The Panthers latest miracle worker
"I wasn't the best player in my small town, wasn't the best player on my junior team, and I wasn't good enough to play in the NHL," he said. "I've spent 12 years in the junior Canadian league riding the bus, staying in bad hotels trying to get the opportunity to coach in the NHL. My excitement level is very high, and I'm hopeful that's contagious with the players and our fans in Florida."
"I'm so excited about this job, I'm writing down line combinations in the middle of the night."Quotes from a really nice feature on the weekend by the Miami Herald's George Richards.
The fans still left in South Florida are incredibly skeptical, not just of DeBoer, but of all things Panthers. In a lot of ways, that's justified.
Fifteen years after their inaugural season, this remains one of the worst franchises in NHL history, a team that last won a playoff round 12 years ago during an unlikely charge to the finals. Florida hasn't made the playoffs (or come very close to doing so) in eight years.
After 14 seasons, the Panthers have never won a division title. Only Phoenix, Nashville and Columbus are also in that group. Florida's made the playoffs just three times in its existence, better than only Atlanta and Columbus, teams with six and seven fewer seasons in the league.
All of that said, this is a team that, in 2008-09, has some good things going for it. The Panthers have a top-notch netminder (Tomas Vokoun), excellent youth up front (Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Rostislav Olesz) and a few studs on the back end (Jay Bouwmeester and Keith Ballard). They're good on the power play and at generating shots on goal, but Vokoun is shelled on far too many nights.
Florida had a horrific run of injuries last season and was still only nine points shy of a division title. They've replaced captain Olli Jokinen with free agent Cory Stillman and two new bodies on defence, and I expect them to move a blueliner for more help up front once Bouwmeester has re-signed.
This might finally be their year.
"This is a dream come true," DeBoer said, sitting in an Adirondack chair in a backyard that won't be his for much longer. "I like challenges. I see this as a challenge to make a difference."It's certainly that.