Lightning alumnus Gallant now Panthers coach (Bygone Bolts)

Tampa Bay Lightning alumnus Gerard Gallant is now the head coach of the Florida Panthers.

The kitties made the announcement, perhaps with a meow instead of a roar, on Saturday afternoon, as they passed over Dan Bylsma. Bylsma, according to some in the Canadian hockey media, might have priced himself out of a deal.

Here’s the Panthers clawing their way through a press release:

“We are pleased to welcome Gerard as the new head coach of the Florida Panthers,” said Tallon. “He is an individual with tremendous character, integrity and a strong passion for the game and has experience as an NHL head coach. Gerard is an excellent teacher and motivator who possesses the leadership qualities and hockey knowledge that are necessary to lead our team.”

Gallant, 50, who at one time was the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, spent the last two years (2012-2014) serving as an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens, helping the team advance to the postseason each year, including the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals.  During his two years as an assistant coach, Montreal posted a 75-42-13 mark, including their first 100-point season since 2007-2008.

As for Gallant’s time in Tampa Bay, he played his final 52 games in the NHL with the Bolts, all but one in the 1993-94 season. He got through one game the next season and that was it. He spent most of his playing career with the Detroit Red Wings, posting four 30-goal seasons, with one 39 goal season.

With Terry Crisp at the helm in 93-94, the team went 30-43-11. Gallant, a left wing who sported No. 17, played with guys like Brent Gretzky, Brian Bradley, John Tucker, Roman Hamrlik and Daren Puppa. He put up 13 points and 74 PIM in those games.

It’s a shame him and Lightning alumnus Marc Bergevin helped the Canadiens sweep the Bolts this year.

Gallant will see his old buddies the Lightning during Tampa’s home opener on Thursday, Oct. 9, which was also announced Sunday by the NHL. The Panthers home opener is Oct. 11 against New Jersey.

Although Bylsma was the popular choice, this is probably best for the Panthers franchise because Gallant has paid his dues when given a mediocre roster in Columbus that at least allowed Rick Nash to put up big numbers. The Panthers hope to avoid another season of a star player lead the league in goals and tank in the standings. After Columbus, Gallant spent time with another franchise with a weird ownership and management situation, the New York Islanders, as an assistant before working on his craft in the QMJHL where he won two championships with Jonathan Huberdeau before Michel Therrien came calling in Montreal.

Bylsma’s only train wreck he had to experience was the 2005-06 New York Islanders as an assistant. After developing young players with the Baby Pens, he had a pretty good situation taking over a roster of riches with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company from Michel Therrien.

Still, he showed promise and maybe Panthers GM Dale Tallon did always want him but money might have got in the way. It would be somewhat unfair and a shame with it. Somehow players who were bought out of massive contracts seem to load up with a nice contract with another team and rarely get signed for a bargain contract.

Coaches who are being paid from a prior contract and hired elsewhere? This is the first time I’ve heard of a situation like this reported where allegedly a coaching candidate wanted what probably would be fair NHL market value, but ownership balked because you’re already dipping from another nice salary. It would be fascinating to hear if any of these situations in hockey came up before or even recently.

As CBC/Rogers reporter Elliotte Friedman said on NHL Live this week, it’s been a bizarre coaching search this summer. For one, having so many names available and others let go plus Ron Wilson coming out of hiding. (As an aside, I’m surprised anyone considered talking to Marc Crawford with him expected to be involved in the Todd Bertuzzi trial this September.  Champions Hockey League in Europe tweeted Crawford will stay in Switzerland this season.)

Again, if true, it also shows that owner Vinnie Viola might not be as willing to 100 percent commit financially to have a winning team if he wants coaching on the cheap. Hopefully he’s funding the scouting department properly. But while the owner said he wants a winner in South Florida and is giving the green light for Tallon to spend, Viola is asking for $80 million in tax dollars to help him out. This franchise might have a revolving door of owners until its lease is up in 2028 and can find a smaller home elsewhere in South Florida…or in North America.

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