Jan 2, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Gerard Gallant yells to his team as they take on the Dallas Stars during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Canadiens defeated the Stars 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Gerard Gallant Is The Right Choice For The Florida Panthers

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Gerard Gallant will become the new head coach of the Florida Panthers on Monday, as announced on the team’s Twitter account.

The Summerside, P.E.I., native spent the last two seasons as an assistant to Michel Therrien in Montreal, helping the Canadiens reach the Eastern Conference Final this past season.

He has NHL experience, as he coached the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons.

“Turk” didn’t have much success in Columbus, but his work with younger players makes me believe Gerard Gallant is the right guy in Florida.

Gerard Gallant‘s Coaching Resume – A First-Hand Look

As some of you know, I’m also from Prince Edward Island.

Some of my first hockey memories involve Gerard Gallant, as he coached the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League in the mid-1990s. His Western Capitals would come down to face the Forbes Kennedy-led Charlottetown Abbies. At the time, both teams were among the best in the league.

Those were some of the best games I watched, because you could see the passion both coaches got out of their teams.

Anyway, Gerard Gallant led Summerside on a memorable run to the 1997 Royal Bank Cup. Nobody expected them to do much, but Gallant willed his team forward. They got the job done at home, defeating the South Surrey Eagles 4-3 in the championship game.

The top forward was South Surrey’s Scott Gomez, who played in Florida last season.

The Saint John Years

Around the time Gallant took over in Columbus, the QMJHL’s Montreal Rocket moved to Charlottetown to become the P.E.I. Rocket.

A few years later, Gallant took over the Saint John Sea Dogs. It was a match made in hockey heaven.

I would go to Rocket (now Charlottetown Islanders) games when the Sea Dogs were in town from 2009 through 2011-12, and watch many others.

“He’s a guy who is intense and into the game. He keeps you up throughout the game. I think the guys are going to react to him. He wants what is best for the players.” – Jonathan Huberdeau

Gerard Gallant ran a tight ship in Saint John, getting players to buy in quickly.

In Gallant’s three seasons as head coach, the Sea Dogs scored 931 goals and allowed just 532. Those seasons are easily the best in team history, including two QMJHL championships and the 2011 Memorial Cup.

In total, Gerard Gallant’s record in Saint John was 161-34-9 before going to Montreal. He was also the Canadian Hockey League coach of the year in 2010 and 2011.

Gerard Gallant made the team believe, something not lost on former Sea Dog Jonathan Huberdeau, who owes his development to Gallant.

“[Gallant]‘s a guy who is intense and into the game,” Huberdeau told George Richards of the Miami Herald. “He keeps you up throughout the game. I think the guys are going to react to him. He wants what is best for the players.”

In addition to Huberdeau, Gallant coached current NHLers like Tomas Jurco, Nathan Beaulieu, and Charlie Coyle, with others like Penguins defenceman Simon Despres, Minnesota Wild first-rounder Zack Phillips, and Ottawa Senators forward Mike Hoffman still trying to stick permanently.

Huberdeau, Jurco, and Phillips were the constants in Gerard Gallant’s tenure, but it was a combined effort after that. The Sea Dogs didn’t make many big trades, but the teams produced in a big way.

Why Gerard Gallant Fits In Florida

Simply put, Gerard Gallant can win with young players.

Florida has one of the youngest cores in the NHL, with eight players under the age of 25, including Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov, Nick Bjugstad, and Aleksander Barkov, last year’s second overall pick.

There’s also a ninth to come if the Panthers keep the top pick for next week’s draft, with other players like Drew Shore and Quinton Howden knocking on the door.

It also figures to get younger, with six players who are 34 or older. That list includes Brian Campbell, who recently asked to be traded, and 37-year-old Ed Jovanovski, who has been slowed down by hip injuries.

His familiarity with Huberdeau helps, as he struggled last season. Gerard Gallant got the most out of Huberdeau in Saint John, as he was the Memorial Cup’s most valuable player in 2011.

Some may wonder why Florida didn’t go with Dan Bylsma instead. While the Pittsburgh coach was an option, he may have been too rich. It also may not have been a good fit. Bylsma inherited a strong Penguins squad and won with them, but it’s unknown whether he would have had interest in building a team.

This is a team Gerard Gallant can help Dale Tallon build, not unlike what Gallant’s former Detroit linemate, Steve Yzerman, and Jon Cooper have done with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It may be necessary with the Panthers’ financial woes, but if you have a young team, Gerard Gallant’s track record makes him a great option.

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