Published Wednesday, April 12, 2017 | 5:31 p.m.
Updated Thursday, April 13, 2017 | 12:54 p.m.
The Vegas Golden Knights have their first head coach.
Former Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant has been pegged to lead the city’s first major league sports franchise next fall in its debut season, the team announced this morning.
“We are proud to announce Gerard as the first head coach in Vegas Golden Knights history,” said Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee. “He is an experienced head coach, has had success at multiple levels and has a great reputation amongst the players who have played for him.”
“We undertook a very detailed due diligence process over the last several months and canvassed a number of qualified head coaching candidates to ensure we found the best coach for our group. And we believe we have found that coach in Gerard,” McPhee said. “We look forward to working with him to build a team that our fans and our community are proud to support.”
A news conference is scheduled for noon today at T-Mobile Arena to introduce Gallant.
Gallant, 53, was surprisingly fired from the Panthers last November after leading them to the best regular season finish in franchise history the year prior. He was the runner-up for the Jack Adams Award — given to the best coach of the year — in 2015-16 after leading the Panthers to an Atlantic Division title.
“Being named the first head coach in Vegas Golden Knights history is such a tremendous opportunity and one I am extremely grateful for,” Gallant said. “There is a great deal of excitement in the hockey community regarding what is happening with the Golden Knights and I am glad to now be a part of the team.”
“We have a state-of-the-art practice facility being constructed, a world-class home arena and from what I’ve heard, a very passionate and engaged fan base,” Gallant said. “I look forward to seeing that enthusiasm first hand and will work with George and the rest of the hockey operations staff to ice a team that Golden Knights fans will be proud to support.”
Gallant has connections to Golden Knights’ Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Luce and scout Erin Ginnell, who were both with the Panthers during Gallant’s tenure.
He’s attractive for the Golden Knights officials because of his experience building young teams. He coached the Columbus Blue Jackets for three years from 2003-06. Only in their fourth year in the NHL, the Blue Jackets had never finished higher than 13th in the Western Conference when Gallant took over.
Gallant led them to a 35-43 record in 2005-06, then was fired 15 games into the 2006-07 season.
He then got the job at Florida in 2014, where the Panthers improved from a sixth place finish in their division, to hosting a playoff series the next year. Then 22 games into the next season, with a record of 11-10-1, Gallant was fired by Florida.
It has been speculated that the firing was due to Gallant’s reluctance to use analytics, but he told ESPN in January that wasn’t the case.
“I wasn’t fired because of analytics,” Gallant told ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun. “I loved coaching the Florida Panthers and I’m a stubborn guy at times; maybe I said a little too much, maybe I gave my opinion a little bit too much. Maybe when they asked for my opinion, I have an honest opinion and sometimes it doesn’t help you. Maybe it wasn’t always what they wanted to hear.”
While Gallant may have struggled to get along with Florida management, he has the reputation of being a player-friendly coach and described himself as, “an easy coach to get along with,” to the Canadian Press in 2014.
Gallant played 10 seasons in the NHL — eight with the Detroit Red Wings and two with the Tampa Bay Lightning — scoring 211 goals in 615 career games.
His career coaching record of 152 wins, 141 losses, four ties and 31 overtime losses isn’t spectacular, but consider he’s accrued that record with limited time attempting to resurrect two NHL bottom feeders.
“It’s exciting news,” Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz said of today’s coaching announcement. “I know Bill (Foley) and George (McPhee) have been digging deep to find someone that will not only lead us now, but in the future. It’s a very important piece, so it’s another step in the process as we head toward October and start playing for real.”