Gallant embracing challenges with Golden Knights
Coach faces questions on lineup, realistic about expectations for inaugural seasonby Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist
SALT LAKE CITY -- Gerard Gallant sits down for an interview, and you have so many questions for the coach of the Vegas Golden Knights: What will he say in his speech to set the tone for the team's first training camp? What's the lineup going to look like opening night? How good can this expansion team be in its inaugural season?
But Gallant doesn't have many answers, and the biggest takeaway is that he doesn't seem concerned.
"I'm not a big talker," Gallant said before a public skate at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex on Saturday, the final day of the Golden Knights Road Trip. "I'll probably tell the guys, 'Listen, let's come in here, let's work hard and let's have fun. Make sure you're ready to earn your spot on the team. It's a brand-new franchise and we want to get better every day.' It won't be a long speech."
Sure, he has been jotting down line combinations and defense pairings since the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21. But he has an open mind, wants internal competition and has difficult decisions to make, especially on defense, where the Golden Knights have too many players and likely will keep eight on the 23-man roster.
He and his coaches will spend the next three weeks meeting in Las Vegas, going over systems and personnel, making a systems tape to show the players. But they won't spend a lot of time on projected lineups. It'll work out in seven preseason games.
Gallant was an assistant for Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, and it was like coaching an expansion team in the sense that the players came from other NHL teams and had to play as a unit.
Video: Nick Cotsonika on the Golden Knights' road trip
"After that experience of three weeks there with Team Canada and seeing how our team came together and the chemistry and the lines and all that, you don't worry as much," Gallant said. "How are you going to get the players to play the same way? Well, it's not a big deal. People make it a bigger deal.
"For me, it's about getting your chemistry, getting your leadership, and they'll get their chemistry in their lines and their [defense] partners."
Gallant tells you he is pleased with his roster, even though the Golden Knights have flipped veterans like forward Marcus Kruger and defenseman Marc Methot for assets with a long-term focus on drafting and developing to Stanley Cup contention.
"I knew we were going to have a pretty decent team, but the team was better than I thought," Gallant said. "I thought we got better top-end players than I thought we'd get."
The Golden Knights have veterans like goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has won the Cup three times; forward James Neal, who has scored as many as 40 goals in a season; and forward Jonathan Marchessault, who scored 30 goals last season. They have young players like forward Alex Tuch and defenseman Shea Theodore.
"I'm going to try to win every game," Gallant said. "That's my job as a coach. There's long-term plans, but my job is to try and win every night, and that's what I'm going to do."
But he is also realistic.
Video: Previewing the Golden Knights upcoming season
"I think our lineup's pretty good," Gallant said. "But then you go around and look at the other teams in the NHL in our division and in our conference and say, 'Well …'"
He laughs without finishing his sentence.
"So I think we did a real good job building our team," he said. "Is it good enough to win and compete consistently? I think it is. But how many wins? I can't tell you. I couldn't tell you, to be honest with you."
The Golden Knights' No. 1 center likely will be Vadim Shipachyov, who had 76 points (26 goals, 50 assists) in 50 games for SKA Saint Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League last season but has never played in North America, let alone the NHL. He's skilled. He could be excellent. But who knows?
It's unclear who their No. 1 defenseman will be.
"There's going to be issues," Gallant said. "Some nights we're going to have trouble scoring goals. You look at our roster, there's a lot of good players. Are there any superstars there?
"Our goaltender Fleury has had an outstanding career. There's some real good players. But there's no [Connor] McDavid, Sidney Crosby, those types of players. You look at teams that have success in the NHL, they've got some of those top-end hockey players."
This is going to take time. That's OK. Get excited, but be patient.