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Graney: Pete DeBoer turns out to be Golden Knights’ fall guy

Updated May 17, 2022 - 8:14 am

You assumed there might be a fall guy for fourth place in the Pacific Division and missing the NHL playoffs for the first time in franchise history. It’s no shock one finally came.

We now know who.

Pete DeBoer was fired as coach of the Golden Knights on Monday, meaning the team will soon have a third person hired to the position in six seasons.

Which, given how successful things have been, seems preposterous to even type.

“Difficult decision. Difficult day,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “We did not make this decision quickly.”

I would hope not.

All those injuries

There wasn’t an interview or media availability or even a quick chat with anyone in the organization this season when injuries weren’t mentioned as the primary reason for not having as much success as originally forecast.

Where have you heard this before — 500 man games lost.

Uh, everywhere?

They seeped into all forms of the product, on and off the ice. Messed with any real level of chemistry the Knights might have formed. Took from them needed leadership in the room. Had names on the power play with no business being there.

It’s tough to run out four lines when you can’t dress four. It’s tough to maneuver as you might wish with what has been a cap-strapped product for some time.

And yet they fired a coach who had no control over any of it.

DeBoer can’t stop others from being injured.

And yet they fired a coach whose tenure, McCrimmon said Monday, should be looked upon as nothing but a success.

It’s a stretch to suggest that makes any level of sense.

But this is also true — when you miss the playoffs, all bets are off.

Fact is, nobody but those intimately involved knows all that went into the dismissal of DeBoer. It took them two weeks to sort things out. Lots can be discussed in such a time period. Lots of opinions on both sides of the rink.

“We’ve talked openly about the impact the injuries had,” McCrimmon said. “Maybe it’s hard for people to understand because we’re in the results business, but the decision is about next year. It’s about starting with a fresh voice and energized team and a group of players with something to prove. That’s the attitude I want to take into next season. This was part of that.”

They could have kept DeBoer and had — or should have — players with something to prove. They’re certainly not immune to critique over what transpired this season.

The fact that McCrimmon wants a new voice is his prerogative as the one who hires and fires. But this stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And it’s never the fault of just one or even a few individuals.

Coaches. Players. Management. Line ’em up.

They all played a part in what occurred Monday.

“All of the decisions reflect on (him and president of hockey operations George McPhee),” McCrimmon said. “I’m proud to stand behind them. I don’t have any trouble looking in the mirror with decisions we have made and things we do. I don’t have any trouble looking in the mirror and telling myself where I could be better. I’m not above any of that. But I believe we’re doing the right thing. I believe it’s the right decision.

“And when you believe that and you don’t act on it, to me, that’s poor management.”

He’s correct about the past three compressed seasons taking a toll. Lots of hockey. Lots of winning. But also some frustration.

You wonder if next season would have included DeBoer had the Knights qualified for the playoffs that final week instead of being eliminated. Would his voice remained fresh enough in the eyes of management? We’ll never know.

You wonder how big a part DeBoer’s reportedly rocky relationship with goalie Robin Lehner played in all this. Maybe some. Maybe none. Maybe it’s a case of Lehner just not being good enough.

Whatever the reason, McCrimmon and McPhee will now forge ahead and search for their next coach, a few names already being sifted through the rumor mill.

Barry Trotz seems the most popular, the Stanley Cup-winning coach (remember him, Knights fans?) recently bounced by the Islanders. Rick Tocchet and his one playoff appearance and 178-200-60 record in six seasons as a coach also has been mentioned. Maybe both draw some interest. Maybe neither.

Blessing in disguise?

But is it reasonable to believe — that, while they might not have officially reached out to candidates just yet — experienced executives such as McPhee and McCrimmon just fired a coach of DeBoer’s skill and solid reputation without having some idea as to where they hope to go next? Nah. Didn’t think so.

This actually might be a blessing in disguise for DeBoer, who has one year remaining on his contract.

The last time a coach was fired by the Knights, he landed a pretty good gig.

Yeah. Gerard Gallant has done well for himself, no?

They want a new voice. Third one in six seasons for a franchise that has been to a Stanley Cup Final and two other conference finals. Think about that.

“You do what you believe in your heart to be the right thing,” McCrimmon said. “These decisions are made for the future.”

His job. His choice to make.

But the guy they had in the present was pretty damn good.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.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.

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