Pete DeBoer Turns Dallas Upside Down

All-Star coach turns the Dallas Stars into an All-Star team.

The All-Star break is right around the corner as the 2022-2023 season approaches the midway point. But not everyone will be getting a break. Locked into the All-Star game are forward Jason Robertson and head coach Pete DeBoer. It was a close race between DeBoer and former Stars head coach, Rick Bowness.

The last time the Dallas Stars sent a coach to the All-Star game was in 2016 when Lindy Ruff coached the Central Division. DeBoer is the first head coach to appear in consecutive All-Star games when coaching different teams since the 1978-1979 and 1979-1980 seasons.

When DeBoer was hired during the off-season, there was some initial skepticism. Between being fired from four different teams, to rumors of the way he treated goalies, to the less-than-satisfactory special teams units he and his coaching staff ran. But the skepticism has since worn off, as the Stars have sat atop the Central Division most of the season thus far.

What to address first? Yes, DeBoer HAS been fired from four different teams, but what he did while he was with those teams needs to be acknowledged. During his first season with the New Jersey Devils in 2012, he took that team to the Stanley Cup Final. Though they did not win, making it to the big stage in your first year with a team is a big feat. His time in New Jersey came to an end and he was picked up by the San Jose Sharks in 2016. He would make his second Stanley Cup Final appearance in his first year with the Sharks, as well. But again, falling short.

He has been to the playoffs in seven of his fifteen years as an NHL coach. Another impressive feat is having two different rosters finish the season with eight 50+ point players. Under DeBoer, the Stars currently have six players on pace to hit the 50-point mark.

People outside the Vegas Golden Knights will never know if or what the issues were between DeBoer and his goalies. But any fan will tell you that 24-year-old Jake Oettinger should be protected at all costs. A franchise goalie in the making doesn’t need his growth stunted by any coach, in any facet. However, it seems as though DeBoer has not only been great for the team but for Oettinger as well. DeBoer always speaks highly about his game and also about Oettinger as a person and a mentor. The young goalie currently sits in the top five in save percentage and goals-against average. For now, those rumors feel like just that, rumors.

It was no secret that the Vegas Golden Knights struggled in the special teams department last season. When Pete DeBoer announced that he was bringing Steve Spott on as an assistant coach to run the power play, the initial reaction in Dallas wasn’t great. And rightfully so, as Vegas finished last season 25th in power play percentage. But Spott and DeBoer had worked together previously, so it appeared as though DeBoer believed in what Spott could bring to the team. And Spott has done more than produce a fairly productive power play.

The last time the Dallas Stars finished a season in the top five of either power play or penalty kill was the 2015-2016 season. They were in fourth place in power play percentage at 22.1%. The last time they finished top five in power play AND penalty kill was the 2002-2003 season. They were fifth in power play percentage at 19.0% and fifth in penalty kill percentage at 85.6%. Halfway through this season, the Stars have steadily stayed in the top five in both power play and penalty kill. If they keep this up, they will finish in the top five in both for the first time in 20 years.

DeBoer’s System

During Rick Bowness’ head coaching tenure, we saw a “defense first” philosophy that wasn’t quite right for this roster. However, DeBoer’s system allows for more offense while not losing any defense. He relies heavily on the forecheck, and he requires his defenseman to be involved in the offense. When the team is in the lead, he doesn’t coach them to let up. He wants them to stay on the attack. And although Bowness vehemently denied letting up as a tactic, this season looks a lot different when it comes to holding a lead — or adding to it.

The most obvious example that shows how well DeBoer’s philosophy is working is Miro Heiskanen. Everyone knew he had an offensive side that wasn’t being utilized. But halfway through the season and he has already tied his career-high points record in points. And he has passed his career-high in assists. He’s currently on pace to nearly double his numbers from previous seasons.

The Stars are Shining Bright

The Stars are consistently staying at the top of the division and conference. And since it has been quite a while since the Stars weren’t fighting for a wild card spot, it begs the question: what do we expect next? Will we see a mid-season meltdown? Will they finish the season in first place? How far will they go in the playoffs? It will be telling to see how DeBoer handles the mid-February mark, where in years past, the team always seems to fall off. Or attempt to, anyhow.

If everything goes right, the Stars should finish the season in a playoff spot, very comfortably. But everyone knows anything can happen once you get into the playoffs. One can hope that playoff Oettinger continues his form from last season. Or that DeBoer’s first-year magic carries us through the playoffs. But more than that, what moves Jim Nill makes at the deadline will determine if Dallas is a real Cup contender. DeBoer has experience in long playoff runs and knows what it takes to get to the Stanley Cup Final. But no matter what happens or how the season ends, DeBoer has been a breath of fresh air for the whole organization.