**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
I was grocery shopping when the news broke Wednesday morning and my phone started pinging with text messages.
What I thought was unthinkable and improbable had happened. The Golden Knights had fired Gerard Gallant.
What the F***?
I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Especially with the news they had hired Peter DeBoer to replace Gallant.
The man everyone knows as Turk was done wrong. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This was George McPhee’s call and Bill Foley signed off on it. I guess the guy who guided his team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018 suddenly forgot how to coach.
The Knights claim this was a performance-based decision, not some off-ice situation like Bill Peters or Jim Montgomery. The team has been struggling for stretches since October as injuries and subpar play from certain individuals have contributed to a frustrating season for everyone.
But keep in mind while this team technically started the day on the outside looking in for the playoffs, the Golden Knights are three points out of first place in the Pacific Division. A week ago, they were at the top of the division. So to think this is a knee-jerk reaction by McPhee is ludicrous.
I don’t believe Gallant had lost the locker room. Some of you have indicated on Twitter that the team wasn’t playing hard and the blame for that goes to the head coach. A couple of you think Gallant was too loyal to certain players, one being Cody Eakin.
To me, this has been brewing for a while, not in the last week. McPhee may have had ideas on who should be playing and perhaps Gallant resisted his suggestions. Maybe Misha Donskov and his hockey analytics staff had given Gallant data that he refused to acknowledge and implement, much like he did in Florida which ultimately led to his demise with the Panthers. Maybe Gallant and goaltending coach David Prior didn’t see eye-to-eye. Remember, McPhee hired Prior before he hired Gallant, and that was a move made outside the norm. Perhaps Prior and Gallant never got fully comfortable working together.
Again, this is all speculation on my part. It could be all of the above, or none of it. But from having been around this team since Day One and having gotten to know Gallant pretty well, I know virtually all his players liked playing for him, respected him and wanted to win for him. David Perron, who was on the inaugural team in 2017-18, said as much on Twitter the other day that he loved Turk.
Now maybe there’s a guy or two who if you hooked him up to a polygraph machine might say they didn’t care for Gallant. But the majority loved him, play hard for him and tried to win for him. But there have been protracted slumps that have impacted this team’s performance.
Alex Tuch is having a miserable season. Ditto for Nate Schmidt. William Karlsson is going through a major goal-scoring slump. Eakin has struggled. Cody Glass’ development has been slower than hoped for. Even the goaltending, both from Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban, has been inconsistent.
You want to hold Gallant accountable for that? Go ahead. But you can’t sit everyone who is underachieving (especially when you are as cap-strapped as the Golden Knights are.)
Let’s remember a couple of things here. One, Gallant played the roster he was given. He adjusted the way the defensemen played and it helped spark the team in December. He has shuffled his lines, mostly out of necessity due to injuries.
Second, this roster is of McPhee’s construction. He built this team. He changed it. He opted not to re-sign Perron or James Neal. He’s the one who traded Colin Miller and Erik Haula. He gave up on Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom to get Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone, then paid them big money and gave them long term deals.
Ultimately, this is on McPhee. Foley trusts him to put the best team together. Foley allowed McPhee to spend to the salary cap, which also has factored into some of the team’s lack of success this year (see Nikita Gusev).
And McPhee’s lack of accountability in this situation is appalling. To do a press conference in Ottawa and make Kelly McCrimmon have to answer the questions with just one media member available — Jesse Granger of The Athletic — speaks volumes. For him not to be available to the Las Vegas media at City National Arena and explain himself and take questions is bogus.
McCrimmon did confirm that firing Gallant was not a decision that was made Tuesday night because of a 4-2 loss to the Sabres.
We thought about this a lot. It certainly wasn’t something that we did in haste or something that we did based on the recent four games. It was a decision that was arrived at over time. –McCrimmon
Obviously, DeBoer has been on McPhee’s radar for a while. The man known as “Prickly Pete” for his relationship with the media had obviously run his course in San Jose, just as he had in New Jersey. Yes, he took the Devils and Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final but his name is not on the Cup. He has won at his three prior NHL stops — in Florida, in Jersey and in San Jose. He’s 415-329-111 as a head coach and he’s 46-38 in the postseason. So he has had success behind an NHL bench.
Peter is a really good coach, he’s had a lot of success in the National Hockey League, of course with him working most recently in the Pacific Division. We’ve had a chance to watch his teams play. I think that his teams are always very well prepared, very well coached. We expect that he’ll do a really good job for us. I think he is a very respected coach in the industry. He’s always been a coach that has had a lot of respect from his players. I think he relates well with players. He’s an intelligent guy. Teams have always been very strong special teams. He’s been to the Stanley Cup Final with two different teams. He enjoyed a lot of success in the National Hockey League as a coach and I think with this opportunity he’ll continue to do that. –McCrimmon
I’ll be curious to see how the dynamic of the room changes with DeBoer now in charge. Will there be pushback on the part of some individuals? Will his concepts and philosophies be universally embraced? Can he get a few of the struggling Golden Knights going?
Again, the situation is not as bleak as you think. There are 33 games remaining. The division is not strong. There’s time to get things back on track. I would expect McPhee to make a move or two, if he can, given the team’s salary cap restrictions, to try and improve the roster.
As for Gallant, I have no doubt he’ll be back behind an NHL bench. He’ll obviously be the favorite to replace Jeff Blashill in Detroit, given his friendship with Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman. He could also find himself in Calgary. Or perhaps New Jersey. Or… Seattle.
I was fortunate to know Gallant beyond hockey and what a genuinely good, down-to-earth guy he is. Plain and simple, business decision or not, he deserved better.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**