By Andy Eide
No NHL head coach should be feeling secure these days.
Not after the surprise firing of Vegas Golden Knights head man Gerard Gallant on Wednesday morning. Gallant was in his third season with Vegas and is just two years removed from guiding the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in the franchise’s first season of existence.
It’s not like things have been going poorly in the desert.
Vegas had a strong season last year, finishing second in the Pacific Division before being eliminated in an epic and contentious first-round series with the San Jose Sharks. This year, Gallant had coached Vegas to a 24-19-6 record and are three points off division leading Arizona.
Not usually the resume of a coach on the hot seat but Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon felt that the team – which had lost four straight at the time of the move – was underachieving this year.
“In order for our team to reach its full potential, we determined a coaching change was necessary,” McCrimmon said via a team press release. “Our team is capable of more than we have demonstrated this season.”
The story became stranger as McCrimmon announced that Gallant would be replaced by former Sharks coach Pete DeBoer. The Sharks fired DeBoer a scant 35 days prior to him landing back in the division with his former club’s most heated rivals.
During their first-round playoff series last year DeBoer and Gallant got into a war of words through the press. Gallant referred to DeBoer as a ‘clown’ at one point.
Here are the rest of this week’s one-timers:
WWT1: Was Vegas underachieving? Looking at the Golden Knights’
underlying numbers they were one of the top possession teams in the league with the third best five-on-five Corsi-for percentage (53.4), are number one in scoring chances for and have the ninth best power play. Goaltending has been inconsistent, and the Golden Knights have the seventh lowest team save percentage. With the trade deadline coming up, the word is that Vegas may be looking to bolster its defensive play which could help. Ironically, DeBoer was let go in San Jose in large part due to the Sharks struggles in goal so hopefully he has figured out how to improve that as he takes over a team with similar issues.
WWT2: If you’re a coach on the hot seat beware of the Buffalo Sabres on the schedule. Gallant was fired the day after Vegas lost 4-2 to the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday. Earlier in the season, the New Jersey Devils fired coach John Hynes on Dec. 3rd, the day following the Devils were pummeled by the Sabres 7-1. The Buffalo Sabres are coach killers.
WWT3: With Gallant out, Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green becomes the ‘dean’ of Pacific Division coaches. No other head man in the Pacific has been with his club as long as Green, who has never guided the Canucks to the playoffs. Green is in his third season with Vancouver and this year’s team is the best he’s had so far. The Pacific has been a roller coaster this year, with seemingly every team still in contention and has seen three coaching changes all ready.
WWT4: The Gallant firing had the predictable reaction in Seattle as media and fans alike speculated about his fit with NHL Seattle. Would he be a fit? Obviously, Gallant is perhaps more qualified than anyone to guide an expansion team, having done so just three seasons ago. He’s known as a player’s coach which had a lot to do with his early success in Vegas, so he appears to have the credentials. Those credentials may land him on an NHL bench before NHL Seattle is ready to pull the trigger on a coach, however. Gallant will be highly sought after and the rate at which coaches have been let go this year, there are sure to be openings coming up.
WWT5: In non-coaching news, the Pittsburgh Penguins got a boost this week with the return of Sidney Crosby to the lineup. Crosby had missed 28 games for the Penguins and didn’t look rusty as he scored a goal and added three assists as the Penguins beat the Minnesota Wild to extend their point streak to four games. Pittsburgh has dealt with a number of injuries this year – Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being the most prominent – and yet are just four points behind the Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division. Now they get their best player back. Watch out.
WWT6: The NHL All-Star Game – set for Jan. 24 and 25 in St. Louis – announced a couple of new features for the skills competition. The big news was a Canada-U.S.A. women’s three-on-three game featuring some of the best players in the world. The American roster is highlighted by stars Hillary Knight and Amanda Kessel and the Canadians will feature Natalie Spooner, Laura Fortino and others. NHL Seattle will have a representative as pro scout Cami Granato will coach the U.S. team.
WWT7: Also added to the skills contest will be the Gatorade Shooting Stars event that will feature players attempting trick shots from platforms set up in the stands. That event joins the regular Fastest Skater, NHL Save Streak, Accuracy Shooting, and Hardest Shot.