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Coaches Room

Gallant plays huge role in Golden Knights' run to Stanley Cup Final

Vegas coach's ability to put players in position to succeed big reason for remarkable season

by Paul MacLean / Special to NHL.com

The Coaches Room is a weekly column by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. Jim Corsi, David Marcoux, Paul MacLean and Joe Mullen will take turns providing insight. 

In this playoff edition, MacLean, the former head coach of the Ottawa Senators, breaks down the strengths of Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant on and off the ice. Twenty-nine years after MacLean, Gallant and Hall of Fame forward Steve Yzerman were linemates with the 1988-89 Detroit Red Wings, Gallant's Golden Knights face the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final starting Monday.

When the television cameras show Gerard Gallant in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals, most hockey fans will see the coach of the remarkable Vegas Golden Knights.

 

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When I see Gerard, I see the heaviest left winger I ever played with.

Why the heaviest? Because I had to drag him around the ice all the time and do all the work for him.

I'm just joking, Gerard. You know that.

Actually, we had a pretty good line in 1988-89. I had 71 points (36 goals, 35 assists), Gerard had 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) and that Steve Yzerman guy had a measly 155 points (65 goals, 90 assists, 155 points).

Stevie Y wasn't too bad. Now he's having success as the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Gerard hasn't done too badly either after hanging up his blades.

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm5: Gallant on series win, making Cup Final

He was always a good player, was strong on pucks, got pucks back, played in the hard areas and stood up for everybody, not just for Stevie and I, but for everybody. He's a really competitive guy and was always a fun guy to be around.

We still stay in touch a fair bit. We've had a pretty steady friendship over the years. He's from Prince Edward Island and I live in Nova Scotia, so we're together for a lot of golf tournaments and other charity events in the Maritimes during the offseason.

Of course, his offseason is shorter this year, given the impressive run his Golden Knights are on.

He's a Class-A guy off the ice. He'll do anything for you and I think he's the same way with his players. He's a salt of the earth type of guy. The people who are Gerard's friends, they go back a long way. He's very loyal.

He coached with the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2013-16). It was a controversial move when he was let go by the Panthers, since they were over .500 (11-10-1) at the time.

I don't know if you could possibly handle being fired any better than Gerard did. He handled it way better than I did when I went through it with the Ottawa Senators in 2014. When those things happen to you, it's hard not to take it personally. The truth of the matter is, it's not really personal. He remained classy throughout the whole thing.

In Vegas, he got the opportunity a lot of people would have savored. Obviously, I don't think even he figured at the time of his hiring they'd be where they are today, but he's definitely a big part of it.

I think the shock of their success came early on when they won so many games. The most common phrase you heard from the outside world was: "It's not going to last, it's not going to last, it's not going to last." For me, once you get to U.S. Thanksgiving, it's for real. At that point, I pretty much knew they were for real and were no longer an expansion team at that point.

The big thing that I see with their group is that they were all dependable players for their respective coaches before coming to Vegas. They pretty much were all 200-plus games solid NHL players who were on the third or fourth line and flourished in that role.

Now they've received the chance to have an increased role. Who's going to be the goal scorer? Gerard had the opportunity to give guys chances to try new roles and see what they could do.

For Gerard, it was probably one of the easiest jobs in the League. He just told them, "Go and play. Other coaches maybe didn't give you the chance. Well, here's your chance." He then just kept rolling them over the boards and encouraged them to all play with pace.

Video: Which team has the edge in the Stanley Cup Final?

That's the big thing I notice; they keep the pace and the tempo of the games so high with the continuity of the lines and the defensive pairs he rolls over the boards. I think that's the key to their success: they just play with a tempo higher than anyone, line to line, shift to shift.

You can talk about the 2-1-2, 1-2-2, formations, blah blah blah, all the X's and O's stuff, I think all teams do some semblance of that. For the Golden Knights, I think the key has more to do with the speed they play with from line to line, which is far superior than any other team. The tempo never dies. It's relentless.

This is a copycat league, so I expect a lot of teams will try to follow suit. Some have tried, but none have done it as well.

Gerard certainly deserves some credit for that.

Oh, one more thing. The goalie is OK too. Marc-Andre Fleury's been great, hasn't he?

For the Capitals to have success against the Golden Knights, I think it's a simple recipe: keep the puck away from them. If they don't have the puck, they can't use their speed as much. You rarely do when you have to play defense.

Washington did a great job of that in deservedly defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round, then Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final. It will be fascinating if they can do it against Gerard and his Golden Knights.

The Capitals have the blueprint for success; whether they can implement it remains to be seen.

So far, no one else has been able to.

***

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