The Florida Panthers announced they have hired Gerard Gallant to become their new head coach. He replaces Peter Horachek, who served in an interim capacity following the dismissal of Kevin Dineen early last season.
Gallant, who scored over 200 NHL goals with the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning, previously coached the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Panthers announced the hiring on their official site and included comments from general manager Dale Tallon:
We are pleased to welcome Gerard as the new head coach of the Florida Panthers. He is an individual with tremendous character, integrity and a strong passion for the game and has experience as an NHL head coach. Gerard is an excellent teacher and motivator who possesses the leadership qualities and hockey knowledge that are necessary to lead our team.
Gallant spent parts of three seasons in Columbus. He finished his run with a 56-76-6 record with four ties before getting let go during the 2006-07 campaign. The team was still in the building process at the time, which would have been difficult on any coach.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch noted Gallant didn't have much chance of success given the lack of talent available to him:
Gerard Gallant was in a very tough spot with #CBJ ... not enough talent to compete, a childhood friend driving from the backseat ...— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) June 21, 2014
He now inherits a Panthers squad that finished with the second-worst record in the league last season. That said, there are reasons for optimism in Florida, starting with the fact the franchise holds the top overall selection in this year's draft.
Between that elite prospect—defenseman Aaron Ekblad makes the most sense—and the group of young players that includes Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, there's reason to believe the Panthers are moving in the right direction.
Huberdeau will likely be particularly happy about the hire. The talented forward is off to a nondescript start to his career but, as Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel points out, he enjoyed success under Gallant with junior team the Saint John Sea Dogs:
I imagine Jonathan Huberdeau is thrilled with Gallant being his new coach. He had amazing career in jrs. under Gallant. #hubydubydo— Harvey Fialkov (@hfialkov) June 21, 2014
Was Gallant the right hire for Florida?
Make no mistake, it's likely going to take a couple more years of development before the Panthers are ready to contend. The outlook is positive, though. Gallant must use his strength in terms of player development to help expedite the process.
Florida has only qualified for the playoffs once since 2000. That's a stat that will need to change within the next two or three seasons if Gallant wants to make his second stint as an NHL coach to become more successful and last longer than his first one.
A press conference to officially introduce him as the team's 13th head coach is scheduled for Monday.