Daniel Negreanu is a famous professional poker player. The six time World Series of Poker Champion and two time World Poker Tour winner also happens to be a huge Golden Knights fan. He joined hosts Sharp and Shapiro on January 16th, 2020 to talk about the abrupt firing of Gerard Gallant and how he believes DeBoer has to win the Stanley Cup in order to justify this massive mid-season move.
Shapiro opens up the conversation:
“I don’t think this had anything to do with wins and losses. I think it had everything to do with problems within the organization. It was between Gallant and management. It had to do something with that. Then you have McCrimmon coming out yesterday saying, ‘well we spoke to DeBoer within the last 24 hours.’ Does anyone in the world believe that? My question to you is why are the Knights lying? They clearly are. Why do you think this really happened? Do you agree with me?”
Daniel Negreanu responds:
“I actually agree with you 100%. They are not only lying they are trying to muzzle. They don’t want fan reaction because they know it will be negative. It’s very cowardly to do this when we are on a one month road trip because they knew they made this decision and if the team was playing here in Las Vegas they would hear the boos from the crowd. As I was talking about before with the switch from Gallant, so this undoubtably bad. So, you fire Gallant, right? Now you replace him with a guy who he called a clown in the playoffs last year. He said things about Gallant that aren’t true like that he was chirping at players. It’s a direct slap in the face to Gallant, and what about the fan base? We grew to hate the Sharks.”
To say this was had nothing to do with wins and losses is a bit of an overstatement. The truth was that Gallant was not playing well against the best teams in the league. In a tight Pacific Division, a loss against the Coyotes, Oilers, or Canucks can mean you are out of the playoffs. Only one point separates 1st and 5th place. Management clearly felt that Gallant was not getting the most out of this Knights roster. A significant portion of this decision definitely had to do with his relationship with management. Gerard kept those issues to himself and we already know that management would never come out about that relationship. I think the idea that hiring DeBoer is a bad look on the franchise is also way overblown. The Knights hired the best coach available on the market. He has brought two separate NHL franchises to the Stanley Cup Finals in his career. I can guarantee 90% of the Golden Knight fanbase has no idea who he even is. The Raiders are one of the front runners to land Tom Brady for heaven’s sake. That should tell you everything you need to know.
“What can this guy do that Gallant can’t do? The guy got us year one to the Stanley Cup Finals. Might have done that last year if they didn’t get screwed in game 7 against the Sharks. Correct me if I’m wrong Daniel but we are still a few points out of first place. There is still a chance they could have made a push in the playoffs could they not?
“No question about it. Part of the issue you know is the bar. You’re absolutely right saying it’s personal and not based on performance. Year 1, Gerard Gallant wins the Jack Adams. Year 2, you know, solid season. Year 3, he was just named the coach of the All-Star game having a first place team. Then we go on a little skid and you get rid of him instantly, which shows a lack of loyalty.
Noticing a difference in play style is much more difficult than in any other sport. There aren’t any traditional formations or the idea of a “West Coast Offense” in the NHL. Personally, I think DeBoer’s management of the team has seen players like Mark Stone and Paul Stastny play more aggressive hockey which are two names the Knights desperately need production out of. I don’t believe the Knights were poised to make a post season under Gallant because the resume for the entire season said otherwise. The team was playing lackadaisical and only owned a top place in the Pacific due to the fact they were beating the teams they were supposed to. Although the Knights lost 3-2 to the Boston Bruins on January 21st, 2020 with DeBoer, they looked much more competent than they had all season against a top 3 team in the league. This Golden Knights team is not far removed from its 7-3 loss against the Colorado Avalanche on December 23rd, 2019. I would agree that firing Gallant in the middle of a road trip shows a lack of loyalty but loyalty, quite frankly, does not win championships. The Ravens had no issues trading Joe Flacco and the Thunder had no problems with trading Russell Westbrook.
Shapiro brings up an interesting story:
“Ron Futrell who is coming onto the show next, and he told us he went to the Knights practice yesterday with some other members of the media. He wanted to get some audio from the fans get their thoughts. Members of the Knights front office kicked them out of City National Arena yesterday. They kicked them out of there, and they did not want them to talk to fans. What does that tell you?”
“Absolutely shameful and disgusting. You’re trying to sensor the fans reactions simply because you know it is not going to be favorable for you. I get that this organization likes to be tight lipped. George McPhee doesn’t like to share a lot of information. You need to let the fans be heard.”
That is honestly no way to treat the media. The media is a huge part of any team’s growth financially. They create content on behalf of the team and generate interest. Every team has to be willing to accept criticism. Browns fans held a parade in Cleveland for their 0-16 season. The team made no efforts to sensor them and even let the team be featured on Hard Knocks. They detailed the struggles of the franchise publicly because they know it garnishes interest from the fans. Knights management should not even be allowed to kick out the media unless they cause noticeable harm to the practice itself.
“Why wouldn’t we see this another sport? For example, Steve Kerr when he had that run with the Golden State Warriors or any team for that matter in the NBA that picks their coach to be the All-Star coach. We never see that coach get fired unless there was a huge scandal going on or something. We wouldn’t see this happen in Major League Baseball. We would not see this happen in the NFL. Why does this happen in the NHL?”
“Well I don’t think it does happen in the NHL. It happened here. In happened here in Las Vegas and again I can respect the fact that they can keep a tight ship. That all makes sense. As I poker player I can respect that. You don’t want to give away sensitive information. This is different. You’re trying to stop the media from doing their job. You’re not allowing the voice to be heard.”
We actually do see this in the NBA. David Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2016 season despite coaching the Cavaliers to a 30-11 record to that point in the season. They were first in the Eastern Conference and David Blatt was named the Eastern Conference All-Star coach. The Cavs went on to promote assistant coach Tyronn Lue who led them to an NBA title that year. The Toronto Raptors fired Coach of the Year Dwane Casey in 2018. Nick Nurse, his replacement, coached them to a Championship in his first season with the team. Two of the last four Stanley Cups have been won by mid-season hired coaches. I agree that it does not happen very often in the MLB or NFL.
JD brings up the most regularly heard argument for DeBoer:
“I think that the crux is that the powers that be for the Golden Knights are going to say is that this coach DeBoer in his first year with two teams has taken them to the Stanley Cup Finals. Do you think that the culture right now around hockey is a reason that Gerard Gallant is the 8th coach fired this year?”
“Who knows? It’s possible they did this because of last year in St. Louis when they were in dead last and made a coaching change and all of a sudden, the coach is given the credit instead of a kid named Jordan Bennington.”
Hockey is a game of “what have you done for me lately?”. While I would normally agree that constant coaching changes for any team is a bad idea, it seems to work in the NHL. Long term success lasting more than 3 seasons is rare. At the very least, there are no such thing as the Warriors or Patriots in hockey. Sometimes, teams have to make rash decisions if they believe it will give them a chance at the Stanley Cup in that individual year because you never know when the opportunity will arise again. Hot goaltenders will almost always give you the best chance to win it all but that is almost possible to predict until the players take the ice come playoff time.
JD brings up Gallant’s out lash during a post-game interview:
“So, Gallant had a press conference a couple of weeks ago where he actually walked out of that press conference. There was a reporter that asked a question in regards to his question against teams that were over .500 and he didn’t handle the media very well. Do you think that maybe he had that same kind of demeanor with upper management and that was kind of where this originated from?
Negreanu surprisingly had this to say:
“Yeah I remember that question in the way that it was phrased. I thought it was ridiculous. You just beat a team in Philadelphia. You are saying they suck? It’s basically like if you just won a game and there are so many other things you can talk about. You just want to talk about other games that happened like way before this? It was really odd.”
I don’t think the question was phrased poorly at all. David Shoen’s question was fair. He wanted to ask Gallant why he felt the team was suddenly performing better against above .500 teams on a consistent basis. Members of the media do not have to be Gallant’s hype man in any way. His reaction was very telling. I believe that he either knew he was going to get fired already or it was a huge point of contention he had with management throughout the season. As a coach, you have to be able to answer hard questions. I’m sure his relationship with media was also a factor in his firing.