LAS VEGAS — Kicked off the bus by the Florida Panthers in November, Gerard Gallant is packing his bags for Las Vegas to take over as the first coach of the NHL expansion Golden Knights.
General manager George McPhee cited Gallant’s experience and past success in announcing the hiring on Thursday following what he called an extensive search of candidates.
"He is an experienced coach, has had success at multiple levels and has a great reputation amongst the players who have played for him," McPhee said.
Gallant joins the Golden Knights some five months after being unceremoniously fired by the Panthers immediately following a 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes at Carolina. Gallant’s luggage was removed from the team bus outside the arena and he eventually had to take a taxi while the Panthers left him behind to continue their road trip to Chicago.
The abrupt firing came after the Panthers got off to an 11-10-1 start, and a year after Gallant was a coach-of-the-year finalist in just his second season in Florida. In 2015-16, the Panthers set a franchise record with 47 wins and 103 points to finish first in the Atlantic Division and secure their second playoff berth in 15 seasons.
Now Gallant heads from the South Florida beaches to the Las Vegas desert, where the Golden Knights prepare to open their inaugural season in October. The next step for Vegas will be adding its first 30 players through the expansion draft in June.
"There is a great deal of excitement in the hockey community regarding what is happening with the Golden Knights, and I am glad to be a part of the team," Gallant said. "I look forward to seeing that enthusiasm firsthand."
Gallant was a standout left wing as a player, primarily for the Detroit Red Wings — scoring at least 34 goals in four straight seasons from 1986 through 1990 and finishing his NHL career with 211 goals in 615 games. He later was a head coach in Columbus and an assistant in Montreal, among other stops.
He broke into coaching in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he oversaw the St. John (New Brunswick) Sea Dogs as they won consecutive league titles in 2011 and ’12, and a Memorial Cup championship in 2011.