It’s been a little over a day since I woke up to this news and I still have no clue how to properly react to it. Anyone who knows me has probably been waiting on this one for a while, so let’s just get into it.
On January 15, 2020, the Vegas Golden Knights decided on the most shocking move of both the season and of their short history. Gerard Gallant, the coach who guided the team to the Stanley Cup Final its inaugural season and led them to unprecedented success for expansion teams, became the seventh coach fired this season. It’s easily the biggest shock firing in recent memory, perhaps more shocking than Chicago sacking Joel Quenneville in the middle of last season.
Backlash across the hockey world was immediate. Vegas fans were confused and convinced that rookie GM Kelly McCrimmon pushed the panic button. Hockey pundits bashed the move considerably, although not as much as Gallant’s previous ouster from the Florida Panthers (at least Vegas didn’t force him to leave the arena via taxi.) Rivals licked their lips and relished at the thought of the new kid on the block having his first major slip-up.
I have to admit that I am like-minded with these people. Sure, Gallant had a penchant for being stubborn at times and trying a little too hard to outsmart his competition, but solid coaches like him don’t just fall off of trees. What he did for a sink-or-swim franchise in its infancy was nothing short of phenomenal. He was going to be the coach of the Pacific Division at the All-Star Game, an honor that has been passed on to Arizona coach Rick Tocchet. Even with Vegas going on a four-game losing streak and falling from first in the division to barely hanging in the playoff race, several other teams have endured similar rough patches without sacking their coaches. It’s a bad look for Vegas, and it stands to be the first real PR nightmare the team has to face.
Maybe this is speculation on my end, but there has to be more to this story than McCrimmon let on in his press conference to announce the move. For this, let’s look at the other coach Vegas got rid of. Honestly, assistant coach Mike Kelly’s fate felt more like writing on the wall. With special teams failing over the last few weeks and the inconsistent play from last season coming back with a vengeance, Kelly had one foot out the door. Vegas did need a shake-up, and with the team not performing up to standard, someone had to take the fall. Of course, guess who Kelly coached under back in Florida? Gerard Gallant. I have to guess that Gallant and Kelly became a package deal, where if one goes, the other heads out with them. With the goodwill from the inaugural season running out and recent struggles pushing the team to the edge of the playoff picture, McCrimmon had no choice but to cut bait. It probably ended up a lot less heinous than it sounds here, but it’s a plausible premise, at the very least.
No matter the rationale behind Gallant’s firing, there is no question he’ll end up landing an NHL job again. Maybe he tries his luck with another expansion team in Seattle (on an unrelated note, please let the team name be Kraken.) Perhaps he rejoins a former team in the Detroit Red Wings and serve as the right hand of Steve Yzerman. Maybe he goes a different route and fills a job opening somewhere else. When and where Gallant is heard from next is unclear, but it’s safe to say he’s going to get another crack at the NHL.
And as if the situation couldn’t get any more exasperated for Vegas fans, it proceeded to do just that. Who will be replacing Gallant in Vegas? None other than Peter DeBoer, the same coach who helped the rival San Jose Sharks rally back from a 3-1 series deficit and 3-0 Game 7 score to send the Golden Knights out of the playoffs. The same coach that Gallant himself called a clown just nine months earlier.
It’s one of those rare cases where the hire is even more surprising than the firing. And if social media is any indication, Vegas fans are not exactly pleased with DeBoer becoming the new bench boss.
As for me, on the odd chance DeBoer is reading this, I wish to say a few things to him here. One, welcome to Vegas. Hope you have some success here. Two, apologies if your new job comes across as a bit thankless for the first week or so. They’ll come around eventually. Three, nothing will endear you more to the Vegas fans than stringing some victories together and helping this team play closer to its potential. Could you imagine winning the Stanley Cup as coach of the same team you eliminated in controversial and heartbreaking fashion the previous year? Your face turn in the eyes of the Vegas faithful will be more than complete.
While the jury is still out on this whole saga, there is one thing to realize out of this: Vegas is no longer the new guy. They’ve taken their first true lumps as a franchise, something that all teams must have. The baby bird has left the nest, and now, all Vegas can do is hope there isn’t a predator waiting to snatch it up.
The Golden Knights got the shock to the system they needed. Now they hope they didn’t short-circuit the whole thing.