You can’t paint a more bizarre picture than what transpired Dec. 11, 2019.
The San Jose Sharks just returned from Nashville after a four-game road trip. The Sharks lost 3-1 to the Predators, their fifth consecutive defeat.
Pete DeBoer and assistant coach Bob Boughner carpooled from San Jose International Airport. Boughner dropped DeBoer off at home.
Walking through the door, DeBoer was likely readying himself to get his struggling 15-16-2 club ready for an upcoming seven-game homestand.
Instead, 10 minutes in from entering home for the first time in eight days, DeBoer got a phone call from Sharks general manager Doug Wilson. He wanted to meet DeBoer at his house.
He came in, sat on DeBoer’s couch, and told the man that took his team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 that he was fired.
The two hugged at the end, and it was over.
“It was a bittersweet ending, but it was done in a really humane way,” DeBoer said. “It’s not always done like that.”
That same day, Boughner — DeBoer’s best friend from high school — became the Sharks’ interim coach.
Fast forward two months later, the Vegas Golden Knights lose 4-2 at the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 14. The next morning, it’s DeBoer replacing the fired Gerard Gallant.
The hockey world flipped on its axis that brisk January morning.
DeBoer returns to San Jose, and will face the Sharks for the first time Saturday when the Golden Knights visit SAP Center for the first game of a back-to-back.
“I was just saying to our coaching staff that I hadn’t been to the visiting locker room [at SAP Center] since I was with the [New Jersey] Devils; you’re looking at seven, eight years ago,” DeBoer said.
“I’m looking forward to getting back,” he continued. “I wish it was under normal circumstances but get a chance to see some great friends and some great people that work around that rink and around the team.”
None of what will occur Saturday will seem normal. It’s not just the fact that DeBoer is facing San Jose for the first time.
The Sharks are playing their first home game of the season. Yes, the Sharks are playing as the home team for the first time in this condensed schedule, and are playing at SAP Center for the first time since March 8, 2020.
San Jose played its first 12 games of the season on the road. The Sharks were going to play their first “home games” Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 against the Golden Knights, but in Glendale, Arizona.
Due to COVID-19 protocols in Santa Clara County, the Sharks confining to a temporary holding pattern in Arizona while traveling to games was the setup.
So none of this is normal. Not even when the puck drops at 1 p.m. Saturday will it be normal. DeBoer will be behind the Vegas bench watching Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl as opposition.
“We had a lot of good times together,” said Couture, the Sharks’ captain. “It’s tough to cheer for them with them coaching the Knights, but those are two guys [DeBoer and assistant coach Steve Spott] you pull for and want them to be successful no matter where they go. Not tomorrow night when they play us. We want to beat them, we’d love to beat them, but definitely miss those guys.”
“You know you’re hired to get fired eventually.”
The storyline of players facing former teams for the first time is always the storyline. The Golden Knights are the prime example of that dating back to their inaugural year, rallying behind players facing the teams that cast them aside.
For coaches, it’s different. Their tenure isn’t as enveloped in grandeur as a player’s.
“This business is a tough business, and you know you’re hired to get fired eventually,” DeBoer said.
But deep down, there’s still that want to show that the former team made a mistake for the wrong move.
Much has changed since then, with a global pandemic and all. This is the first time the Golden Knights and Sharks will face each other since Dec. 22, 2019.
DeBoer is the man hoping to lead Vegas to a Stanley Cup, while Boughner is trying to bring San Jose back from rough times.
“Any time you get fired, I think it’s humbling and a little shot to your ego,” DeBoer said. “You’re told that what you were doing wasn’t good enough. I think for me, taking this job, starting from Day 1, you’re out to prove that the formula you use and what you do can work.
I don’t think it’s about the game [on Saturday]. That started on Day 1 on my new job with Vegas. That’s always something that motivates you.”
But DeBoer made clear that if anyone were to replace him in San Jose, it’d be Boughner.
When you’re the best of friends…
The friendship between DeBoer and Boughner goes back to high school. Their time as rambunctious teenagers was apparently a wild time because the stories are not family-friendly.
Both grew up in Ontario — Boughner from Windsor, DeBoer from Dunnville — and both played junior hockey in the Ontario League. DeBoer played with the Windsor Spitfires, while Boughner with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
DeBoer calling Boughner and asking him to join his staff was one of the first things he did when taking the San Jose job.
“He came with me in the first year in San Jose and really took a leap of faith, left a really good job where he owned the team and ran the whole show in Windsor, moved out to San Jose without his family,” DeBoer said.
Boughner was named the head coach of the Florida Panthers in 2017, ironically enough replacing Gallant. When he was fired in 2019, DeBoer was the first to call him to come back to San Jose.
It’s not certain if DeBoer can actually predict the future, but from the moment the two reunited, the writing was on the wall.
“At that point, and I’ll be honest with you, I thought that eventually I would’ve hoped that he would’ve got the chance to replace me if it ever came to that,” DeBoer said. You’re not thinking that in the day you hire him, but it was definitely in the back of my mind if I was to move on at some point.
“He had head coaching experience. Doug knew him, the players knew him. I can’t say I’m surprised he replaced me, and I’m happy he got the opportunity.”
Boughner said he didn’t anticipate a chance was coming that December morning.
“It’s such a shock and such a blur, because not only you feel terrible for the situation you’re in and feel terrible for close friends,” he said, “but the other side of it is you have to get your act together because you’re going behind the bench the next day, running practice and running a game.
“At the end of the day, I knew Pete would land on his feet. He’s a great coach and he’s in high demand, and I knew he wouldn’t be out of work long. I was thankful to get the opportunity, but no one really wants to get an opportunity in that situation.”
The Golden Knights will try to get back into the win column after losing 1-0 to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday.
The Sharks, meanwhile, are in need of a bounce-back after losing 6-2 to the Los Angeles Kings.
Don’t expect any surprises. Both coaches understand the other very well. It’s a rivalry that may not be shining in the NHL limelight for now, but tensions are sure to be high with storylines aplenty.
“I’m proud of my time there,” DeBoer said. “I wouldn’t change the path that I’ve gone on and I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for the people there.”
Danny Webster covers the Vegas Golden Knights for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.
Thursday game between Golden Knights and Sharks postponed
The game between the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks set for Thursday at SAP Center has been postponed.
The Sharks announced that a player entered COVID-19 protocol and, out of “an abundance of caution,” the game was moved. The player was forward Tomas Hertl, the league announced when it released its COVID absences list at 2 p.m. PT.
At time of writing, the NHL has not announced a makeup date for this game. Thursday was originally supposed to be the start of a two-game slate against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.
That game was moved to make up one of two Golden Knights-Sharks games due to postponements on the Vegas side with Alex Pietrangelo and the coaching staff entering protocol.
Vegas won the first meeting of the season between the rivals, 3-1, at SAP Center on Feb. 13.
San Jose canceled its 11 a.m. practice.
The Golden Knights, meanwhile, held practice at City National Arena on Wednesday and intended on traveling to Northern California shortly after.
Turns out, barring schedule changes, the Golden Knights will get a couple of more days off. Vegas’ next game is at Anaheim on Saturday.
Lehner was doubtful to travel
Prior to the postponement, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer said it was doubtful that goalie Robin Lehner would travel with the team to San Jose.
Lehner did not practice Wednesday as he continues to rehab from an upper-body injury. The goalie hasn’t played since Feb. 7, but it appeared he would be back to practice after Vegas re-assigned Oscar Dansk to the Henderson Silver Knights.
However, Vegas recalled Logan Thompson from Henderson and assigned him to its taxi squad. Dansk will start for Henderson on Wednesday and Friday against the San Diego Gulls.
“From everything I’m hearing, he’s progressing in a positive manner,” DeBoer said.
Goalie prospect Dylan Ferguson is also still with the big club for the time being.
With Lehner out again, the expectation would’ve been Marc-Andre Fleury to make his eighth consecutive start.
Oscar Dansk was re-assigned to Henderson. He will start Wednesday and Friday against the San Diego Gulls, Silver Knights coach Manny Viveiros said.
Golden Knights tickets go on sale Thursday for March games
Tickets for Vegas Golden Knights home games during March will go on sale to the public on Thursday.
Fans who want to see the Golden Knights inside T-Mobile Arena for the first time in nearly a year will get their opportunity. Tickets will be on sale starting 10 a.m. Thursday, starting with Vegas’ upcoming home game against the Minnesota Wild on March 1.
Season ticket holders and Can’t Wait List members will have first priority on Wednesday.
“We like to, as always, allocate seats for our partial season ticket members, single-game buyers and group buyers,” said Todd Pollock, the Golden Knights’ vice president of ticketing and suites. “In terms of who’s going to have access, we did give our members the opportunity to retain their money on file for this season.”
Pollock said on a normal basis, roughly 80 percent of T-Mobile Arena is comprised of season ticket holders. The anticipation is there will be a limited number of tickets available to the public.
“We’re not going to have zero [tickets available] when people go on,” Pollock said. “There will be tickets. It’s just a function of how many have we actually sold through in the first set of presales to our members. Again, our goal is to do our best to take care of our members as much as we can.”
As of now, there are no plans for tickets beyond March. Pollock said they want to make next month a test run to ensure operations run smoothly.
Parking will be complimentary at New York-New York, Park MGM, MGM Grand, and Excalibur. Fans will also need to undergo day-of-game symptom screening via the CLEAR app, and masks must be worn with the exception of eating or drinking.
No bags will be permitted inside the arena, and all tickets are digital. None will be available at will call.
“Again, we acknowledge and understand that it’s an imperfect situation that we’re in,” Pollock said. “The great thing is we have so many members and so many fans that want to come to games. The downside is we don’t even have enough seats with 17,000 seats in a normal setting, let alone at 15 percent capacity.”
Plans for tickets to attend Henderson Silver Knights games are still in the works, Pollock said. Based on the Clark County directive, approximately 1,400 fans will be able to be in Orleans Arena.
March 18 is the soonest fans can be allowed at Silver Knights games.
“We do hope that for games later in March that we’re in the same position or even a greater position in terms of our capacity,” Pollock said.
When the Golden Knights host the Wild, it will have been 363 days since fans have been at T-Mobile Arena. Fans have gone as far as to travel to Glendale, Arizona for Coyotes games to see their team. But there’s nothing like watching a game at T-Mobile Arena.
Vegas will be the 11th team to allow fans.
Alex Tuch’s strong start continues after promotion to Golden Knights top line
Alex Tuch was the Nathan MacKinnon-like player the Vegas Golden Knights needed on Monday.
Lower your torches and pitchforks before you think I’m comparing Tuch to one of the top three players in the world.
It goes without saying Tuch is the best power skater on the Golden Knights. You combine the smooth skating and speed that he’s continued to develop since becoming a full-time NHL player, and you have a guy that impacts the game in all three zones.
Much like what MacKinnon does for the Colorado Avalanche.
Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer threw his lineup in a blender Monday in Denver, and it paid off. Vegas won 3-0 and salvaged a split in the four-game series with Colorado.
“I thought our last few games, we’ve been making strides defensively,” Tuch said. “I think we’ve really tried to be hard against their top guys, and it led to a little bit of offense, and we buried our chances.”
Two goals came from Tuch, who was moved to the top line with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Max Pacioretty moved to the second line with Cody Glass and Reilly Smith, while Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson were getting third-line minutes with Nicolas Roy.
Tuch, who led all Vegas forwards in ice time at 18:48, has three goals in two games and is one behind Pacioretty (8) for the team lead. His 13 points tie him for second on Vegas, trailing Stone.
“Tuchy’s had a great year,” DeBoer said. “He’s earned everything’s he’s got with hard work and to have a good start to the season.”
Tuch has shown flashes of being ready for a top-line role in the past but never lived up to that capability when given the chance. This promotion was different. The Golden Knights were in need of a massive offensive shakeup after accumulating four goals at 5-on-5 in the previous five games entering Monday.
Vegas got two in its most important game of the season.
But as the game wore on and the Golden Knights had their best outing of this short season, Tuch’s promotion wasn’t just about his scoring. Tuch was moved to the top because he’s the only player in that group that can go toe-to-toe with MacKinnon.
To be clear: It takes a village to neutralize MacKinnon, let alone slow him down. He’s going to get his chances. The Hart Trophy finalist had five shot attempts Monday, three of them on goal.
Stone is methodical and exceptional at causing turnovers but has never been the fastest skater. Stephenson has the speed but doesn’t have that game-breaking impact.
Tuch, however, is a fast, powerful skater who is still getting better defensively. Look no further than this backcheck on MacKinnon.
This is what I mean by MacKinnon-like. No other player has the size and speed on this roster to make it happen. The Golden Knights can converge on MacKinnon and make him give up the puck, but do so at your own risk when having to face Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
“I liked him as much defensively [Monday] as I did offensively,” DeBoer said. “With his speed defensively, he’s one guy who can hunt down guys like MacKinnon from behind.”
Tuch was on the ice with MacKinnon for 6:24.
“Really tiring,” an exasperated Tuch said laughing about defending MacKinnon. “A lot of plays are going to go through him, and we know that because of how good he is. We didn’t want to give him time and space. We wanted to frustrate him as much as possible. They’re deep, but that top line is a whole other animal.”
DeBoer, however, said Tuch’s promotion wasn’t meant to neutralize MacKinnon.
“I felt we hadn’t scored easily in the first three games against these guys,” DeBoer said. “We wanted to freshen some things up and hopefully loosen some things up offensively with some different looks. I think that happened.
“With Tuchy, it’s just adding layers to his game every year. He’s still a young player. Recognizing he can use that speed defensively, as well as offensively, it makes it easy to play him against guys like MacKinnon because he can skate with those guys.”
Vegas’ top line was good before the shakeup. Not just because Pacioretty and Stone can impact a game at the drop of a hat, but Stephenson’s speed is just as important.
He doesn’t possess the skill of a MacKinnon down the middle, but Stephenson’s speed opened the ice up for Pacioretty and Stone. They only need an inch or two to make things happen. Replace Pacioretty with Tuch, and you have a combination of speed and power that worked on Monday.
The hope, if you’re Vegas, is this line doesn’t allow 15 attempts while only generating five at 5-on-5, but there’s something there.
“Those two guys are unbelievable players,” Tuch said of his new linemates. “Playing with Stoney, you know he’s going to make plays like that and put me in open ice. Chandler’s just an unbelievable 200-foot player. They’re easy to play with.”
As the age-old adage goes, if it’s broke, fix it. For one night, Alex Tuch on the top line fixed a lot of things.