Shortly after a First Round exit of the 2021-2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Dallas Stars announced to mutually part ways with head coach Rick Bowness. His contract was up but his last season was filled with frustration and inconsistency. This ensured the Stars would want a change in scenery. General manager Jim Nill interviewed and spoke with several candidates, ultimately picking Peter DeBoer. DeBoer was fired by the Vegas Golden Knights, after missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Details of the contract are expected to be released soon.
— theScore NHL (@theScoreNHL) June 21, 2022
Why the DeBoer Decision Makes Sense
It is apparent that the Stars front office believes they are still in a win-now window. With an aging core that is still salvageable and the new, young core forming before their eyes, they have the ideal mix. And DeBoer is no stranger to success. In 2012, during his first year with the New Jersey Devils, he took them to the Stanley Cup Final. Taking a team to the Cup is no small feat, but the first year under a coach’s reign is impressive. However, DeBoer was able to do it again in 2016. He took the San Jose Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final during his first year there too. Though he never did take the Cup home. These results would appeal to any team, especially those who think they are close to having what it takes.
The Stars pre-DeBoer
The Stars identity under previous head coach, Bowness, could be described as one word, defence. They did not have much of an offensive plan. Most of their zone entries included dumping the puck in and hoping they were fast enough to get to it. Bowness stated the “offence will take care of itself” multiple times over the year. If that doesn’t sound unappealing enough, he even encouraged defenceman John Klingberg, who was arguably one of the best offensive defencemen in the league, to stop worrying about trying to shoot the puck. This game plan is a problem when you are trying to score more goals than the opponent.
Defensively, the team would inconsistently be aggressive. Sometimes they were all over the other team, preventing them from entering the zone. Or other times, they would sit back and let them in the zone unchallenged. And then there was the “turtling” issue. Once Dallas had a lead, their game would immediately change from attacking and trying to score, to just protecting the lead. Which, as many saw, they were unsuccessful at. They did not play to win, they were playing not to lose. This resulted in many late-game-blown leads and games decided in overtime.
DeBoer is going to have his work cut out for him trying to teach these players to unlearn some of those behaviours. Additionally, he is going to have to get production out of some of the players who have fallen off a bit, namely Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Additionally, re-instating some confidence in Denis Gurianov and using him to his abilities, should result in production from the previous 20-goal scorer.
DeBoer’s Defensive Game
It is no secret that DeBoer’s defensive style relies heavily on the forecheck. They are coached to attack the opponent in their zone and not allow them the space that the Stars previous system allowed. This, on its own, will eliminate scoring chances and will create more turnovers in the offensive zone, which, in turn, should create more scoring chances for the Stars. This style was made for Miro Heiskanen. The elite defenceman is known to smother his opponent and cause them to turn the puck over.
Last season under DeBoer, the Golden Knights were fourth in the league for shots against with 29 shots a game. The Stars were tenth in the league under Bowness. However, both the Stars and the Golden Knights gave up 244 goals last season. In reality, the Stars at the core were a defensive team under Bones. Changing their style to be more aggressive is going to be a game-changer. DeBoer historically gives up very little when trailing and leading. That is something the Stars could not do previously.
DeBoer’s Offensive Game
DeBoer’s offensive style is built around puck possession and slowing things down to take the time to create scoring chances. This relies heavily on his defenceman to be involved in the playmaking and producing offensively. DeBoer’s style of play was made for someone like John Klingberg, whose greatest asset is walking the blue line. Whether or not he returns to Dallas, however, is still up in the air. On the other hand, this would allow Heiskanen to take on more of an offensive role; something fans have been begging to see from the 22-year-old. Last season under DeBoer, the defenceman accounted for 51 goals. This is a vast difference from the Stars, whose defenceman only accounted for 30 goals during the regular season.
DeBoer is also known for getting pucks on net. He wants his players to shoot the puck. Last season under DeBoer, Vegas was second in the league for shots on goal with 34 shots on goal per game. Last season under Bowness, the Stars were 20th in the league. This game plan coincides well with Joe Pavelski‘s greatest strength, which is getting in front of the net and tipping it in. Something Pavelski learned and perfected under DeBoer’s tenure when he was with San Jose. With Benn’s decline and gritty style needing some improvement, that strategy may work well for him.
During the 2021-2022 season, the Golden Knights were eleventh in scoring, with 3.27 goals scored per game. Compared to the Stars, who were 20th, with 2.74 goals scored per game. Additionally, DeBoer had two seasons during his career where he had eight players recording 50 points or more. This past season, the Stars had three and they were on the same line.
What This Means Going Forward
The Stars will still be a defensive team, but DeBoer will revamp the style and make it more successful. He is going to require the team to have possession of the puck more. And he will require everyone to be involved to get pucks on net. This should improve offensive production across the board. Players that were inherent goal scorers, won’t be utilized as checkers anymore. And hopefully, this will ignite some of the scoring flames that were snubbed by the previous style of play. DeBoer has some big expectations to fill and historically, he has done that.