Gerard Gallant won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year last season. So, with a team that owns a record of 12-12-1 after 25 games, he can't be doing a better job right now than he did last season. Or can he?
Gallant's name isn't on any of the early season lists of candidates for the Jack Adams. His team only just this weekend popped into the playoff picture. But Gallant's genius, which is quiet and never boastful, has stealthily guided the Vegas Golden Knights through a most difficult stretch.
While there were shrieks of panic from some corners, Gallant calmly has gone about his business. It's about building a team which will endure the regular season and peak as the playoffs begin. Certainly, wins in October and November are important in the process of qualifying for the postseason. But rash decisions in the first quarter of the season don't a champion make. Gallant needed to exercise patience with his lineup and help them deal with injuries to key cogs such as Erik Haula, Max Pacioretty, Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny as well as a 20-game suspension to Nate Schmidt.
Gallant didn't stand over the gulley and yell at his players to climb out. He got into the ditch with them, grabbed a shovel and helped them dig their way out.
It's the kind of trust-building exercise which results in a team finding itself and looking at the head knock as a partner. The days of a dressing room coming together and winning to spite a coach are mostly gone. Today's professional athlete doesn't respond to some of the tactics of yesteryear. Loyalty and faith in the boss is in vogue.
Gallant has the ability to hold his players accountable while not ostracizing them. They're part of the process and the culture. It's not coach versus team. It's coach and team.
Gallant has stayed the course so far and while they're will undoubtedly be bumps to come, Vegas will be better served to deal with having already eaten its share of adversity this season.
By the time Christmas arrives, the Golden Knights will have played 22 road games and just 17 at home. Staying above .500 through this stretch will set the team up well as the schedule turns to increased home dates through January and February.
Last week saw the Golden Knights win four games out of five and all against Pacific Division opponents. The resurgence couldn't have been more timely. Success against divisional rivals will lead to a playoff berth.
Surface thinking and adhering to platitudes such as, "you are what your record says you are" just two months into a season is unsophisticated. It doesn't allow for the building sometimes required in today's NHL. Gallant never stopped believing in his players or his own methods. He kept a steady hand on the tiller and is now getting results for his effort.
Coach of the year stuff? Probably not. But that's not the trophy Gallant and the Golden Knights covet. Gallant coaches for a team trophy and not an individual one. And that's his true strength. He's a team guy. It can be seen in the way he delegates with his coaching staff and the way he refuses to gut his players in public. Is this the year for the Golden Knights? That remains to be seen. But Gallant has kept his team in the hunt and that has been no small feat to date.