The search for a new bench boss is full steam ahead, and in the time since David Quinn and his staff — sans Benoit Allaire — were shown the door Wednesday, there have been stories written about potential replacements, with the NY Post’s Larry Brooks having gone as far to report that Gerard Gallant is seemingly the favorite to become the team’s next head coach.
For a position as important as head coach, especially for a New York Rangers team looking to turn the corner in a rebuild and move into contention mode, being thorough and hearing things out with a proper search with multiple interviews makes sense. You never quite know what candidate could surprise you, or if one will deliver a 90-page handwritten document detailing why they should get the job. Yes younger/new Ranger fans... that is something that happened.
But with that said, in this case it is pretty clear that Gallant is the best candidate for the job based on the parameters the team is looking for.
(This is assuming Rod Brind’Amour officially inks a deal with the Carolina Hurricanes as expected. If that weren’t to happen, RBA jumps to the top of the list. Now back to Gallant.)
If he wants the job it should be his, and there’s a lot of reasons he could be just what the Rangers need. Experience is something of major importance, and the former Golden Knights bench boss has a lot of it.
The former power forward played 615 games in the NHL and tallied 480 points, including four 30-plus goal seasons and a 93-point season with the Detroit Red Wings. Behind the bench he’s been around the block quite a bit, beginning in the Maritime Junior Hockey League in 1995 before moving on to the IHL, AHL, and eventually the NHL in 2000 with the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets as an assistant before becoming head coach midway through the 2003-04 season where he saw young dynamo Rick Nash win the Rocket Richard Trophy.
After getting fired early in 2006-07, Gallant took the rest of the year off before joining the New York Islanders as an assistant. He then spent three years in the QMJHL with the Saint John Sea Dogs where he won two QMJHL titles, a Memorial Cup, and the Ron Lapointe Trophy as QMJHL Coach of the Year before returning to the NHL as an assistant with the Montreal Canadians.
Gallant’s stint in Florida received lot of attention, including the viral images of him waiting for a taxi after getting fired, and it is what likely played a role in him getting hired by the Golden Knights.
Kevin Dineen was fired and replaced by Peter Horacheck by the Panthers during the 2013-14 season. The team finished 28th in total goals for, 29th in goals against, and ended up with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
In came Gallant, who turned the Panthers around on its way to 91-point season, was 25th in goals scored, 18th in goals against, and just seven points shy of a playoff berth. It was a positive step forward for the team, especially for its young core. A 21-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau, who thrived under Gallant with the Sea Dogs, led the Panthers in scoring with 54 points while skating 16:45 on average per game.
A 19-year-old Aleksandar Barkov tallied 36 points in 71 games while skating 17:30 a night, and the following season would see his production and role grow. There was Aaron Ekblad, an 18-year-old defenseman who totaled 21:49 a game and finished fourth in team scoring with 39 points. The Panthers also had their fair share of veterans, including Jussi Jokinen, Brian Campbell, Roberto Luongo — in his second stint with the team in goal — and later on, a 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr. What’s important here is that kids were given a chance.
The following season was more of the same with players like Ekblad, Barkov, and Huberdeau, and the addition of 22-year-old Vincent Trocheck, and a newly acquired 24-year-old Reilly Smith. Trocheck was drafted by the Panthers, and in the prior year averaged 14:00 a game and finished with 22 points in 50 games. In 2015-16 he logged 17:46 a game, and finished fifth in scoring with 53 points in 76 games.
Smith joined the team in a deal involving the Bruins after tallying 91 points in 163 games over two seasons playing just 15:03 a game. With the Panthers he became a top-six player tallying 50 points in his first season, and 37 the next. He eventually was dealt to Vegas where he’s been a productive player ever since.
That 2015-16 season saw the Panthers make the playoffs only to lose in the first round to the New York Islanders, but it was a talented team that finished both sixth in goals scored and in fewest goals against.
Ultimately Gallant’s time in Florida was cut short after just 22 games in 2016-17. The organization wanted to go in a different direction, and Gallant was an opinionated guy who said things they didn’t want to hear.
No, it wasn’t huge about analytics. For me, analytics is certainly part of coaching, but it’s not the whole thing. In my mind, if I take a job, analytics is part of it for sure, 25 to 30 percent, whatever percentage you want to put on it. It’s definitely a tool. If you get the right information, you’re happy with that. Every coach uses analytics. We all go over the same stuff.
I wasn’t fired because of analytics. 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. I don’t know where it went from there.
Chris Drury is someone on record as believing in the use of analytics in the overall process. I’d imagine if he has any hesitancy with Gallant in this regard, I personally don’t think there’s reason to be worried, then he would pass on him as a candidate.
Gallant’s most recent stint as a coach was Vegas, and it was here he won the Jack Adams for the job he did in the Golden Knights’ first season. The team was successful because stylistically they liked to play fast relying on skill, strong forechecking and defense.
This is a style the Rangers should play, and are building in the right direction to have the pieces to do just that.
Besides experience and style, Gallant also has the right temperament and philosophy in terms of coaching and accountability that would fit the makeup of the roster. He’s often been described as a player’s coach, but one who can keep his team honest.
When hired by Vegas, Gallant said: “People get caught up in that ‘players’ coach’. Yeah, I’m a players’ coach. But when it’s time to get tough, you’ve got to get tough. And the players respect you for that.” The Athletic ran an anonymous player poll in late 2018 and early 2019, and at that time 23 percent of players said that he was the coach they’d most like to play for other than their own.
In December of 2019, Jesse Granger of The Athletic wrote a story about Gallant and why he was effective with his players. There were a few quotes that stood out, and I will share just two because it is behind a paywall. The first is from Gallant himself.
When questioned about the recent revelations with coaches around the league, Gallant gave an example of what hockey culture often is – and should be all the time.
You’re not coaching against your players. You’re coaching with your players. We’re all together. I think if you ask my players what type of coach I am, I think they feel like I’m a teammate of theirs. I can’t comment on anyone else but that’s the way I work.
The other was from Paul Stastny, and it was this quote that makes a lot of sense in the context of the makeup of this Rangers’ team.
Everyone thinks, ‘oh man, what did I do when I was coaching, or what did I do as a player.’ Because everyone has those situations where you get mad, and you say something you probably shouldn’t have said, but there’s a line you can’t cross. Someone like (Gallant), who has been a player before and understands what we’re going through, he doesn’t cross it. He understands that when guys are messing up they aren’t doing it on purpose.
To that end, there’s also a clip of Gallant while with Vegas talking about the concept of players making mistakes and learning from them that can be found on BarDown.
Those guys are accountable guys and they work hard and they don’t got to apologize to me. They just go to go out and play their game and get better every shift they can do.
You got out there and if you worry about making mistakes, you’re not going to play a good game. I want you going out there and thinking you’re gonna make the good plays and do the right things on the ice. So don’t worry about your mistakes.
Now compare the above with what we saw at times the last few years with young players and the “Quinn bin.” It is a good approach to have, and this philosophy would work well here as Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko look to take the next step offensively. This also can apply to players like Filip Chytil and the gaggle of young defenders on the roster and in the system, but Lafrenière and Kakko are far and away the most important in the grand scheme.
Many candidates will interview for the job, some with more NHL experience than Gallant, but I like that he has had experience with bad teams, and has found ways to utilize younger players rather than keeping them down in the lineup with minimal ice time. It helps that he spent some time in the QMJHL coaching elite talent, but he’s had a long career that involves multiple levels of hockey.
He’s found a way to have a neutral to positive impact at even-strength which is what you want from a coach. Here’s a look at Gallant throughout his career as a head coach vs. Quinn via Hockey Viz.
Here the biggest difference is that the Rangers have been seeing their offensive impact decline at 5v5 and chances against increase. Gallant has had a solid impact defensively, and minimal drag reasonably speaking in terms of offense for. This is just one look at it, and not a be all end all, but makes sense when looking back at some of his teams.
In short, Quinn was looked at as a developmental coach used to being around young players, and the thought was he’d relate well to the young group. Some of that did happen, but for a developmental coach he was rigid in how he doled out ice time and deployed players.
Gallant has shown that he is someone who can have success in less than favorable situations, and help teams push forward. He’s shown a willingness to work with young players, and give them the time on ice needed to succeed. He is big on accountability, but allows room for mistakes and communication with his players. Every coach has their flaws, and while in Florida he had an affinity for an old school defender like Erik Gudbranson, but luckily the makeup of the Rangers’ roster doesn’t have many players like him.
The makeup of this roster is going to change in the coming months, but there’s a lot of elements in place that Gallant can work with. As they look to add more will to the ranks, Gallant has the background to integrate it without compromising skill. I think it is fair to say that Gallant is an experienced coach with something to prove and after coming just short of winning a Stanley Cup a few seasons ago, the Rangers are a great opportunity for him.
The roster is one on the rise with the backing of an owner who wants to win. It seems like a perfect fit all the way around, and the Rangers should do their due diligence, but not waste any more time than they have to.