Gerard Gallant knows he has plenty of work to do with the Florida Panthers and is wasting little time.
Introduced as the newest coach of the Panthers on Monday morning, Gallant planned on driving to the team’s training facility in the afternoon to start breaking down film of his new charges.
“It’s going to be a good run,” said Gallant, who said he was offered the job last Wednesday night and later signed a three-year deal.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I can’t wait to start the season.”
An assistant coach in Montreal the past two seasons, Gallant flew to South Florida a few days after the Canadiens were knocked out of the playoffs by the Rangers.
“You always hear a negative from someone here or there,” general manager Dale Tallon said, “and I never heard a negative word about Gerard Gallant in any capacity.
“He’s honest, has terrific character and is a hard worker and is sincere. He also wants to have fun. He’s a pleasure to be around. We hit it right off, and it wasn’t a great time for him. The Canadiens had just been beat out. He could have been a miserable SOB, but he wasn’t. That’s his nature. We have a lot of players who need this kind of coach.”
Gallant, who coached Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau in Canadian junior hockey, sold Tallon on his work ethic, his teaching methods and ability to help turn teams around.
When Gallant joined the Canadiens, they were coming off a horrible season in which Montreal finished 27th in the league.
With Gallant assisting Michel Therrien behind the bench, Montreal bounced back and made the playoffs the past two seasons.
With a lot of young talented players and Tallon heading out to acquire some veterans either through trades or free agency, Gallant said he sees similarities between the two situations.
“You look at their roster and you look at their core players, and I think this is a great opportunity,” Gallant said. “The league is so close, the teams are so close together, you can turn things around in a hurry. That’s what I see with the Florida team.”
Tallon said that Gallant is the right fit for a Panthers team trying to find its way. As head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons from 2004-06, as well as junior hockey in Canada, Gallant has experience coaching both veterans and younger players.
“It was very important to get the right guy with the team we have in place,” Tallon said. “He can teach the young kids and demand respect from the veteran players. It’s a perfect scenario; they can all grow together.”
Ownership was said to have preferred Dan Bylsma, who coached the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in his first year and was in the playoffs all six years in Pittsburgh, at the start of the process, but Gallant won them over.
After his initial meeting with Tallon in South Florida, Gallant interviewed with owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu as well as CEO Rory Babich in New York.
“We’re not in the business of doing something because of the financials,” Tallon said when asked if Bylsma’s monetary demands priced him out of the job. “That just didn’t work. We’re in the business of getting the best fit for our organization and making the best team possible for the long haul. That’s how we made the decision.”
Said Babich: “In our first meeting with Coach, we were completely taken with him. We looked at where we’re at and believe we’re on the cusp of doing something special here in South Florida.”
Gallant knew the competition for the job was steep. Gallant doesn’t have the coaching résumé of Bylsma or other candidates such as Marc Crawford (who won the Cup in 1996 with Colorado) and Tom Renney (nine seasons as a head coach).
With that in mind, Gallant sold the Panthers on himself.
A former winger who spent 11 seasons in the league with Detroit and Tampa Bay, Gallant said he worked hard to get the Florida job. This, he said, is where he wanted to be.
Having former Detroit teammate Steve Yzerman, a Hall of Famer who is now GM of the Lightning, as a reference didn’t hurt.
“People ask about Dale trying to impress me. I came here saying I wanted this job,” Gallant said. “I didn’t interview for anything else. I worked hard for this job. I wasn’t a big free agent guy, just an assistant trying to become an NHL head coach again. When he called me with the news, I was very excited. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
With Gallant hired, Tallon now can focus on improving the Florida roster. Tallon plans to fly to Philadelphia on Tuesday to continue preparing for the upcoming draft.
Florida holds the top pick after winning the draft lottery, although Tallon is entertaining offers for it. Tallon said on Monday that he has spoken to a dozen teams regarding the top selection, but he’s holding out for now.
Tallon is thought to be asking for immediate help but also wants to remain in the top third of the first round. That leaves nine teams as potential trading partners.
The draft starts Friday at 7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
“I’ve had one concrete offer,” Tallon said. “It was a fair offer. But I may as well wait until the end and see what happens. It’ll probably be Thursday night or Friday morning. It’s exciting.”