OTTAWA - The phone rang early Wednesday morning after a late night flight from Buffalo to Ottawa with a summons to a room a few floors higher up in the team hotel. Walking into that room and seeing the team staff already assembled the news became apparent before the words were said: The coach had been fired.
Head coach Gerard Gallant as well as his faithful and long-time associate Mike Kelly were removed from their positions and Pete DeBoer will be in position as head coach on the Vegas bench Thursday night in Ottawa.
Assistants Ryan Craig and Ryan McGill remain in their positions as do video coach Tommy Cruz and goalie coach Dave Prior.
Gallant had a mostly brilliant tenure with the Golden Knights, taking the team to the Stanley Cup Final in Year 1 of the organization and winning the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. Year 2 saw Vegas back in the post-season and they've been above the playoff line for most of this season.
The team has lost four straight and six of 10, owning a record of 24-19-6 while sitting fifth in the Pacific Division with a points percentage of .551.
GM Kelly McCrimmon addressed a throng of media outside the visitor's dressing room in Ottawa early Wednesday afternoon.
"The Golden Knights organization announced this morning that we have relieved Head Coach Gerard Gallant and Assistant Coach Mike Kelly from their coaching duties with our team. We would like to thank both men for their contributions during their time here. Together, we shared some real special moments over the course of their times as coaches," said McCrimmon. "Also, at this time, we'd like to welcome Peter DeBoer as the next head coach of the hockey club. We're excited with the skill set that he brings to this job and what he can do for our team.
"With respect to what was behind the decision, as a manager sometimes you have a feeling that something isn't the way you need it to be or want it to be. We feel that we have underperformed a little bit and certainly that is not to pile on the feet of Mike Kelly and Gerard Gallant, but sometimes you feel a change is needed. That was what went into the decision. Like anything we do, we try to do what we genuinely believe is in the best interest of the Golden Knights organization. That is what we've done in this case."
Gallant is an elite coach. So is DeBoer. They both have NHL experience and excellent track records. Gallant took Vegas to the Final, DeBoer has done the same with New Jersey and San Jose.
These things aren't black and white. Much is left to interpretation and speculation. McCrimmon and president of hockey ops George McPhee determined the team was underachieving and saw making this move as the best course of action. The decision will be weighed in the present, but far more accurately in the future. How the team responds will be the ultimate arbiter of this course of action.
"You know, it wasn't a specific block of games or a specific game. It's hard to put into words, I guess, unless you've done these jobs. It's more just the feeling that you have that a change might be needed," said McCrimmon. "I wish I could be more specific than that, but that's really how we felt. We thought about this a lot. It certainly wasn't something that we did in haste or something that we did, as you touched on, the recent four games. It was a decision that was arrived at over time."
Many will remember DeBoer as coach of the Sharks and a bitter rival of the Golden Knights.
"I think Peter's a really good coach. He's had a lot of success in the National Hockey League. Of course, with him working most recently in the Pacific Division, we've had a chance to watch his teams play," said McCrimmon. "I think his teams were always very well prepared, very well coached. We expect that he'll do a really good job for us. I think he's a very respected coach in the industry."
For people within the Golden Knights organization and the fanbase this is a difficult time. Gallant was beloved and a winner. He's the first-ever coach of the Golden Knights and he made everyone associated with the team part of something special.
Pro sports, however, is devoid of sentimentality where the decision making process is concerned. Winning trumps all and an organization must always be focused on moving forward.
The reality is players and coaches leave. No one stays forever. It can be hard at times but it's the nature of the business.
What Gallant accomplished in Vegas should be cherished. But it shouldn't imprison the organization and fanbase from accepting new people and fostering fresh relationships.
DeBoer is now the coach. He's been successful in the past and he will be in the future.
Loyalty and love for the previous coach doesn't need to prevent people from establishing a similar bond with the new coach. It might be awkward at first but Pete DeBoer is now the head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights and all that entails. His track record, qualifications and character as a person have afforded him this opportunity. He's earned it and he's worthy of it.
The organization will give him its full support and the players will be open to his message. It's the only way for the organization to move forward in its effort to achieve the goal of winning a Stanley Cup.