Bruce Cassidy compared it to “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”
Three of the coaches going to NHL All-Star Weekend this year are connected by their previous jobs. Cassidy replaced Pete DeBoer as Golden Knights coach and earned his spot on the Pacific Division bench. Jim Montgomery took over for Cassidy in Boston and did the same in the Atlantic.
DeBoer went to Dallas, where Montgomery used to coach, and led the team to the best record in the Central Division by the cutoff. The irony is the man DeBoer had to beat, Winnipeg’s Rick Bowness, was his predecessor with the Stars.
Those connections will collide when Dallas visits T-Mobile Arena for the first time this season at 3 p.m. Monday. DeBoer, who coached the Knights for 2½ seasons, will return for the first time since being fired in May.
He’s had immediate success in his new stop. The Stars are tied for the most points in their division, and are one behind the Knights for the most in the Western Conference.
“There’s a reason why they’re at the top or near the top of the Central,” defenseman Alec Martinez said. “Really good hockey club, and it’ll be a good test for us.”
DeBoer is no stranger to the visiting bench at T-Mobile Arena.
He coached there plenty of times with the San Jose Sharks, including during a heated seven-game playoff series in 2019. That’s what made his hiring Jan. 15, 2020, so surprising.
DeBoer did his best to make a good first impression. The Knights were 24-19-6 when DeBoer replaced Gerard Gallant. The team was 15-5-2 the rest of the regular season and won its second Pacific Division title.
DeBoer led the Knights to the NHL semifinals that postseason. He did so again the following year. Last season, the Knights missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise during an injury-ravaged campaign, and DeBoer lost his job. Assistants Steve Spott and Ryan McGill were also not retained.
Spott joined DeBoer when he landed on his feet in Dallas.
“Pete and (Spott), they were a big part of our organization for a while, and they were great to everybody,” right wing Jonathan Marchessault said. “Obviously, it’s a tough job.”
Cassidy and DeBoer were hired by their new teams in June and have experienced similar first-year success.
The Knights, despite fighting through injuries again, have led their division and conference standings most of the season. Cassidy has improved their special teams while keeping their defense strong.
The Stars are in the mix to win the Central after getting in the playoffs last year as a wild-card team. They’ve jumped from 21st in goals per game to seventh under DeBoer. They rank fifth in goals allowed per game, up from a tie for 14th last season.
The starts to both tenures show the two men still know how to coach. But Cassidy understands the cyclical nature of the job. Sometimes a fresh start is needed for all sides. This season, it’s worked out as he DeBoer, Montgomery and Bowness have swapped gigs and done well.
“I think there’s a lot of good coaches in this league,” Cassidy said. “The ‘need a new voice’ kind of line, it’s legit. It’s legit. Players need to hear some fresh ideas. I think you do have a shelf life. We probably disagree on how long that may be, but at the end of the day, it definitely exists.”