All eyes are on Kelly McCrimmon now.
Whatever results come of these next 33 games, and the hope for the Vegas Golden Knights is beyond that, is going to be on the hands of the general manager.
Those end results are going to affect the win-loss ledger for the Golden Knights, and ultimately new head coach Peter DeBoer, who replaces Gerard Gallant after he and assistant coach Mike Kelly were fired on Wednesday.
McCrimmon’s first gargantuan decision as Vegas’ general manager has certainly raised eyebrows. Gallant, who was hired in 2017, led the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in Year 1, and another Stanley Cup Playoff appearance in Year 2. After 49 games, Gallant was let go with his team only three points out of first place in the Pacific Division, and one point for a playoff spot in general.
Sure, the Golden Knights should be in first place right now and have a better record than displayed at this moment (24-19-6), but making a move of this magnitude better come with immediate results.
“It wasn’t a specific block of games or a specific game,” McCrimmon said Wednesday. “It’s hard to put into words, I guess, unless you’ve done these jobs. It’s more just the feeling that you have that a change might be needed. I wish I could be more specific than that, but that’s really how we felt. We thought about this a lot. It certainly wasn’t something that we did in haste or something that we did ... in the recent four games. It was a decision that was arrived at over time.”
DeBoer is walking into one hell of a situation. He’s going to a team whose talent rivals most in the Western Conference, especially at the top. The Golden Knights are by no means out of the playoff picture. There’s still plenty of time to gain some ground. At the same time, there’s also not a lot of time.
DeBoer has 33 games to reenergize a locker room that’s already shaken by the thought of losing four straight games, just lost its coach that many players have stated how much they love to play for, and now have to find its way back into a comfortable position in the playoff race.
“I’m mad at myself for letting this happen,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “It’s tough as a group, as a team, to cost two coaches their jobs. We have so much respect towards them. It’s a good wake-up call for all of us. I think we need to hear the message loud and clear, turn things around and be better.”
No matter what feelings you may have for DeBoer, it’s a situation that no coach should be involved in. If he succeeds, fantastic. The Golden Knights are where they should be and are performing as such.
If he doesn’t, all blame lies with the Golden Knights’ front office.
Gallant’s firing was performance based. The Golden Knights have gone above and beyond their line of performance for the past two seasons. To say the Golden Knights haven’t performed is also to lay the same amount of blame on the higher-ups that made the coinciding decisions this offseason that hurt the depth of the team; trading Colin Miller, Erik Haula, and Nikita Gusev.
DeBoer faced nearly the same situation in San Jose before he was fired in December. General manager Doug Wilson made the commitment to keep Erik Karlsson long-term. In doing so, the Sharks lost on key depth players like Joonas Donskoi, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Ryan. He walks into a Vegas situation where they can still make the playoffs, but the decisions of his bosses are certainly coming into question.
That’s also unfamiliar territory for the Golden Knights. For two seasons, George McPhee has been praised for the decisions he made, gaining the draft capital he received and the players he plucked in the expansion draft. He also made the unselfish call to remove the GM label and bestow it upon McCrimmon to prevent him from meeting with teams looking for a general manager, like the Edmonton Oilers or the Seattle franchise.
McCrimmon is a smart man. He clearly made the decision he made because he’s paid to believe the decisions he makes is to benefit the Golden Knights in hopes of winning a Stanley Cup this year. It doesn’t mean this decision can’t be looked at without coming to the conclusion that of the seven coaching changes that have taken place in the NHL this season, that this isn’t the most mind-boggling of them all.
“I think Peter’s a really good coach. He’s had a lot of success in the National Hockey League. Of course, with him working most recently in the Pacific Division, we’ve had a chance to watch his teams play,” McCrimmon said. “I think his teams were always very well prepared, very well coached. We expect that he’ll do a really good job for us.”
DeBoer has to lead the Golden Knights to the playoffs this season and, if anything else, at least one series victory. The first part is very much likely, but the pressure is unjustly on DeBoer to lead this team to where management felt Gallant couldn’t lead them. And if Gallant’s firing was performance based, what happens to DeBoer if the Golden Knights don’t make the playoffs?
This team knows nothing other than making the playoffs. If the performance isn’t there, the leash certainly can’t be long enough on DeBoer. Much like Gallant, terms of DeBoer’s contract weren’t released by the club. This might be a 33-game honeymoon and McCrimmon is left scrambling, yet again, to find the guy he feels is the best one to lead Vegas to the Cup.
But for now, DeBoer is his guy. The pressure is on to get the Golden Knights to where they want to go. Such a journey starts in February, where McCrimmon will be tasked to acquiring the right talent necessary to make the Golden Knights a contender through the trade deadline. Then, the clock starts ticking for DeBoer to put the puzzle together quickly and getting the Golden Knights to the playoffs.
Anything less will be a catastrophic failure.