On Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights made their first-ever coaching change, firing Gerard Gallant (and assistant Mike Kelly) and hiring former coach of the arch-nemesis San Jose Sharks Peter DeBoer. The guy who beat the Golden Knights on that five-minute ghost major. That guy.
It’s fair to say the change was a shocker, especially since DeBoer was never publicly brought in for an interview with general manager Kelly McCrimmon or president of hockey operations George McPhee.
But what about DeBoer’s resume makes Vegas think he’s best suited for the job?
Well, most recently, DeBoer was the head coach of the Sharks for parts of five seasons; he was relieved of his coaching duties in December of this season.
In his four full seasons in San Jose, the Sharks never missed the playoffs. They lost in the first round in the 2017 playoffs, the second in 2018, the Western Conference Final in 2019 and the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. A lot of losing, but a good bit of winning to get there.
The Sharks had the eighth-most regular season wins (137) from 2016 to 2019, and they scored the seventh-most points in the standings with 300. In those three years, they had the sixth-best even-strength Corsi (52.2 percent), fourth-best shot share (52.47), and seventh-best expected goal share (52.62) and high-danger share (52.63).
The Sharks had one of the best power plays over that time as well.
They ranked 10th in power-play goals with 151, third in shot attempts per 60 (108.28), sixth in expected goals per 60 (7.30) and sixth in high-danger attempts (24.12). They also allowed the tenth-fewest goals against (18).
Their penalty kill was the exact opposite, however, allowing the ninth-most expected goals per 60 (7.12), third-most high-danger attempts (24.23) and ranking 15th in shot attempts allowed (98.77).
The one constant for San Jose was their rock-bottom goaltending, as they ranked 31st at even strength with a .907 save percentage and 26th with a .903 save percentage at all strengths. That didn’t change in the first half of the 2019-20 season, as the Sharks were 31st at even strength (.876) and 28th at all strengths (.887).
The penalty kill improved in 2019-20, allowing the fifth-fewest shot attempts per 60 (84.73), the 11th-fewest expected goals per 60 (6.26) and the fewest goals against per 60 (3.85).
The power play couldn’t score (23rd with 5.73 goals per 60), but the Sharks continued to have top-five metrics in all of the important categories. Their shooting percentage simply dropped to 9.3 percent, good for 27th in the league.
The reason that DeBoer got fired earlier this season may have been (because we may never know for sure) the team goaltending, but his system broke down in San Jose this season as well. The Sharks were 17th in even-strength Corsi (49.98 percent), 19th in shot share, 26th in expected goal share and 24th in high-danger share. Not great numbers, especially considering the three years prior.
Still, there are reasons to believe that DeBoer could be a good fit for the Knights.
As a first-year coach, he’s taken his team to the Cup twice (in San Jose and in New Jersey in 2012). He’s also proven that he can get the best out of a team, even without great goaltending. The Knights’ goaltending clearly isn’t on the same level as San Jose’s, though Vegas currently ranks 19th with a .900 save percentage this season. Plus, it’s fair to say the Knights’ roster may have more talent than the Sharks’ this season.
It has yet to be determined whether the move will prove to be a good one, but there’s a track record behind DeBoer that suggests that it just might.