By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
|Peter DeBoer led the Panthers to the second best record in franchise history in his rookie season behind the bench. (Getty Images)
Peter DeBoer admits he would have preferred to have spent the past few weeks breaking down Panthers video and matching lines in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
To summarize DeBoer’s mood since the Panthers ended their season nearly a month ago? “I’m actually bored stiff,” he said.
“I’m driving my wife crazy,” he added. “First time ever I’m not in the playoffs, either as a player or coach. So that’s not easy to handle.”
It’s also not easy when you realize some of the upsets, including Anaheim knocking off San Jose and Carolina upsetting New Jersey.
“I think it just reinforces that if you can get into the playoffs anybody has a chance,” he said.
The past month for DeBoer – whose been spending part of his time attending his sons hockey games and daughter’s softball games - has been about organizational meetings and preparing for the 2009-10 season. On a recent afternoon, DeBoer’s desk at BankAtlantic Center had DVD’s of the team’s top prospects from its American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.
“We’ve looked back at the year, where we ended, what areas we want to improve and what kids are in the system and might be knocking on the door next year, pushing for a job,” he said. “Obviously, with free agency and the way the NHL is today, turnover is part of the business and its something you have to deal with.”
With that in mind, DeBoer hopes the team can retain those players who played a major role in helping the Panthers to the team’s second-best record (41-31-11) in franchise history.
“The key is to make sure you bring back the people you really want to bring back and keep them part of it,” DeBoer said. “For us, we did a lot of heavy lifting this year, putting in a new system and getting players on the same page as far as what our expectations are around here moving forward. So the more of those people we can bring back and the less turnover, the quicker I think that we’ll be able to hit the ground running.”
DeBoer’s first season behind an NHL bench was a rollercoaster in which the team went from 30th to fifth to losing out on the playoffs in a tiebreaker to the Canadiens. But DeBoer isn’t beating himself up about a few games here or there that could have produced that all important extra point or victory.
“Hindsight is always 20-20,” he said. “There are all kinds of games you can point to where we could have picked up a point or two. Obviously, there was our start to the season and getting used to a new coach and new systems. If that had gone a little smoother, and we had gotten through that process a little bit quicker, we might not have dropped as many points early and we might have had a chance. There were some games down the stretch where we had leads and lost. There were the shootouts.
“But on the flipside, there were a lot of games during the season where we came back from deficits. We went on the road at times with a shortened lineup and shortened bench and ended up finding ways to win. So I don’t think it’s a real educational exercise to look back and do that kind of searching in the rearview mirror.”
DeBoer is looking forward, and part of that will include evaluating several young, promising players, both free agents and draft picks, that could be ready to play come the fall. They include Shawn Matthias
, Michal Repik
, Keaton Ellerby
and Jason Garrison
. They were just four of the names on the DVD’s sent to DeBoer from coach Benoit Groulx in Rochester.
“Ben sent DVD’s on some of our prospects, the six forwards that he has there and four defensemen,” DeBoer said. “He sent the reports and tapes of all those guys. We’ll watch that through the summer.
“But for me, young players change month to month. For me, it’s what are you going to do for me in training camp and at the beginning of the season. I mean, if we had gone with what Michael Frolik had done last year rather than give him an opportunity at training camp and the start of the season like we did, he never would have had the opportunity to play in the NHL, at least right off the bat, and do what he did. So for me it’s much more important to see what kind of shape these guys come to camp in and how hungry they are to grab a job.”
And for DeBoer, that can’t come soon enough.