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Blame Golden Knights players, not Pete DeBoer, for exit

Pete DeBoer is low-hanging fruit. A sacrificial lamb for social media. The easy mark. Which is expected and yet unwarranted.

Be it the Golden Knights’ coach or any other, I’m a big supporter of the theory that those in his position receive far too much praise for a team’s success and far too much blame for its failures.

And yet the culpability that should be attached to DeBoer for the Knights flaming out against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final is incredibly slight compared to what most suggest.

Studies have shown a coach of a college or professional team counts for 20 to 30 percent of how it performs. In hockey, a coach’s influence matters substantially more for goals allowed than scored.

Which is why the Knights are back home not for a lack of coaching but because those on the ice paid handsomely to produce didn’t.

If we’re talking numbers, a fair percentage that falls on the players for such a disappointing finish is in the 90 range. And that might be too kind.

It’s on players

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say a coach’s job is to put his players in the best position to win, have that team dominate an opponent analytically to the point of it being laughable, then suggest he receive the lion’s share of blame when said players don’t get the job done.

Same for Knights management. I love to have fun with president of hockey operations George McPhee as much as anyone else, but all he did at the trade deadline was add a better goaltender in Robin Lehner than he had in Marc-Andre Fleury and needed defensive help with Alec Martinez. Made the team better.

Max Pacioretty didn’t get the job done. He had no goals in the final eight games and one point in the Dallas series. Mark Stone didn’t. He scored one goal in five games against Dallas. Reilly Smith didn’t. He also had one goal. Jonathan Marchessault didn’t. He had one goal in the final 11 games and none in the conference finals. William Karlsson didn’t. Also one goal in the final eight games. Nate Schmidt didn’t. The defenseman made critical errors down the stretch. On and on down the roster.

It happens all the time in sports. The Knights just had it occur to most everyone at once. It’s also true that while Vegas might have been the more skilled team against Dallas, the better team on paper and on a scoresheet, it certainly wasn’t the tougher one.

The Knights lost four of five games and scored a total of eight goals. At some point, the other guys did some good things. Dallas played to its strengths. Never tried pushing tempo. Small, short area game. Enjoyed a big, physical matchup.

“As much as you heard about staying the course during the series, (DeBoer) did things to try to get them going,” Knights studio host Daren Millard said. “He did change up all his lines. He changed the power play. It didn’t work, but he tried it. He tried to do as much as he could without throwing out the blueprint and doing something crazy or so different that you’re out of left field. I still think Vegas is better than Dallas. They just went cold. Like a switch. It was bizarre.

“But it’s the playoffs, man.”

An agent’s noise

I thought it was silly that DeBoer spent his entire time in the hub suggesting his team had two starting goalies. Nobody believed that, and his lineup proved as much. I found it even more hilarious that players (Lehner) spoke about outside noise and the media stoking the fire about such decisions.

Listen: The only noise created by anyone was an agent tweeting a meme of his client with a sword through his back. Stop with blaming the media nonsense.

I never agreed with the Knights firing Gerard Gallant as coach in January, and that had nothing to do with DeBoer. Just thought McPhee overreacted in making the move.

But he made it, and DeBoer drastically improved the team’s penalty kill and made players more confident when generating goals.

That was before the COVID-19 pause.

We know what happened after that. After going 3-0 in the round robin, the Knights beat a 12 seed in Chicago in five games, needed seven games to defeat an 8 seed in Vancouver and went meekly into an Edmonton night in five games with Dallas.

Blame coaching all you want. It’s the easy mark.

Reality is, this is totally on guys wearing skates, not one in a suit.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. 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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