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Graney: DeBoer ‘absolutely’ believes Knights can hoist Stanley Cup

It might have been after a quick dip while enjoying the mild temperatures of Florida in January. Or en route to the capital city of Canada.

It didn’t take Pete DeBoer long. He knew well the short-lived but incredibly successful resume of the Golden Knights. Knew the possibilities.

DeBoer was poolside with his wife and daughter when the call came from Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon midway through the 2019-20 season, Gerard Gallant having been fired as head coach and DeBoer the team’s choice as his replacement.

Believes more than ever

Know this: Before his ride touched down in Ottawa —where the Knights were to engage the Senators — DeBoer believed he was to inherit a team beyond capable of winning a Stanley Cup.

Still does. Perhaps now more than ever.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” DeBoer said Saturday. “When Kelly called me and asked me if I was interested, there was zero hesitation. I knew this franchise close-up from being in the (same) division.

“I saw the commitment of ownership and management to win every single year and to make tough decisions to win. Not an easy path. From a coaching perspective, that’s all you’re looking for. You want that opportunity. This group and this organization has that.”

The feelings of coaches and players from being eliminated by Montreal in a Stanley Cup semifinal Thursday are still raw. The pain still palpable. Nobody hurts to the level of them when a season ends sooner than forecast and, well, what the talent level suggests it should.

The ache doesn’t instantly vanish with a few full pours of Foley Johnson Cabernet.

Fans don’t want to hear it — tune into this space Monday for an account on such lunacy — but hoisting the Stanley Cup is a bit tougher than cashing a $1 scratch off.

Franchises in Buffalo and Vancouver have been around five decades and never won a season’s final game. Arizona is at 42 years, including 17 seasons in Winnipeg. San Jose, which DeBoer coached before landing with the Knights, is working on 30.

“We had the group to win this season,” said Knights goalie Robin Lehner. “But that’s not how the Stanley Cup works.”

DeBoer took both the Sharks and New Jersey to Cup finals. He certainly can the Knights. There is obvious room for improvement.

The power play wasn’t just awful in the playoffs. It was bad all season. But the overall system and style of play is plenty good enough. It led the league in goals at 5-on-5 and ranked third overall. Has one of the NHL’s best penalty kills. You just can’t essentially forfeit the power play and expect to win it all. It’s not reasonable.

The Knights advanced to a Stanley Cup final in an expansion season and now own two additional semifinal appearances over the last three years. Patience, it has been said, doesn’t always mean to wait. But it does mean to strive for growth while doing so.

‘We’ll be back’

Bad news: This was the best team over four years and couldn’t get it done.

Good news: Its core remains in place and there is no challenge big enough to impede owner Bill Foley from ensuring his team has what it takes to hoist that Cup.

In that respect, not much has changed since DeBoer landed in Ottawa that January day.

“I don’t think the transition was easy for the first week or two, but as we started to have more and more success, I think guys bought into what he preached,” said Knights captain Mark Stone when remembering the coaching change. “We have a group of guys where the egos get thrown out the door when you walk in.

“Obviously we have to look at what we can do better. We didn’t win. We have to look back and see what we can improve on. We’ll be back. We like where this team is.”

So does the head coach. Has since his phone rang poolside.

Hey, there are worse fates.

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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