The Vegas Golden Knights got it right on their first coaching hire. GM George McPhee described Gerard Gallant as an honest man and a good leader. The Creator looked like a proud Papa approving who his GM brought home to dinner (I’ll go along with the analogy, but I still think Ken is weird). Yesterday’s introductory press conference was another big moment for the franchise. Gallant’s hiring is a sign in the right direction, but that certainly doesn’t mean there’s room for concern.
Gallant: “We are going to be a big, physical team”
— ESPN 1100/100.9 FM (@ESPNLasVegas) April 13, 2017
My main apprehension with Gallant’s hiring is his strong emphasis on player size. Of course, every team needs to play physical, intimidating hockey but to what extent?
I think it’s harder to build a team that plays a power game the way you built L.A. and the way Boston was. It’s almost easier based on today’s players to build a team that plays faster, that can attack faster offensively but also can attack defensively. -Kevin Weeks, NHL Network
Pittsburgh is the clear example of a team built for today’s pace of game. The Penguins are one of the smallest and least physical teams and yet won the Stanley cup on speed and pressure. And it’s not just the reigning champs. Other teams are evolving to match the speed and pressure of top NHL teams. LA fired Daryl Sutter and his dedication to big, physical play to adopt a more balanced roster. Heck, Florida sent Gallant packing (literally) from Florida for this very reason.
Gallant mentioned multiple times yesterday that size was important to the style of play he coaches.
We wanted to develop a team and build a team that was fast, could move the puck quickly, pressure the puck in all three zones. Gerard and I talked about it. He said he wanted a little bit more size, and we just decided to go in a different direction. Were we on the same page every day of the week? No … philosophy was different. -Tom Rowe, Florida Panthers
If you look at NHL teams average height and weight, you’ll notice it doesn’t necessarily win games. Especially, this season. Scroll through friend of the site and spectacular columnist James Mirtle’s size chart. You’ll notice some of the biggest teams spit the bit this season. Colorado, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Dallas and Buffalo were all in the top five in either weight or height. Playoff teams Pittsburgh, Chicago, Montreal, Ottawa and Boston are all in the bottom percentile of the league in both body measurements.
Another concern was Gallant’s willingness to process his style with the players McPhee opts to bring in. George has talked about a “fun” brand of hockey. A fast, high scoring, skillful, talented style, not necessarily the tough, strong, physical style Gallant has utilized about in the past. McPhee may have even dropped a hint that it’s something he has his eye on.
Basically the way we work is we’ll provide the players and Gerard coaches them. We’re not going to tell him how to coach and and he’s not going to tell us how to find players. That’s basically how much clubs operate. -George McPhee
Hopefully, by the fourth season the Golden Knights have a young core of talented prospects. McPhee mentioned a balance of skill, speed and strength. Like the Toronto Maple Leafs. If Gallant won’t budge on his preferred style it could impact development.
I’m a stubborn guy at times; maybe I said a little too much, maybe I gave my opinion a little bit too much. Maybe it wasn’t always what they wanted to hear. I don’t know where it went from there. -Gerard Gallant on January 9th, 2017
The concerns are there but also very minimal and fixable for sure. Gallant will get the most out of his makeshift roster. What he gets out of the first generation prospects is another question. If Gallant shows his stubborn side it could create a difference in philosophy which could make him the first coach, rather than the first winning coach. Everything will be copacetic early on, but it’s fair to wonder when he may start feeling the pressure from the corner offices of McPhee and McCrimmon?
He’s a real down-to-earth guy and the fans will strongly support Sir Gerard. More importantly, the players will like him and should play hard for him. Gallant relies on hard working, gritty, shot-blocking role players that become fan favorites. Personally, I think he’ll be the fan favorite. Florida fans loved Gallant and went wild after he was dismissed. Just YouTube “Gerard Gallant firing” and you’ll get dozens of fan support videos.
Vegas hired the right first coach in franchise history. A blue-collared, well-regarded coach by players, fans and Grapes. Only time will tell if his style will be able to progress to match the team George McPhee has been so adamant about building.