is in a whole different place than when I was there," DeBoer said before the Sharks played the Panthers on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CA, FS-F, NHL.TV). "It's good to see. The fans down here deserve a good team and I think they're set up here to win for a while. It's not going to be short term."
DeBoer had a 103-107-36 record during his three seasons with Florida, but the team finished 28th in the standings in each of his final two seasons.
He was fired by general manager Dale Tallon after one season working together and went on to coach the New Jersey Devils for four seasons before joining the Sharks this past offseason.
During his time with Florida, DeBoer didn't have the vast array of prospects the organization is currently grooming nor the kind of stable ownership situation now in place.
"The organization has a ton of depth," DeBoer said. "You look at the young guys coming up. Every time I walk in here I reminisce to when I was here and we were building around at that time [Nathan] Horton and [Stephen] Weiss and [Jay] Bouwmeester. Obviously that didn't work out. [Bouwmeester] left and some other things happened. But this organization now is deep. They're rolling someone new out there every night that's contributing and having a big effect, and that's what good teams do."
Ironically, the only time since 2000 the Panthers made the Stanley Cup Playoffs was the year following DeBoer's dismissal and the opponent in the 2011-12 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals happened to be the New Jersey Devils, coached by DeBoer. New Jersey won the series in seven games.
DeBoer says this season's Panthers are among the teams he would consider elite.
And that makes him happy.
"I have a lot of friends and season-ticket holders still here that have been through a lot of pain," DeBoer said. "I endured it for three years; they've been in it for a lot longer than that. You know what, I loved my time down here and the people here deserve it. They've set the table here to be good for a while and that's a good thing for the League, for the area. It's great."