The Florida Panthers didn’t land their first choice as head coach this summer, but if Gerard Gallant can bring some stability to the position, this will turn out to be the right hire.
For sure, the Panthers’ job seemed to be Dan Bylsma’s if he wanted it. Reports indicated Bylsma’s price tag is what scared off the Panthers and pointed them in another direction. And though Gallant hasn’t had as much success as the head coach behind an NHL bench, he had tremendous success in major junior and worked with one of Florida’s current young stars.
Gallant coached the Quebec League’s Saint John Sea Dogs from 2009-2012, winning two league titles and one Memorial Cup. Jonathan Huberdeau was his leader for the Memorial Cup years and could be helped by a friendly face to bounce back from a weak sophomore season in 2013-14.
But more importantly, this choice needs to be one the Panthers stick with. Gallant has been an assistant in the NHL – he’s leaving Montreal’s bench for Florida – but his only other head job in the NHL was with the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons before and after the 2004-05 lockout. Only one of those was a full season, though, and he never had much of a roster to work with.
Florida is similar, but perhaps more promising. Huberdeau had a down year, but his prospects are still as bright as ever. Aleksander Barkov had a strong rookie season and looks poised to be a forceful center for years to come – paired with Nick Bjugstad, the Panthers have an intriguing collection of big young pivots. Roberto Luongo gives them a consistent, veteran presence in net and the defense is also young and budding. Whether they add Aaron Ekblad to that at the draft, or collect an exciting bounty for the pick, they’ll get stronger in the next week.
But this team is still a work in progress. It’s still going to take time.
Which is why GM Dale Tallon and ownership needs to be patient with their guy this time. The Panthers have now had 13 head coaches in 21 years of existence – and six in the past 10 years. A young core needs some consistency and commitment. The Panthers have hinted they’ll be willing to spend more money on their roster, but it has to mean something. Throwing around money just to do it and expecting immediately great things from Gallant is the kind of thinking this franchise needs to get away from.
Gallant may not have been the first choice, but he’s had success with young players in his past. That kind of coaching pedigree is worth holding onto for this team, at this time. And as long as they weather a storm or two with Gallant, he might just be the guy to finally put this thing together.