With all due respect to Peter DeBoer, it was almost a return to normalcy to learn the San Jose Sharks fired him purely for hockey reasons and not for anything like the “material act of unprofessionalism” the Dallas Stars cited when they fired coach Jim Montgomery on Tuesday.
These are tense times for NHL coaches. Bill Peters’ departure from the Calgary Flames following disclosures he used a racial epithet speaking to Akim Aliu a decade ago and had kicked and punched two players while he coached Carolina has led other players to come forward to speak of physical or emotional abuse they endured from coaches.
As a result, Chicago assistant Marc Crawford was placed on leave while the NHL investigates a report he kicked Sean Avery while both were with the Kings.
Reacting quickly, the NHL board of governors announced the league will create programs to educate team personnel on inclusion, diversity and avoiding abusive behavior. Coaches, assistants, general managers, assistant general managers and minor-league coaches who are under contract with an NHL team will be required to attend annually.
In addition, a hotline will be set up for players to anonymously report abusive behavior.
“I guarantee we will take all reports seriously and follow up,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. It won’t be easy to change the suffer-in-silence mentality that has allowed abusers to thrive, but the hotline and programs are a decent start.
Bettman also said all team executives were notified that if they become aware of abusive conduct involving NHL personnel on or off the ice they must report it to him or deputy commissioner Bill Daly or risk “severe discipline.” He added, “Unfortunately, in this world, there are incidents. That doesn’t make it all right. One incident is too many.”
Montgomery’s dismissal was shocking. He guided the Stars to a second-round, seven-game playoff loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues last spring and the Stars were playing well when general manager Jim Nill fired him for “unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League.”
Nill wouldn’t elaborate but said the firing wasn’t related to allegations of abuse, wasn’t part of a criminal investigation, and no other Stars employees were involved. Montgomery hasn’t commented publicly.
Rick Bowness replaced Montgomery and a few hours later earned his first coaching win since April 3, 2004, when the Stars beat New Jersey 2-0. The Devils had fired their coach, John Hynes, a week earlier.
DeBoer took the fall for GM Doug Wilson
Three years after DeBoer got the Sharks to the Cup Final he became the fifth coach fired this season, joining Mike Babcock (Toronto), Peters, Hynes, and Montgomery. DeBoer might have lost his players’ attention, but he was handicapped by an old roster, a struggling Brent Burns and poor goaltending.
It’s easier to dump a coach than to dump a dozen players, so DeBoer is out and assistant coach Bob Boughner is in.
“When you have had a level of past success, change is never easy, but we feel this team is capable of much more than we have shown thus far and that a new voice is needed,” Wilson said in a statement. “As a team and as individuals, our play has not met expectations this year and our level of consistency has not been where it needs to be.”
The Sharks’ smartest move might be promoting Evgeni Nabokov to be their goaltending coach. Nabokov, who spent most of his NHL career with the Sharks, had good results tutoring the club’s minor-league goalies. But he faces a tough challenge: San Jose’s team goals-against average stood at 3.32 through Friday and Martin Jones’ .888 save percentage and 3.30 goals-against average in 27 games were among the league’s worst.
Kings coach Todd McLellan, who preceded DeBoer in San Jose and worked with him at the 2015 World Championships, said the coaching fraternity felt the pain of DeBoer’s fall.
“Our group is disappointed because only we really know how hard we work and the amount of time we put into it. I know that feeling when you’ve got to go home and tell your wife and your kids that you lost your job. That’s never a fun one,” McLellan said. “For the most part you stay in that community for a little while and you feel like you let a lot of people down. But Peter’s a hell of a coach ... He’ll get to return to a bench as soon as he wants to.”
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins also praised DeBoer but said the possibility of being fired is a job hazard. “He’s done a hell of a job there over the years. That team has very high expectations with the lineup that they have,” Eakins said. “It’s just hard to see really good coaches let go. The ‘but’ is that we know the drill. You can’t complain about it. If you don’t like it, then you go do something else.”
Head injury remains an issue for Tim Thomas
Thomas always was quirky, so his disappearance from hockey after he retired in 2014 didn’t seem strange. But there’s a sad reason for it: The goalie on Boston’s 2011 Cup champion team is still suffering from the effects of a concussion he suffered in 2013 and must make lists to get himself through his daily tasks.
“I couldn’t follow the game anymore. My brain wasn’t functioning well enough to be able to keep up with the game, so I sat out in the woods for a few years. I didn’t watch much hockey. There’s not much TV out there,” he told reporters last week before being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
He said he considered suicide a few times but “never came that near to taking my own life,” to end his frustrations. Yet, he said his experience brought his family closer together and inspired him to educate himself about brain trauma.
“It taught me a value for life and a value for my brain that I’ve never had before,” he said. “And I have an appreciation for everything that I never had before. I don’t regret anything.”
The Devils held 2018 MVP Taylor Hall out of their lineup Friday for “precautionary” reasons and were expected to do the same Saturday as they prepared to trade him. Hall can become an unrestricted free agent after the season and wants to win; the Devils are far from contention. Colorado and Arizona reportedly were among his potential landing spots.