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Pete DeBoer knows how to coach high-end talent

Updated May 14, 2021 - 5:18 pm

Pete DeBoer has been head coach of the Golden Knights since January of last year. He said it only feels twice as long.

Stay with me: When your team is placed in a bubble existence for two months, followed by a pandemic condensed season, you tend to become pretty familiar with those in your inner circle.

Which makes you either want to suffocate them or you develop a powerful bond.

It’s the latter for DeBoer and his players. We’ll leave the former to when the Knights next meet the villain that is Tom Wilson.

The beginning was weird — DeBoer as the former head coach of the Knights’ bitter rival in San Jose replacing the highly popular and yet fired Gerard Gallant.

Fans on Twitter really enjoyed that one. They almost threatened not to scream “Knights!” during the national anthem.

Just kidding. Don’t go all crazy and begin punching walls.

Winning is key

Eventually, winning quiets the critics. DeBoer has done plenty of that. He’s 55-19-4 with the Knights, including a division title and loss in the conference finals.

The Knights next open a Stanley Cup playoff series against Minnesota on Sunday. DeBoer’s team is again among the favorites to be the one skating around the ice while holding aloft a trophy into which some unspeakable acts have been committed.

“All of that and $5 gets you coffee at Starbucks,” DeBoer said. “You have to win the games and that has to translate to success at playoff time. We have to do that here.”

So it’s obvious DeBoer isn’t ordering a grande mocha cookie crumble Frappuccino with blended java chips and extra drizzle. Not that I would know about such things.

Fact: Postseason awards are more subjective than debating which is the best throwback jersey (um, it’s the one with a duck face).

Unless you’re talking about the Hart Trophy because the Connor McDavid guy seems good.

But while DeBoer won’t win the Jack Adams honor for Coach of the Year this season — Joel Quenneville of Florida seems the popular choice — he is unquestionably among the best of his peers.

A main reason why: DeBoer knows how to handle talent.

Sure. Anyone would choose coaching a team as capable as the Knights over, say, Buffalo. Nobody feels sorry for a coach whose roster includes the high-level skill that DeBoer’s does.

But there is a certain approach to leading such players. Grasping the rarity of greatness is pivotal to comprehending it. DeBoer has had some practice. He’s terrific in this regard.

Whether it was Zach Parise in New Jersey or Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton in San Jose or now Mark Stone here, DeBoer has seamlessly managed that which can be a tricky balance.

“The key to coaching talent is your best guys have to be the most all-in and honest guys in the room,” DeBoer said. “Their egos need to be in the right place where they’re willing to do the grunt work and carry the coaching torch as far as playing the right way because they want to win that badly. That always permeates through the group.”

So does this: An insatiable hunger to lift the Stanley Cup.

Learning on job

Marc-Andre Fleury knows the feeling. So do Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez and Chandler Stephenson. There are rings in the room.

But for those sill chasing one, the learning never stops. Not even for the guy juggling all that talent.

“I learn every day,” said DeBoer, in his 14th season as an NHL head coach. “It’s incredible. You acquire a guy like Alex Pietrangelo and sit with him and get his thoughts on the game and the keys he felt had them winning the Stanley Cup (in St. Louis). Every time you have a conversation with someone like that, you learn. I learn something after each loss.

“That’s the great thing about this job — you can get better every day.”

I’d like to think it’s the coffee, but he doesn’t pay enough for the good stuff.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.