A crazy part of it all: Under normal circumstances, which is to say the Golden Knights would have followed a traditional expansion journey and struggled along for several seasons before making any sort of real NHL noise, Gerard Gallant would have likely been the guy before the guy.
He would have kept the job warm for another.
Happens all the time with new franchises. It’s how things usually work.
Gallant was named the team’s first head coach as much for his demeanor as skill, because if the internal feeling matched all others and no one really believed much winning would occur for some time, a steady and patient hand was needed to navigate through the choppy waters of development.
Turns out, nothing has been all that normal these past 16 months.
Turns out, Gallant has proven the guy tenfold.
There is no other guy.
The league has landed in San Jose for its All-Star weekend and when the break is followed by a week off for the Knights, they will return to the ice with an eye on chasing a second Pacific Division title.
Vegas sits in third place with 62 points, six fewer than this time last year, when it was perched atop the Pacific.
But when you consider a lengthy list of injuries and the fact the Knights played their first 20 games without their best defenseman, a fair question arises: Could it be Gallant, last year’s runaway winner for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s Coach of the Year, is actually doing a better job this season than when leading Vegas to a Stanley Cup Final?
I’ll make it easy for you: Absolutely.
Coaches just don’t win the Jack Adams in consecutive seasons — only Jacques Demers of the Red Wings did so in 1986 and ‘87 — and it’s probably going to take some doing for anyone to overcome (at this point, at least) a deserving Barry Trotz of the Islanders for this year’s honor.
But this isn’t the same Knights team as last season. Winning has proven more difficult — they dropped four of six entering the break — and it begins with a significant decrease in Vegas Flu cases in regard to visiting teams.
That, and the Knights over 52 games have yet to offer the complete lineup it envisioned when things began in October.
“For sure, (Gallant) is doing an even better job this year,” said Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault, who also played for Gallant in Florida. “Teams are more prepared to face us. They know we’re a tough team to play and come ready. (Gallant) has us ready every night because of that. We’re no longer a surprise to anyone.
“He never changes. He’s the same all the time. Even when you’re not producing, he still believes in you. We’re still his guys that can win games. He’s the best kind of coach to have. He’s always going to help you. He’s not going to bury you.”
Trust and confidence
They use the T(rust) word a lot when speaking about him. And the C(onsistent) word. They know when he’s disappointed, because on those rare times he tears into them, it’s a scolding they openly accept.
Gallant could have panicked and over-thought the room when defenseman Nate Schmidt was suspended for those 20 games and the Knights stumbled to an 8-11-1 start. He didn’t.
He could have gone crazy with mixing and matching of lines when each week the past few months seemingly brought another injury or illness and name on Injured Reserve. He hasn’t.
He preaches to his players a next-man-up mentality and, more importantly, coaches that way.
“We just do the same things every day as a staff,” said Gallant. “It’s all about what your players do on the ice. I’m proud about what we have done so far. I had coaches in my day who showed a lot of confidence in me and the more you do that, the better they’re going to be. It’s easy to whip guys once in a while and sometimes they need a little, but for the most part, I try to be 90 percent positive and push the right buttons that way.
“We have a lot of good guys and they’re trying hard. It was tough without Nate to start the season. That was a grind. But we still had some real good players. We’ve stayed the course. Just keep playing hard and, in the long run, (adversity) is going to make the team better.”
Crazy. The guy before the guy ended up being the guy and then some.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.