Continue The Homecoming: The Columbus Blue Jackets Should Bring Back Gerard Gallant As Their Next Head Coach

By Ed Francis on May 24, 2021 at 10:15 am
Is it time for a Gerard Gallant return to the Columbus Blue Jackets?
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

If your first thought upon hearing that the New York Rangers had fired John Davidson was that the Columbus Blue Jackets should do whatever it takes to bring him back, you weren’t alone.

It was hoped for by the message boards, widely talked about by NHL insiders, and immediately speculated on by just about every local media outlet in Columbus.

Apparently, it was also the idea of majority owner John P. McConnell and club President and Alternate Governor Mike Priest.  

When the Blue Jackets brought Davidson back into the fold last week, extending the contract general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in the process, it provided a sense of stability and serenity that the club hadn’t had since he left, two years and two days prior to Thursday’s homecoming.

Now, the Blue Jackets need to repeat the homecoming theme.

It’s time to rehire Gerard Gallant.

Gallant is no stranger to Columbus. He joined the Blue Jackets in their 2nd season as a 39-year-old assistant coach under the team’s original bench boss, Dave King. When King was relieved of his duties, during Gallant’s second season with the team, general manager Doug MacLean gave the job to himself. When that didn’t work, Gallant became an NHL head coach for the first time on January 1st, 2004. The Blue Jackets went 16-24-4-1 in his 45 games behind the bench. The Blue Jackets had started the season 9-21-4-3 under MacLean.

In his only full season with the team, during the 2005-06 season (2004-05 was wiped out due to a lockout), the Blue Jackets finished 35-43-4. It may not seem impressive, but it was the best season to date for the team and the only time during their 12 seasons in the western conference that the Blue Jackets would finish top three in their division. Even since their move to the eastern conference, Columbus has never finished higher than the third place finish Gallant led the team to in his lone full season.

After a 5-9-1 start the following season, Gallant was let go and replaced with the vastly-experienced Ken Hitchcock, who had a Stanley Cup victory to his name. For the Blue Jackets, who were looking for an established presence to lead the team, it was the right move at the right time.   

That experience and established presence would become to come when the Florida Panthers brought Gallant aboard for the 2014-15 season. The Panthers would miss the playoffs, but a 91-point season was well above the teams expectations. In his second year, the team won the division and made the NHL playoffs before losing to the New York Islanders. Despite being a wildcard, the Islanders had a 100 point season and finished just three points behind the Panthers total of 103, and the 4-2 series victory for New York wasn’t considered much of an upset. An 11-10-1 start in Gallant’s third season would see him replaced, possibly too early in the season, by Panthers management.

Enter Vegas.

In Vegas’ expansion season, Gallant led the Knights to 51 wins and 109 points; 4th and 5th in the NHL, respectively. It was an expansion season never before seen in the NHL or any other major American sport, and the team came within three games of winning the Stanley Cup.

In Gallant’s second season, the team was ousted in the first round of the playoffs, though under tough circumstances. The Knights had a 3-0 lead in the third period of a deciding Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks, but were called for a questionable major penalty that led to four San Jose goals in less than five minutes.

The Sharks would win the game in overtime, and it would mark the end of Gallant’s final full season in Vegas. He would be replaced by current Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer during the 2019-20 season, despite Vegas having a 24-19-6 record at the time of his firing. The dismissal was met with surprise from nearly everyone across the league.

Gallant, now 57, is nearly a lock to be an NHL coach next season. The former Jack Adams Award winner for the league’s coach of the year has been targeted by the Rangers, has been linked to the Buffalo Sabres job, and is amongst the favorites to coach the expansion Seattle Kraken when they begin play in the fall.

Part of the reason for Gallant’s success with Vegas is that he excelled at getting the most out of players that other coaches weren’t able to get. There is no better example of this than a name that remains fond to Columbus fans: William Karlsson. The former Blue Jacket, who went to Vegas in the expansion draft, had 16 goals in 165 games with the Blue Jackets. In his first season with the Vegas, he had 43 en route to finishing top ten in Hart Trophy voting for the league MVP. In his sophomore season with Vegas, he scored 24 more and picked up a second straight season of 50 or more points.

In addition to making his players better, Gallant himself has gotten better with each job. His .430 winning percentage with the Blue Jackets in 142 games was by far his worst mark. The Florida Panthers had a .583 winning percentage in Gallant’s 186 games as coach, and it was .601 in 213 games for Gallant in the desert. Overall, a record of 270-216-4-51 w

The Blue Jackets could go in several different directions for their new coach. They’ve seen modest success with former NHL coaches, most notably John Tortorella. But Tortorella and Gallant are vastly different coaches, and while neither is bad, it may be time for the Blue Jackets to look for a guy who wants to open up the offense a bit.

The Blue Jackets have the talent to score. The possibility of Gallant coaching a line with Patrik Laine should be music to the ears of the Columbus faithful. Blue Jackets fans

Kekalainen has hinted at wanting to go a different direction for the on-ice philosophy, while maintaining a strong leader behind the bench. Gallant fits that bill to a tee. 

“Yeah, I’m a players coach,” said Gallant during his time with Vegas.

“But when it’s time to get tough, you’ve got to get tough. And the players respect you for that.”

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