After a lengthy process, the Florida Panthers have named the head coach that will lead the club into next season. Gerard Gallant, who spent the last two seasons with the Montreal Canadiens as an assistant coach, will take the reins in South Florida.
Per previous reports, the final decision came down to Gallant or former Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. The recently fired Bylsma had too high an asking price for his services according to Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet, making Gallant the more sensible choice.
"[Gallant] is an individual with tremendous character, integrity and a strong passion for the game and has experience as an NHL head coach," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. "Gerard is an excellent teacher and motivator who possesses the leadership qualities and hockey knowledge that are necessary to lead our team.”
This will be Gallant's second crack at an NHL head coaching job after spending parts of three seasons at the helm for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also spent time as an assistant with Columbus, as well as the New York Islanders.
Gallant's most recent head coaching experience came with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. With Florida, he'll be reunited with one of his top scorers from his Sea Dogs clubs in talented young Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau.
Gallant spent three years with the Sea Dogs, all of which came with Huberdeau on the roster, and guided the team to a rather incredible 161-34-9 record, two QMJHL titles and the Memorial Cup in 2011. Huberdeau had 212 points in his three years with Gallant as his head coach.
Perhaps Gallant's familiarity with Huberdeau played a small role in his hiring, but his wealth of experience which also includes 615 games in the NHL as a player, goes far beyond his ability to reach one player on the team.
The Panthers have a young group that is going to need some serious coaching to get through the next few years as they try to build a contender in South Florida. The 50-year-old Gallant wasn't one of the names mentioned in connection with the other openings as well, but it seemed as though the Panthers had quite a bit of interest in him from the outset.
Gallant has been part of two strong Montreal Canadiens squads over the last two years, helping guide the team to the Eastern Conference Final this season.
With previous NHL head coaching experience in a rather difficult situation in Columbus, perhaps Gallant is a bit battle tested for the lumps this group is likely to take over the next few years. The important thing is going to be molding the young players like Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Erik Gudbranson and others into a strong core, while trying to get the most out of whatever Roberto Luongo has left in his career.
The Panthers likely have some real concern about Huberdeau, the club's No. 3 pick in 2011. After a Calder Trophy-winning campaign in 2012-13, he failed to match last year's point total in 21 more games in 2013-14. Should the club get out of this massive hole they're in, he'll need to be a key piece. Getting a familiar face very well could help spark a revival after that possible sophomore slump.
If reports are to be believed that Bylsma was the other finalist and his asking price was too high, Gallant will often have to be compared to that hypothetical.
Despite getting canned by the Penguins, Bylsma is a Stanley Cup-winning coach, has led a team at the Olympics and also has that important experience at the developmental levels from his stints in the American Hockey League. Bylsma would have been the sexier hire, but there's nothing to say that Gallant isn't the right person for this job.
With the head coach in place, general manager Dale Tallon can focus on what to do about the No. 1 overall pick the team owns. There is expected to be a lot of interest in the pick should the Panthers want to trade it, but they could also keep it and land either potential cornerstone defenseman Aaron Ekblad or one of the three or four forwards that have a shot at making immediate impact.