The Panthers finally have a new coach. After a lengthy search, Montreal Canadiens assistant Gerard Gallant was given the job Saturday.
The team will formally introduce Gallant as the 13th coach in franchise history at a news conference Monday morning at BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Gallant, 50, was coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons from 2004 to 2006. The Jackets, not far removed from their expansion years, went 56-76-6 with four ties during his tenure.
The Panthers have been searching for a coach since letting interim coach Peter Horachek go in April. General manager Dale Tallon said he was looking for a coach with vast NHL coaching experience and interviewed more than a dozen candidates.
Gallant and former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma were the finalists for the job, with the contract details apparently worked out Friday in New York.
Bylsma, who was fired by the Penguins earlier this month, still has two years left on his contract with Pittsburgh at a reported $2.3 million per season. Gallant is believed to have been given a three-year deal.
“This was a very extensive search,” Tallon said Saturday. “It was a very informative and very successful search. We’re all very excited about this. He has a reputation for integrity and his passion for the game is beyond reproach. Ownership feels the same way I do.”
Although Gallant doesn’t have extensive head-coaching experience in the NHL, he played 11 seasons with Detroit and Tampa Bay before becoming a junior coach in 1995.
Since turning to coaching, Gallant has been a head coach in Columbus and at the Canadian junior level, which is the hockey equivalent of coaching college football in the United States.
Gallant has also been an NHL assistant for seven years with the Blue Jackets, Islanders and Canadiens.
In his three years of coaching the Saint John, New Brunswick, Ice Dogs of the Quebec junior league, Gallant’s top player was current Florida winger Jonathan Huberdeau.
Under Gallant’s watch, the Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup with Huberdeau in 2011. Huberdeau became the third-overall pick of the Panthers a few weeks later. Gallant was the Canadian Hockey League’s Coach of the Year in two of his three seasons with the Sea Dogs.
After this past season, Huberdeau — the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2013 — said Gallant was one of the most influential coaches in his career. Huberdeau reiterated that Saturday.
“It’s good to be reunited with him, and I think things are going to be good with him here,” said Huberdeau, who plans to attend Monday’s news conference. “I’m excited for this. He’s a guy who is intense and into the game. He keeps you up throughout the game. I think the guys are going to react to him. He wants what is best for the players.”
Said Tallon: “He’s had success with young players, and we’re going to be a young team with a nice group of veterans to go with them. I think he’s equipped to handle both.”
Gallant is close to former Panthers coach Doug MacLean, as both hail from Summerside, Prince Edward Island, in Canada.
“I taught him in high school,” MacLean said with a laugh. “I’ve known him since he was 10.”
Gallant’s first NHL job came when he was hired in Columbus by MacLean — then the team’s president and general manager — in 2000 to be an assistant under Dave King for the Blue Jackets’ inaugural season. When King was fired in 2003, MacLean took over the coaching duties.
In 2004, MacLean replaced himself by promoting Gallant midway through the season. After a 5-9-1 start to the 2006-07 season, ownership ordered MacLean to fire Gallant. MacLean was let go at the end of that season as well. Gallant spent the next two seasons as an assistant with the Islanders.
“He’s a terrific guy and a great coach,” said MacLean, who coached the Panthers to their greatest postseason success in his first season with the team in 1995-96.
MacLean is now a TV and radio analyst in Canada.
“I put him in as a head coach in Columbus, and he did a good job,” MacLean said. “We were an expansion team. But he’s smart. Columbus didn’t work, but he went back at it. He did an amazing job with Saint John and was integral to Montreal’s success. I think the world of him.”
• The Panthers will open the 2014-15 season at Tampa Bay on Oct. 9 with the home opener two days later against New Jersey. The entire NHL schedule will be released Sunday.