New Jersey Devils head coach Peter DeBoer has exceeded expectations since joining the team prior to last season. He led them to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first season, the teams first cup finals since 2003, and until Martin Brodeur got injured, had them leading the Eastern Conference.
However, one aspect of DeBoer’s coaching style is really holding this team back from doing great things. DeBoer is very hesitant to make changes when things aren’t going well. I have two major examples.
The first one occurred during the Devils magical playoff run to the Cup Finals. Every button Peter DeBoer pushed seemed throughout the post-season seemed to to work. Putting Adam Larrson in the lineup after game 1 against the Flyers was huge. Though once the Stanley Cup Finals started, things with the Devils weren’t clicking like they were in prior series against the Rangers and Flyers. New Jersey quickly fell behind 3 games to none to the Kings before any changes were made. Once DeBoer made his first lineup change after game 3, which was putting Petr Sykora in the lineup, the Devils won 2 straight before a penalty on Steve Bernier ended any last hopes for the Devils in game 6. The lineup change was well overdue, and if it had been made after Game 1, or even Game 2, it very well could have been the Devils hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, and not the Kings. I’m not guaranteeing they would have won, but an earlier change could have been a significant difference.
Now to this season. The Devils were on fire to start the season, leading the Eastern Conference throughout the early part of the season. Over their first 17 games, the Devils were 10-3-4 and playing excellent hockey. Then Martin Brodeur injured his back, and the team hasn’t been the same since. Johan Hedberg took over for Brodeur on February 23rd, and since that time, the Devils have gone 1-6-1. Hedberg has been especially bad. He is 35th out of 40 NHL goalies in goals against average giving up 3.08 per game, and is 2nd to last in the league in save percentage at 87.5%. Hedberg has also been pulled in 2 of his 8 starts since taking over. The Devils fell from first in the Eastern Conference, to now only 1 point ahead of the Rangers for 8th. Yet despite how bad Hedberg has played, Peter DeBoer seems to be in no rush to make a change. With only 23 regular season games remaining, every game is huge if the Devils want to make the playoffs. After being pulled in the 2nd period during last Tuesday’s game against the Lightning, DeBoer went right back to Hedberg on Thursday, the only game the Devils won since Brodeur’s injury. And after being pulled after 2 periods against Carolina yesterday, DeBoer quickly announced it would be Hedberg starting the next game.
I understand the names Jeff Frazee and Keith Kinkaid aren’t household names, but how long is DeBoer going to ride the goalie who has arguably been the worst in the NHL this season? Hopefully for the Devils sake Brodeur comes back sooner rather than later. But if he remains out for an extended period, a change has to be made at goalie. It’s common sense when things aren’t going well to change it up and get your team back on the winning track.
Last year’s ride was incredible for New Jersey, but this season can slip away very quickly if Hedberg continues to play the way he’s playing. Peter DeBoer is one heck a coach, but sticking with Hedberg could put him in a familiar place, and that’s sitting at home waiting for another opportunity at coaching.
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