The Vegas Golden Knights are the story of the 2017-2018 National Hockey League regular season so far, thanks to a 29-10-2 record and a lot of home-ice success at T-Mobile Arena. Perhaps one of the more overlooked aspects of this stunning achievement, however, is the work of Head Coach Gerard Gallant. He is a leading candidate for the Jack Adams Award right now, annually given to the best coach in the NHL.
This week, as a result of the Golden Knights' success and first-place standing in the Pacific Division, Gallant was named as one of the four coaches for the NHL All-Star Game on January 28 in Tampa, FL. This is the second time Gallant has received the honor, the first time being two years ago when he was coaching the Florida Panthers to the top of the Atlantic Division.
"For us to get an opportunity to coach at the All-Star Game, it's a great honor for our organization," Gallant told NHL.com. "It's not about me; it's about the guys in the room that work hard every day."
Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee has a long and varied career in the sport, and he chose a head coach with the same kind of experience. Gallant played several seasons in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings and the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 211 goals in the regular season and 18 in the postseason. His best season came in 1988-1989, when he was named a second-team All-NHL forward for scoring 93 points in 76 games and registering 230 penalty minutes as well.
At just 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Gallant was a feisty left wing in an early era of success for smaller players like himself. Playing under Jacques Demers in Detroit also gave Gallant an excellent education in the bench aspect of the game, as Demers remains the only back-to-back winner of the Adams Award in NHL history (1986-1987, 1987-1988). He served as an alternate captain in Detroit for years, playing on the same line as captain Steve Yzerman.
When Gallant's playing days ended in 1995, he started coaching junior hockey right away before moving up into the professional leagues. He posted a 56-76-4-6 record (the league still allowed ties then) with the Columbus Blue Jackets in his first NHL head-coach role from 2003-2007, before Yzerman—then the Team Canada General Manager—chose Gallant as an assistant for the 2007 World Championships, which Canada won.
His second NHL experience as a head coach was much more successful, as he led the Panthers to a 96-64-25 mark in two-plus seasons—including a first-place finish in the Atlanta Division in 2015-2016—before inexplicably being let go just 21 games into the 2016-2017 season.
The Florida organization's blunder became Sin City's gain when McPhee hired Gallant on April 13, 2017.
"We are going to work hard, we are going to build a strong organization, a strong hockey team here, and hopefully that happens," the new Vegas coach told NHL.com when he was hired that day. "You look at the NHL today and from first to the worst, there's not a big difference. We are going to get a lot of good hockey players."
Vegas has done just that, and the results on the ice speak for themselves right now. The Golden Knights have the best record in the Western Conference, and after the last four expansion teams averaged a mere 24 wins per season, Vegas already has 29 halfway through the campaign—and probably will finish with 50-plus victories in their inaugural year.
That's a tremendous accomplishment, but it's merely a reflection of Gallant's coaching philosophy, which he made clear the day he was hired.
"As coach you can't look long-term; you just have to look at the next day and get better every day," he said back in April 2017. "When you take care of the little things, big things will happen."
Just how big things will get in Sin City this season is yet to be determined, but with Gallant at the helm, the Golden Knights are aiming high.
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