Grandkids, golf and good whiskey.
Those have been the highlights of Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant’s offseason, as he’s spent plenty of time with his family in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island and traveled to the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. He’s trying to relax and recharge before his third season with the Knights begins with training camp in September.
“I love our team,” he said.
Gallant discussed his offseason, defenseman Deryk Engelland’s new one-year contract, restricted free-agent forward Nikita Gusev’s situation and more in a recent Q&A with the Review-Journal. Answers have been edited for length and clarity:
Q: How has the offseason treated you?
Gallant: It’s been great. I’ve been home on Prince Edward Island and enjoying my family, my grandkids and playing a little bit of golf.
Q: How is your golf game?
Gallant: Average, at best.
Q: How do you feel about having Deryk Engelland back for another season?
Gallant: It’s huge for us. Deryk is a big leader on our team. He’s still playing real good hockey and plays a lot of minutes for us. To get Deryk back on a one-year deal is excellent for our organization. I know he’s happy. I know we’re real happy, the coaching staff, and I know the players are happy.
Q: Do you still view Engelland as a top-four defenseman on your team?
Gallant: Well, he’s always been a top-four defenseman. When I look at my group, I don’t look at it as a group of top two or top four, I look at it as a group of six. Obviously there’s guys that don’t play that night that are not in the group, but I look at our group as a group of six guys. Some guys kill penalties, some guys are on the power play, but with most of our defensemen, the minutes aren’t a big difference. Some guys play 21, 22 minutes. The next guys play 20 minutes, the next guys play 18 minutes. It’s not a huge drop-off.
Q: You have a lot of young defensemen such as Nic Hague, Jimmy Schuldt, Jake Bischoff and Zach Whitecloud who will be competing for a spot on the roster. How do you view that battle?
Gallant: It’s great. We’re still a month and a half away from training camp, so things can happen. Who knows what’s going to happen with our group, but we’ve got some great young players.
We like these players. It’s a matter of time before they’re going to be on our team. If it’s this year, it’s a good sign. If it’s not this year, they’ll get a little more experience playing in the American Hockey League. It’s great to see guys push to make our team, and that’s what it’s all about in this league. We’ve got great depth. You’re hoping some guys step up and make your roster.
Q: You’ve had a lot of departures this offseason. What’s it like to watch players such as Colin Miller, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Carpenter and Erik Haula leave?
Gallant: It’s tough to see guys leave, but that’s part of the program and you have to make room for younger players. It’s tough to see because they’re all real good people and we had a lot of success with those guys. I wish them nothing but the best.
Q: Your team has one final major piece of offseason business. Do you have any clarity on Nikita Gusev’s situation?
Gallant: I don’t have a whole lot of clarity, to be honest with you. I know (our front office has) talked to him. Mostly, what I know is what I read in the paper and from talking to (incoming president of hockey operations) George (McPhee) and (incoming general manager) Kelly (McCrimmon). Nothing’s changed. He’s a very valuable player. We like him a lot, but everybody knows our cap situation. (The front office is) taking care of it. They’re going to make a decision on it, do the best they can.
Q: As a coach, is it hard not to dream of what your lineup could look like with him in it?
Gallant: No. You know what? To be totally honest with you, (as a coaching staff) we do our work and we have a good idea of what our lineup is going to be. But I know (the front office is) working hard every day to do the best thing possible. That’s what they do. If he’s in that lineup or if he’s not in that lineup, we’re going to be a real good hockey team. Again, like I said, there’s only so much money to go around (with the salary cap).
He hasn’t played a game in the NHL yet, so who knows how good he’s going to be or where he’s going to be (in the lineup)? But we know he’s got a lot of skill from seeing him last year here in the playoffs.
Q: The coaches’ challenge rule was expanded in the offseason. What do you think about the change?
Gallant: I’ve read a little bit about it, so far but I haven’t gotten into it a whole lot. I don’t want to say a lot about it.
Q: Any big plans the rest of the offseason?
Gallant: No, just spending time around my grandkids. It’s good to get some down time. Mike Kelly, one of my assistant coaches, lives 25 minutes from me, so we golf a little bit, talk hockey a little bit. It’s good to get away from it, and when we come back for camp in late August, we’ll have a few days with coaches meetings and all that, and we’ll get our work done and get ready for camp.