OK, get over it. Florida g.m. Dale Tallon's first choice as new coach might have been Dan Bylsma but rumor has it the two couldn't come to financial terms.
Gerard Gallant did not have the extensive NHL head coaching experience sought by Florida. His NHL head coaching resume consisted of parts of three mediocre seasons in Columbus. It was enough. The Columbus gig, combined with his role as an assistant coach in the Montreal turnaround and three straight first place finishes with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL was all Tallon needed to convince himself that Gallant had the right stuff.
Tallon cited Gallant's character and his ability as a teacher and motivator.
It was the Sea Dogs' experience, where Cats' Jonathan Huberdeau was his star attraction that weighed heavily on Tallon's decision. "We have a lot of young players that need his type of coach,” Tallon told the media gathering to introduce the Panthers' 13th coach.
He could have echoed those words again after the draft. For the second consecutive year, the Panthers' first pick is considered NHL ready and will be expected to make the team. Aleksander Barkov had a respectable, injury-shortened year in 2013-14 and big things are expected from number one overall pick Aaron Ekblad. The Panthers have had high picks in recent years but rarely has there been one in which the scouts are almost unanimous in their opinion. The overwhelming consensus is that Ekblad has NHL ability and maturity now.
Ekblad was considered the hardest shot in the OHL and can provide offense on the power play which the team has not had since Jason Garrison and his rocket-like shot left two season back.
In citing Ekblad's ability, Tallon said that the Panthers' brain trust decided by noon on draft day that that none of the many offers for the first pick was good enough to convince them to relinquish it. Ekblad adds still more size and youth to a team filled with young prospects.
"He's a good all around player. Well-schooled defensively, makes a good first pass and he likes to jump up to rush and has a cannon for a shot. He reads the play well - good hockey sense. He'll have a wonderful opportunity to play for us."
Hopefully, he will also improve the Cats' 30th ranked power play.
With the stockpile of young talent in the Cats' organization, Gallant might just be the catalyst and teacher to spark the long expected Panthers' turnaround. Gallant likened the Montreal turnaround to the Panthers' situation. "When Marc Bergevin took over that team and hired a coaching staff, that team was in 27th place. They took Galchenyuk as the third overall pick..... You can turn things around in a hurry and that's what I see with the Florida team."
Huberdeau, a Calder Trophy winner in 2012-13 but a bust last year, will be his personal project. Gallant spoke kindly of Huberdeau. "Jonathan's a great kid....... We worked well together."
Huberdeau is delighted to have his former coach back. "Gerard taught me a lot when I was a junior." As to Huberdeau's take on his style, "He's an offensive coach. He likes to score a lot of goals. It works well for us. Players like to be an offensive team."
Let's not kid ourselves here. Gallant has his work cut out for him. The Panthers have been in turmoil for more than a decade, both on and off the ice. The selected veterans originally assembled by Tallon have not done the job. Many of the excellent prospects in the system have not yet become major leaguers and time is running out on potential. Tallon gave up on some, such as former "goalie of the future" Jacob Markstrom. Former team mainstays like Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss and David Booth were traded away and some young underachieving talent, such as Shawn Matthias, were sent packing. Some of Tallon's early veteran acquisitions, including Marcel Goc, Mike Weaver and Kris Versteeg, among others, are likewise gone.
This year's Cats will have many young faces in need of the right coaching to get the best from them.
For the first time in years, ownership has pledged the capital needed to vigorously enter the free agent market. New owner Vincent Viola has made that clear. With cap space and money available, Tallon is still looking for a veteran or two to mentor the youngsters. With the buyout of Ed Jovanovski, Tallon found a healthy veteran d-man in Willie Mitchell to mentor the likes of Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Alex Petrovic and Mackenzie Weegar. Add veteran Brian Campbell and still maturing Dmitry Kulikov to this mix and the Panthers' have a nucleus of a sold two-way defensive lineup.
Gallant's record as a player speaks for itself. For eleven seasons he was an offensive minded power forward in the NHL who played with a snarl. This is just the attitude he would like to impart on his youngsters.