Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Gerard Gallant: Two Autographed Cards

Full disclosure: I wasn't entirely certain how I wanted to handle this one, and I edited it until the wee hours of January 24th, more than a week after beginning writing. Gerard Gallant is a very good coach, and I was shocked not only that he was fired earlier today, but even more so that he was replaced this quickly by someone I feel is a lesser coach - former Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks -bench boss Peter DeBoer, whose primary trait is to get offered stacked lineups and never getting any of them to a championship title.

He's also a very good guy, was always accommodating any time I met him, once signed seven (!) cards for me by mail, and always took his time with Montréal journalists who wanted to interview him.

In terms of coaching credentials, he's definitely in the top-5 of "active" NHL coaches factoring in every head coach of the past three seasons. He started off winning a Junior "A" championship with his hometown Summerside Capitals in 1996-97, then became an assistant in the IHL (Fort Wayne Comets, 1998-99), AHL (Louisville Panthers, 1999-2000) and NHL (Columbus Blue Jackets, 2001-04) before getting handed the reigns of the team and from the middle of the 2003-04 season to a month and a half through the beginning of the 2005-06 season.

When former Detroit Red Wings teammate Steve Yzerman was named Team Canada's GM for the 2007 World Championships - essentially an audition for a future Olympic managerial role - Gallant was added to the coaching staff and helped bring home the gold medal.

After two seasons as an assistant-coach with the New York Islanders, Gallant took on the job as head coach of the LHJMQ's Saint John Sea Dogs, winning two league championships (2010 and 2011), the 2011 Memorial Cup and twice getting named the CHL's Coach Of The Year (2011 and 2012).

Like many coaches from the "Q" before him, he then "graduated" to the Montréal Canadiens organization, spending two seasons as an assistant-coach before obtaining the head coaching position with the Florida Panthers. His team missed the playoffs by 5 points in his first season despite going 38-29-15 but won the division the following season on the strength of a 47-26-9 record despite coaching a team analytics fans saw as massively flawed and way below average in shot differential. Unfortunately, in one of the weirdest moves of my lifetime, GM Dale Tallon was promoted to Team President, his analytics-based assistant Tom Rowe taking his place and getting rid of most of the team's grinders and pretty much its entire blue line. 22 games in, with a winning record of 11-10-1, Rowe dismissed Gallant, leaving him stranded on the side of the road. Rowe flubbed the season completely, the team missed the playoffs altogether and Tallon was brought back to fix things; the Panthers missed the playoffs by a few points last season and are among the better teams in the Atlantic this season.

 Meanwhile, Gallant was then hired by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, a rag-tag team that built its first line with two Panthers outcasts - Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith - and took them to the Stanley Cup Final in his first year, then showed it wasn't a fluke by having the team make the playoffs again in Year Two last season, getting eliminated in Game 7 of the first round by perhaps the worst call in modern hockey history... by DeBoer's Sharks.

Gallant will definitely find work coaching in the NHL very soon. As the bets coach available, he can wait out the remainder of the season and see what happens with other teams in the off-season; if the Tampa Bay Lightning fail to go far in the playoffs, Jon Cooper's time there will probably come to an end and whoever inherits that roster will not only get the best line-up int he NHL - heck, with an Art Ross, a Rocket Richard, a Norris and a Vezina winner all playing on the same team, those guys would be good enough to contend for an Olympic gold medal - but will likely also have a say in tweaking it in his image for a better shot at a Cup in his first season.

He would likely also be among the top-two picks to coach Yzerman's Wings (with Cooper, whom Yzerman put behind Tampa's bench) if he wanted to go through a hard rebuild and might be the best man to take on a quick and somewhat talented roster like the Habs', if he could improve his French-speaking skills. There's also an expansion team in need of a coach (and a name...) in Seattle, but I wouldn't be interested in joining them if there were other options, myself, what with GM Ron Francis' handling of the Bill Peters/verbal and physical abuse situation when both were with the Carolina Hurricanes; Francis needs a three-year probation to show that he's learned from the situation and can make the correct adult calls in adult situations and not just sweep things under the rug like the Old Guard did for too long. (I repeat that they should have hired Sean Burke or Ron Hextall to run that team anyway).

Here's a card of his from his glory days in Detroit, wearing the Wings' beautiful white (then-home) jersey with the assistant-captain's "A", having just completed seasons of 72, 73, 93 and 80 points, on card #71 from Pro Set's inaugural 1990-91 Series 1 collection:
And here he is wearing the team's classic red (then-away) uniform, again with the "A", on card #402 from Score's 1993-94 Score set:
He signed them both in black sharpie, adding his jersey number (17) at the end. Edit: He was set to coach in the All-Star Game in late January but opted against it after being fired.

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