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Knights fire Pete DeBoer after missing playoffs for 1st time

Updated May 16, 2022 - 6:47 pm

Saying they needed a fresh voice after missing the NHL playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Golden Knights fired coach Pete DeBoer on Monday.

DeBoer lasted less than three full seasons behind the bench, leading the Knights to two playoff berths before missing out after a season in which the roster was ravaged by injuries.

Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon called the team’s failure to advance a “humbling experience,” but said he wouldn’t discuss any performance-related reasons for DeBoer’s dismissal out of respect for him.

“The decision is about next year,” McCrimmon said. “It’s about starting with a fresh voice. It’s about starting with a re-energized team. It’s about having a group of players with something to prove, and that’s the attitude I want to take into next season. This was part of that.”

DeBoer, whose team was a betting co-favorite with Colorado to win the Stanley Cup, didn’t return a text message seeking comment.

McCrimmon said the Knights will have a thorough search for their third coach in six seasons, but didn’t provide a timeline for when a hire would be made.

DeBoer was hired Jan. 15, 2020, the same day Gerard Gallant was fired. There was some initial awkwardness because DeBoer coached the San Jose Sharks against the Knights in the playoffs the previous two seasons, losing the series in 2018 and winning it in 2019.

He still found a way to reach the team and deliver results. He was 98-50-12 (.650 points percentage) with the Knights, the eighth-best record in the NHL in that span and better than Gallant’s 118-75-20 (.601).

DeBoer led the team to the league semifinals in 2020 and 2021, but the injuries, poor play and inconsistency in goal this season kept the team out of the postseason for the first time in five years.

The 53-year-old is one of 28 coaches in NHL history with 500 wins and one of 31 with 1,000 games. He has coached four teams and led two of them to the Stanley Cup Final.

DeBoer had a positive impact on the Knights’ five-on-five play because of his emphasis on breakouts, defensive structure and shot blocking. They were seventh in five-on-five goals percentage under him.

But special teams, specifically the power play, were a struggle. Their penalty kill ranked 16th under him, and the power play was 21st despite a bevy of highly paid talent.

DeBoer had one year left on his contract and said May 3 during his final interview with the media that he hoped to return.

“We had a lot of success with Pete,” McCrimmon said. “I’m not going to stand here and be critical of Pete. I think he’s a really good coach.”

Assistant coaches Steve Spott and Ryan McGill also were fired. Spott joined the Knights when DeBoer was hired after working with him in San Jose and junior hockey. He ran the team’s power play until March. McGill coached the Knights’ defensemen in their first five seasons.

Assistants Ryan Craig, who took over power-play duties from Spott, and Misha Donskov will be retained, McCrimmon said. Goaltending coach Mike Rosati can interview for his job when the new coach is hired.

The search process was expected to begin Monday afternoon. McCrimmon said the team wasn’t looking for a certain type of coach and wasn’t sure how many people will be considered.

Several successful veteran coaches are available, including former New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz. The 59-year-old won the Stanley Cup in 2018 at T-Mobile Arena as coach of the Washington Capitals, who defeated the Knights in five games.

Other possible candidates include Stanley Cup-winning coaches Claude Julien and John Tortorella. Turner Sports analyst Rick Tocchet has head coaching experience and won three Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins — one as a player and two as an assistant coach.

The Knights will have competition. Detroit, Philadelphia and Winnipeg have vacancies. Chicago has an interim coach, Derek King. San Jose’s Bob Boughner’s status is in limbo while his team conducts a general manager search.

Based on the franchise’s short history, whoever gets the position will have a difficult job pleasing management. Gallant and DeBoer had successful stints, and neither lasted three full seasons.

Fixing the power play will be a priority, as will helping the Knights reclaim an identity they said got lost last season. They want to be a fast, physical, four-line team that’s relentless and resilient.

“It would have been easy for us to march ahead, but really felt there was an opportunity here to help our team with a change there,” McCrimmon said. “That was the decision we felt was the right one.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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