Gerard Gallant was abruptly fired by the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday less than two years after leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season of existence and winning NHL coach of the year honors along the way.
Peter DeBoer, fired last month by the San Jose Sharks, takes over immediately and will be the Vegas coach the rest of the season.
General manager Kelly McCrimmon announced the change the morning after a 4-2 loss to Buffalo dropped Vegas out of a playoff position in the Western Conference. The Golden Knights had lost four in a row, matching the longest point drought in their brief franchise history.
Vegas won at Ottawa, 4-2, on Thursday in DeBoer’s debut.
“In order for our team to reach its full potential, we determined a coaching change was necessary. Our team is capable of more than we have demonstrated this season,” McCrimmon said. “In Peter DeBoer, we have a proven, experienced head coach who we believe can help us achieve our ultimate goal.”
Gallant was fired less than two years after winning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year for his role in helping the Golden Knights reach the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in five games to Washington. They also made the playoffs last season before losing in seven games in the first round to DeBoer’s Sharks.
Before some rough patches this season, Gallant was on a honeymoon since being hired in April 2017 to coach the league’s 31st team.
He helped president of hockey operations George McPhee and McCrimmon during the Golden Knights’ successful expansion draft and instilled a workmanlike attitude that helped a ragtag group of players come together during a magical inaugural season. Vegas won eight of its first nine games and put together a stirring run through the playoffs to land in the final against the Capitals.
Assistant coach Mike Kelly, who came with DeBoer from the Florida Panthers, was also fired.
“We would like to thank Gerard and Mike for their service to the Vegas Golden Knights,” McCrimmon said. “They were both instrumental to the success we have enjoyed in our first two-plus seasons, and we wish them all the best moving forward. “
This is the seventh coaching change in the NHL this season and the fifth for performance reasons. Vegas is the third team to change coaches after facing the Sabres, a loss that didn’t sit well among players.
“It’s tougher, especially when you’re losing to teams you know that you’re better than,” Golden Knights winger Mark Stone said Tuesday night. “We’re a better hockey team. Just have to find ways to put the puck in the net, and we’ve kind of gotten stale last bunch of games.”
The Golden Knights are 8-6-1 in their last 15 but are only three points out of first place in the Pacific Division. Gallant was set to coach the Pacific team at All-Star Weekend later this month after Vegas led the division at the halfway mark.
Things haven’t gone well since then. The power play is 5 of 12 over the past 12 games, and the penalty kill gave up two goals to the Sabres, who are ranked 21st in the league.
“They’re still doing the same type of things, whether it’s unlucky or bad opportunities,” Gallant said after the loss. “It’s just not working right now.”
DeBoer was fired by the Sharks in December amid their disappointing season. DeBoer, who Gallant once called a “clown,” is the permanent replacement with no interim designation.
DeBoer is the second coach to be fired this season and join a new team after John Hynes went from New Jersey to Nashville. He is now with his fourth team as head coach after stints with New Jersey, Florida and San Jose.
Vegas is 24-19-6 and next plays Thursday night at Ottawa.
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo contributed.