The way things look right now, it is almost impossible to find a positive hockey topic to write about. If it isn't putting the blame on one side of the CBA debate, it is more sad news about the potential lockout (I'm saying potential until I can't anymore!). However, there is one person who it is tough to blame for all the negative energy surrounding the NHL - Peter DeBoer!
The next season (whenever that may be) is a big one for the New Jersey Devils' head coach. He used his first season as coach to prove that he is more than capable of creating success from the team he is given. Many experts didn't expect the Devils to even make the playoffs, let alone go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. After such a successful introduction to New Jersey, there is a lot to be expected from his second season with the Devils. If Pete is to realize anything close to what he brought to the Garden State last year there is a lot to be done. With the confidence from management, fans, and the players, DeBoer has a lot of talent and experience at his disposal to create another winning season, but there is still a lot that he needs to accomplish to build up his team after some tough losses during the offseason. After the jump, I'm going to look at a few of the tasks DeBoer needs to check off of his to do list heading into the next season if he wants to build upon the success he found in 2011-2012.
1. Name a new captain
Zach Parise was a great captain who left big shoes to fill. Although he only held the position for one season, he was loved by his teammates, coaches, and fans. He will be difficult to replace, but there are many viable candidates in the system. Zajac has been quote by Tom Gulitti as saying Kovalchuk, Salvador, and Zubrus would all be good candidates. Other possible options are Elias, Clarkson, and Zajac. Hey, they could even pull a move like the Avalanche and name budding star Adam Henrique captain! Who knows?
Many players have spoken about the great leadership in the locker room and DeBoer has raved about it as well. There are numerous exceptional candidates for the position, which makes it a tough task to check off DeBoer's list - but he has stated it is far down on his list. One bonus here is that DeBoer now has a year with these players under his belt so he knows them as players and people, making it easier for him to make the right decision. There are some questions that go into this decision, though. Should he make the safe choice and go with a player who is in for the long haul, like Kovalchuk? Or should DeBoer go with a young leader who could bolt like Parise did, such as Zajac?
2. Get to know his new assistant coaches
It was an exciting day for most Devils fans when Scott Stevens was announced as the replacement for Larry Robinson as the new defensive assistant coach. DeBoer is familiar with Stevens and his hockey knowledge, but this will be his first year behind the bench with a full time coaching job. It is impossible to tell how he will do as a coach, but some of that will depend on DeBoer. Replacing Adam Oates is Matt Shaw, the former San Jose Sharks assistant coach. He will be focusing on the power play, which definitely has room for improvement just cracking the top half of the league last season.
DeBoer has said he is looking forward to working with both Stevens and Shaw, but will the chemistry be there? It is up to him to build a tight knit coaching staff that the players respect similar to the bond that was formed last year.
3. Answer questions in the lineup
Lamoriello may not be done forming his team for next season, but there is a general idea of who will be on the ice when the puck finally drops. With the loss of Parise and Ponikarovsky, and Sykora still not signed, the lineup will be significantly different from last year. DeBoer has a lot of talent to work with but to utilize that talent the right way he needs to form lines that work well together. Some players, such as Elias can find chemistry with seemingly anyone while others, like Clarkson need the right person on their line to make the right play.
It will also be imperative to figure out the defensive pairings and decide who the odd defenseman out is. DeBoer can use the extra D-man to his advantage making each player work for his spot in the lineup each night. Pete will need to mix and match his returning players with the new ones to find the right fit.
4. Build on success from last year
This last point brings everything else on the list together. In reality, it will be difficult for the Devils to recreate the success from last season. With the loss of Parise along with depending on Clarkson to recreate at least some of his magic from last season, putting more pressure on aging players like Brodeur, Hedberg, Elias, Zubrus and Salvador and having a shorter summer than most other teams in the league it will be a very tough season. With that said, it is possible. The Devils have a lot of talent, and they will be relying heavily on the likes of Henrique, Zajac, Fayne, Larsson, and more. If each player can step up and go above and beyond by buying into DeBoer's system, the Devils should find success. Once the team bought into DeBoer's system fully last year, they clicked. They went on a great run around the time of the All Star Break and worked their magic again in the playoffs. Hopefully, with almost the entire Eastern Conference Championship team returning, it will not take as long to click into place and they can take off running at the beginning of the season. Hopefully DeBoer can balance the use of his goalies and get the team going at the right times, yet again.
These are just a few of the many things DeBoer needs to take care of heading into the next season. The entire list is a work in progress and for some, results will not be seen immediately. What do you think needs to be taken care of first? What would you add to the list of things DeBoer needs to do heading into the next season? How would you handle the daunting tasks facing the head coach?