Five months before they open their inaugural training camp, the Vegas Golden Knights have found their head coach. They hired Gerard Gallant on Thursday.
Gallant, a former N.H.L. player, most recently served as coach of the Florida Panthers, who fired him on Nov. 28 after they stumbled to an 11-10-1 start.
The early-season coaching change caught some off guard because Gallant was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach last season. That recognition came after he led Florida to first place in the Atlantic Division with a 47-26-9 record in the 2015-16 season, his second with the club.
Gallant previously served as a Columbus Blue Jackets coach for parts of three seasons from 2004 to 2006. The Blue Jackets hired Gallant as an assistant in 2000, giving the veteran of 11 N.H.L. seasons as a player his first major opportunity as a pro coach.
Gallant has also served as an assistant with the Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens, but his crowning achievement behind the bench might have come with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. With the Sea Dogs, Gallant won back-to-back league championships in 2010-11 and 2011-12. In 2011, he and the Sea Dogs captured the Memorial Cup, the highest honor in Canadian junior hockey. The star of those championship teams, Jonathan Huberdeau, was the third overall selection in the 2011 draft by the Panthers and played under Gallant in Florida.
“He is an experienced head coach, has had success at multiple levels and has a great reputation amongst the players who have played for him,” George McPhee, the Golden Knights’ general manager, said in a statement.
The hiring of Gallant, 53, is the latest important milestone in the team’s short history. Las Vegas was officially awarded an N.H.L. franchise last June, giving the city its first major pro sports team.
McPhee was named the team’s general manager on July 13. The team announced its first player transaction on March 6 with the signing of the free-agent forward Reid Duke, 21, to an entry-level contract.
The next big moment for the franchise will be the draft lottery on April 29, when Vegas will have a 10.3 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. In the June 20 expansion draft, the club will submit its selections from a pool of players made available by the other 30 N.H.L. teams. The Golden Knights will choose 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders in assembling their roster. The team will then participate in the N.H.L. entry draft on June 23 and 24 in Chicago.
Gallant’s hiring kicks off what should be an eventful off-season within hockey coaching circles. Since the conclusion of the regular season on Sunday, four teams, including the Panthers, have either fired or not renewed the contract of their head coach. One of those vacancies was filled on Thursday when the Dallas Stars announced that Ken Hitchcock, who won the Stanley Cup with the team in 1999, would return to the franchise as a replacement for Lindy Ruff.