Gerard Gallant stepped off the plane late on Wednesday night in Las Vegas as recent memories filled with emotion washed over him again.
It’s been just over two weeks since the league’s most shocking coaching dismissal of the year, which hit Gallant like a Ram truck.
“The last four to five days have been a lot better,” Gallant told The Athletic over the phone on Thursday. “I’m looking forward. It was obviously a tough day when that happened. But I’m looking to move on and see what the next thing is. Hopefully, there’s something else down the road here. Whenever that is, I don’t know.’’
We will address what’s next for Gallant in more detail soon, but I should stress that there shouldn’t be a shortage of options for one of the NHL’s most respected coaches.
Gallant is back in Las Vegas to tie up some loose ends. And wouldn’t you know it, he ran into a Golden Knights player at the airport, Jonathan Marchessault.
Gallant’s phone, no surprise, was deluged with messages from his now-former players after the firing Jan. 16.
“Most guys sent texts and a few guys called. It was tough,” Gallant said. “They had a lot of good things to say. I’m a players’ coach. I had a great relationship with my players for over two and a half years. I think they were as surprised as I was surprised that day. They felt bad. `Sorry Turk we didn’t do enough for you,’ that type of stuff. I thought we were having a pretty good year and then had a four-game losing streak and I was caught off guard. I understand the business. We want to win, we have a good team. But I just thought it was a little early. That’s all. But the players sent some really positive comments for me. They felt bad.’’
Gallant is still under contract through next season with Vegas, which affords him time to wait carefully for the next opportunity.
“I’ve had some great time spent with my grandkids in Moncton, New Brunswick, the last two weeks and it was awesome,” the native of Summerside, P.E.I. said.“I feel pretty good about myself right now. I feel positive and I’m trying to move forward.’’
And he knows he’s not alone. Imagine a season in which highly regarded veteran coaches such as himself, Peter Laviolette, Peter DeBoer and Mike Babcock all get handed a pink slip. That’s just crazy. It’s a tough environment these days for NHL coaches.
“It’s too bad, it’s the way the business is right now,” Gallant said. “You come in there as a coach and you put your heart and soul into a team. Like they say, they can’t fire 23 players so a lot of times it’s the coach. I guess we shouldn’t take it personally because it happens every day in our business. And there are seven pretty good coaches that got fired this year. But the league is so competitive, from the worst team to the best team, anybody can beat anybody any given night. That’s the biggest thing that’s changed with our league, you know? It’s no excuse for anybody but there are very few teams who don’t have a chance to make the playoffs. Very few. It’s a battle every night.’’
It’s exactly what I talked about with Laviolette after his firing in Nashville, the parity of the NHL and the expectations and the increased pressure on coaches to deliver.
“Two weeks ago, we were two points out of the playoffs, two games before that we were in first place and I was picked as the coach to go to the All-Star Game,” Gallant said with a chuckle. “That’s how close our league is. Everybody has pressure, everybody tries to do their job as well as they can. I had two and a half outstanding years in Vegas. It’s too bad it had to end like this, but it’s the way it is. You move on, hopefully something better will come.’’
Before the league named Arizona’s Rick Tocchet as his replacement as Pacific Division All-Star coach, there was a brief moment when Gallant wondered why not still go and coach, despite the firing? Which, by the way, would have been tremendous.
“I wasn’t good enough as a player to go to the All-Star Game and this would have been my third one as a coach and I was really looking forward to it,” Gallant said. “I’m proud to be with the best players and the best people at the All-Star Game. Did I want to go? Yes, I did. But in the end, I didn’t feel comfortable going. It was tough. But trust me, I wanted to go. I talked to someone at the league, we thought about it for a few hours, and I called him back and said, `You know what? I think the best thing is for me not to be there.’’’
In the meantime, much has been made of Gallant’s replacement in Vegas, given the emotional playoff series with San Jose last spring and the heated exchange during that round between both coaches. Gallant said he hasn’t heard from DeBoer since the coaching change but that he’s good with it.
“We haven’t talked but you know what, over that whole clown incident and all that in the playoffs. He’s a competitive guy, I’m a competitive guy,” Gallant said. “We talked after one of the games about that. We both apologized and said `let’s move on.’ He’s a solid guy, good person. I wish him nothing but the best.’’
So what’s next? Gallant has no idea at this point.
From my perspective, there are some obvious possibilities:
I mean, too perfect, right? The only problem is that the league’s 32nd team doesn’t drop the puck for another year and a half. But then again, Gallant is under contract for that length of time. If I were Seattle and I decided I wanted Gallant, I would approach Vegas this summer about maybe splitting the cost for the rest of that contract.
Detroit Red Wings
That was the team most people jumped on right away because of Gallant’s history with the Wings and his relationship with former teammate Steve Yzerman. Current Wings coach Jeff Blashill (who I think is a really good coach) has a team option on his contract after this season.
Speaking of former teammates, Stars GM Jim Nill was rumored to have almost hired Gallant three years ago before Ken Hitchcock got the job. Rick Bowness is the interim coach for the rest of the season in Dallas. If the Stars have a playoff run, maybe it becomes a permanent gig for Bowness, but the situation in Dallas remains in flux.
Geoff Ward has done a bang-up job since taking over for Bill Peters. But he is currently the interim coach in title. Could Ward get the full-time gig? It’s certainly possible. But for now, that’s another team you would have to monitor coaching-wise.
And for a coach as respected as Gallant is around the league, more opportunities will surely present themselves.
But Gallant hates talking about any of that. He says it’s not fair to the coaches still in those jobs. He doesn’t like it when those rumors start and coaches are still in place.
“Pierre, to be totally, totally honest with you, I just haven’t thought about anything like that yet,” Gallant said of his next gig. “You know, it’s been two weeks, and I haven’t heard from anybody. Any team would have to go through Vegas first with me still being under contract. But I haven’t heard a word. And really, for two weeks, I’m glad I didn’t hear anything. I was upset, I was disappointed. I wouldn’t have been ready to coach a team in those two weeks, to be honest, the way I was. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.’’
And besides, “There’s no rush.’’
He’s taking the time to decompress which is extremely smart. I wish every coach would do that after getting fired. It’s good for your mental health.
Once the offseason rolls around, he will top many a list. I’d love to see him in Seattle for all kinds of obvious reasons. If you’re Seattle, how could you beat naming the coach who brought the last expansion team to the Stanley Cup final in its first year?
Either way, he won’t be out of a job for too long.
(Top photo: David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images)