Pete DeBoer still looks back at the whirlwind of two-plus years, still reflects on those COVID-19 bubble playoffs and the following shortened season and how it all ended in Las Vegas.
He still isn’t sure why it did at all.
He is coach of the Dallas Stars now, fired by the Golden Knights in May and hired to his new position a month later.
And as training camp draws closer and closer, his enthusiasm for a new challenge grows.
The Stars fell to Calgary in Game 7 of a first-round playoff series last season. It’s now on DeBoer to help Dallas reach loftier heights, like when it beat the Knights in 2020 to advance to a Stanley Cup final.
“You for sure move on,” he said. “Coaches compartmentalize things. The coaching part of my brain has moved on. I’m excited about Dallas and the group and the people I work for. Excited to get going.
“But it’s tough to completely walk away from what happened in Vegas because of the circumstances and situation. That’s going to stick in my head for a while.
“What could we as a staff have done differently? There are always things we could have done better, for sure.”
Under the circumstances, there was not much, really.
The Knights failed to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season. They also had close to 500-man games lost to injury, many to key players, a fact that led most to believe DeBoer would continue as coach.
It happens. It happens a lot in the NHL, where coaching tenures are among the shortest in professional sports. Guys get fired all the time.
Rare is the organization such as Tampa Bay or Colorado that believes in those on the bench so much, it will suffer through some disappointing times and eventually come out holding aloft the Stanley Cup.
“And they had some of the potholes along the way as we did in Vegas,” said DeBoer, who went 98-50-12 with the Knights. “Listen, you sit back and reflect and look at those numbers and the teams in a similar boat to us injury wise and what they did … we had no chance.
“It sounds like sour grapes now, but we had no chance of having success with what we dealt with last year.”
He will deal with a team in Dallas that has a mix of young and old, of veterans that need to rediscover their games at a higher level and fresh faces who need to produce sooner than later.
He hadn’t coached a player in the Knights’ locker room when first taking the job to replace the fired Gerard Gallant in January of 2020. In Dallas, he will have a former captain of his in Joe Pavelski from their time in San Jose as part of the leadership group.
DeBoer said he never felt things were closer to being at a championship level in Las Vegas than the shortened season of 2020-21. The Knights that year battled Colorado for a Presidents’ Trophy, actually then eliminated the Avalanche in the playoffs and fell to Montreal in a semifinal series.
A new challenge
“We sign up for this,” said DeBoer, 54. “They had no obligation to bring me back in Vegas. I never felt like they owed me anything. I’ve talked about this — coaching in the old days used to be, ‘Shut up, keep your mouth shut and move on.’ I’m too far into this and getting too old in my career to do that.
“I was surprised by (the firing) when nothing should surprise you, especially in this day and age.”
DeBoer has a new challenge, a new job, a new side to coach.
Training camp draws closer and closer. His excitement level grows with each passing day.
He’s looking forward to the team, to the city, to working with general manager Jim Nill, to, well, finally moving on from his time here.
“We have to get the group onside as quickly as possible,” he said. “We have the opportunity to be good for a while.”
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at email@example.com. 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.