When the new Seattle expansion franchise starts searching for their first head coach, they will have lots of names to choose from. In THW’s first edition of the versus series, we take a look at two of those names in former Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau and former Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant.
They are both experienced coaches in the NHL, but who would ultimately be the best fit for a team just starting their journey in the league? We are here to find out! So without further ado, let’s get this fight underway!
Round One – NHL Experience
Boudreau has certainly been around the block a few times in the NHL from his first coaching job with the Washington Capitals to his latest post with the Wild. In all, he’s coached a total of 984 games, winning 567 times in that span. That places him 22nd on the all-time list and 10th amongst active head coaches. He’s only missed the postseason twice in his career, coaching two very successful teams in the Capitals and Anaheim Ducks.
Gallant hasn’t had as much coaching experience as Boudreau with only 541 games and 270 wins. That is nearly half the amount and his teams have only made the playoffs three times in his career. What sets him apart is his recent success with an expansion team in the Golden Knights.
Gallant took a group of players from other teams and quickly built them into a contender. That’s not a small feat and could be the deciding factor if Seattle is choosing between these two coaches.
Decision – Boudreau
This round goes to Boudreau because of his overall success in the NHL and up-tempo style he’s employed throughout his coaching career. He’s coached superstars like Alex Ovechkin and elite players like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as well, so he has experience with many types of players.
Boudreau also has eight 100-plus point seasons under his belt and 90 games of playoff experience. If he became the coach of the new Seattle franchise, that winning swagger will come in handy as they navigate through their first season in the NHL.
Round Two – Coaching Style
Boudreau’s teams have always been great offensively, but not so great defensively. He coached a very high tempo game with a lot of room for creativity for the star players. He also could get a lot out of a roster despite not having elite personnel at his disposal. For many seasons with the Capitals, he did not have an elite blueline, but somehow he made it work.
The Capitals were still supremely competitive, winning the division four out of the five seasons Boudreau was head coach. For many of those seasons, he had only Mike Green as an offensive catalyst from the backend. It was the system that made the team successful. It also helped that Ovechkin was scoring 50-60 goals a season as well, as Boudreau eluded to in an interview at the beginning of last season.
…I’ve always felt, when I was a player, that if I was ever going to be a coach, I was going to be an aggressive coach and try to win the game instead of trying to not lose the game…when you have [Alex] Ovechkin, [Nicklas] Backstrom, [Sergei] Federov and [Mike] Green — you can go down the list — you’re going to score. We just wanted to make sure we were playing in the other team’s zone more than we were playing in our zone. So we took chances in their zone. We got pucks at the net, and everybody met at the net. And we scored a lot of goals. But when you have Alex scoring 50 and 60 goals every year, it’s not hard.
For a team just starting in the league, you need to be an entertaining team, and Boudreau’s teams have always played a fast, exciting style of hockey. With him, Seattle would have a coach that has a style that matches his personality, very charismatic and willing to be risky to get the job done.
Gallant’s teams, especially the Golden Knights were very hard to play against, with a relentless forecheck and speed through the neutral zone. They were tenacious and on loose pucks almost immediately, making opposing defencemen have to move the puck much faster than they wanted to. His first season with the team brought instant success with a division win, Stanley Cup Final appearance, and a Jack Adams Award, all because of his style and leadership behind the bench. He got the players’ trust and that’s half the battle as a head coach.
He has the players’ trust because if you have the uniform on for the game then you get to play. He plays everyone. And he gives players a second, a third, and a fourth chance and realizes his players are going to make mistakes and you don’t park them for it — you keep playing them.Vegas Golden Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee (from ‘Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant creating a golden opportunity for himself and his players’, The National Post – 01/26/18)
Just like Boudreau, Gallant employs a high tempo style, but unlike him, his system is also effective defensively. In his first two seasons with the Golden Knights, they finished in the top-ten in goals against. That may have to do with the goaltending he received from Marc Andre Fleury, but you have to be good defensively, or your goaltender will be facing high danger shots almost every game. That usually is not sustainable in the NHL for very long.
Decision – Gallant
I am going with Gallant on this one, primarily because of his personality and the way he can motivate players to trust him and play his style without question. The reaction from some of the Golden Knights players following his firing says it all in my opinion.
Gallant deserves another chance at coaching, especially with how successful he was with the Golden Knights. If Seattle does not consider him as their first head coach, they are missing out on a rare opportunity. Coaching an expansion team is not easy, especially now with the success the Golden Knights had.
Seattle fans will be expecting a lot more after seeing what happened in Vegas. Gallant’s style is suited for the new NHL, and he has shown that he can get through to all players young and old, which is very important for a team that will be getting players from all ends of the spectrum following the expansion draft.
Verdict – Gallant Should Coach Seattle
Even though Boudreau has a lot more experience in the NHL, I am giving this matchup to Gallant. His two-way, up-tempo, tenacious coaching style along with his strong leadership qualities put him over the top. The way he transformed a group of players that never played together into a cohesive unit was very impressive. It’s not every day that you see an expansion team burst onto the scene and become a contender so early in their existence.
Related: 3 Reasons Seattle Needs Gallant
Peter DeBoer may be the head coach of the Golden Knights right now, but Gallant’s fingerprints are all over that team. His influence will be felt for many years to come, and that’s a feat in itself. If Seattle is smart, they are in talks with him right now to become the inaugural coach of the franchise, despite saying they would not name a coach until the 2021 offseason.
My name is Matthew and I cover the Vancouver Canucks, and Vancouver Giants here at the Hockey Writers. I am also the head of the prospects and NHL Draft coverage. In addition to writing, I host the Canucks & Pucks podcast as well. I am passionate about the Canucks, prospects, and all things hockey.