It is a strange state of affairs in the sports world when a head coach who would be ranked by many as one of the best in his game has been unemployed for more than a year. And yet, so it has been with Gerard Gallant, who more than a year ago was fired from his job as head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights NHL team, and has yet to be paired with another franchise.
At the time, Gallant’s dismissal stunned most of the hockey world. After all, just two years earlier, he had led the Knights to improbable heights of success in their first year as an NHL franchise. With a roster of players dismissed as castoffs from other NHL teams, Gallant’s Knights won the Pacific Division title and made a run all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, falling in five games to the Washington Capitals. Gallant was awarded the Jack Adams Award as the top coach in the league in recognition of his efforts behind the bench.
The Golden Knights’ 2018–19 season was less successful, but they still made the playoffs, losing in a controversial seven game series to the San Jose Sharks. Vegas’ 2019–20 season with Gallant at the helm seemed to get off to a strong start- at the time of Gallant’s dismissal, he had just been named to coach the Western Conference team at the 2020 NHL All Star Game. In what must have surely added insult to injury for Gallant, he was replaced by the (also recently fired) Pete DeBoer, formerly of the Sharks, who Gallant had called “a clown” after the 2019 playoff loss.
Since then, Gallant has been speculated to be in the running for several NHL coaching jobs that have opened up. He was interviewed by the New Jersey Devils, who instead went with Lindy Ruff. He was considered a top candidate for the Washington Capitals coaching vacancy, only to lose out to Peter Laviolette. As the 2020–21 NHL season continues, Gallant has continually been considered one of, if not the most coveted NHL coaches on the market by a number of fanbases.
Gallant is frequently speculated to be in the running for a number of coaching positions that either are known to be open or are speculated to be opening up after the 2020–21 season. The first of these, which is certain to be vacant, is that of the NHL’s newest expansion team, the Seattle Kraken, who have yet to name a head coach.
The fit between Gallant and the Kraken feels so neat that it comes off as too obvious. After all, why would the league’s newest expansion franchise not want the coach who led the previous expansion franchise to such unprecedented success? The answer may lie in the philosophy that undergirds the Kraken front office.
The first front office hire the new NHL franchise made was Alexandra Mandrycky, a data guru at the forefront of the burgeoning hockey analytics movement. Mandrycky’s influence led to the hiring of Ron Francis as GM. Francis is a Hall of Fame explayer who, as GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, built that franchise into one of the most analytically advanced teams in the NHL.
Gallant, on the other hand, is regarded as more of an old school type of coach. In his position before Vegas, with the Florida Panthers, he led that team to one of their most successful seasons in years, before being abruptly fired. Gallant denies that analytics was the reason for his dismissal, acknowledging them as a tool to use but acknowledging his stubbornness as a coach. However, after his dismissal from Vegas, the idea that Gallant was fired for being anti analytics has once again surfaced in hockey media.
Gallant can deny that narrative as much as he wants, but the fact is, there is now enough smoke in the air to potentially make that perception a reality. Despite Gallant’s success with the expansion Knights, buzz is building that Seattle will go in a different direction- perhaps someone like Rick Tocchet, the Arizona Coyotes bench boss (and former teammate of Ron Francis), whose contract in Arizona is set to expire, and was hired by the Coyotes’ analytically minded former GM John Chayka.
Gallant is also frequently connected to the Detroit Red Wings, where head coach Jeff Blashill’s contract is set to expire after this season (the Wings have only made the playoffs once in Blashill’s tenure). Detroit General manager Steve Yzerman also did not hire Blashill, leading to rampant speculation that he will want to bring in his own candidate for the position. Enter Gallant, who was Yzerman’s teammate on the Red Wings teams of the 1980s and early 1990s.
The fact that Gallant and Yzerman are not just teammates, but close friends can be a double edged sword with regard to his chances to get the position. Yzerman has emphasized creating a winning culture in Detroit, who have not made the playoffs since 2016. Gallant, who created a winning culture from noting in Vegas, would certainly help in that area. However, hiring a coach runs the risk that a GM will have to fire them as well. Of the NHL’s thirty one GMs (not counting Francis in Seattle), more than half have fired at least one coach in their tenure. Would Yzerman want to run the risk of business interfering with his friendship?
Gerard Gallant will almost certainly be an NHL coach again in the near future. His own firing is a testament to the fact that teams that no one thought would have coaching openings any time soon can have them appear suddenly. However, for various reasons, Detroit and Seattle will likely not be the destinations where Gallant will in fact land. The fact that he has been so frequently connected to these places is a sign of commentators relying on easy, oversimplified media narratives instead of digging deeper into the situations in those individual franchises.