A quick look at this year's National Hockey League final standings and one could quickly ask themselves, "What is Gerard (Turk) Gallant getting himself into?"
© Vincent Ethier/QMJHL
Gerard "Turk" Gallant
The well-respected Summerside native was introduced as the new head coach of the Florida Panthers on Monday. Gallant takes over a team that completed the 2013-14 regular season at 29-45-8 (won-lost-overtime losses), finished 29th out of 30 teams and missed the playoffs by 27 points.
However, there are also a number of positives, starting with a good young core of players to build around, led by 2013 NHL rookie of the year Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau put up big numbers under Gallant in three seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Huberdeau is a big supporter of Gallant, and after a drop-off in production in his sophomore season, expect him to bounce back in a big way. Huberdeau had 31 points, including 14 goals, in the 48-game lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, and finished with 28 points, including nine goals, in 69 contests last season.
The Panthers go into Friday's NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia with the No. 1 overall pick. Florida general manager Dale Tallon has made it known he is open to possibly trading the pick, which, if that happens, will result in immediate help.
If not, the Panthers should get another cornerstone-type player.
Another key for the Panthers is they will have No. 1 goaltender Roberto Luongo for a full season. Luongo, now in his second tour of duty with the Panthers, was acquired on March 4, 2014, and is motivated to bounce back after his tenure with the Vancouver Canucks ended on a sour note.
Add in a fresh voice and Gallant's consummate professional approach and past record of developing young players, owner Vincent Viola's willingness to spend money to improve the on-ice product and all of a sudden the Panthers could be next season's surprise team.
Who knows, the Panthers may not even make the playoffs, but expect them to be much better under Gallant, and don't be surprised if we are talking about Florida making a post-season push next spring.
While some people may chuckle at this optimism, let's use the Colorado Avalanche as an example. The Avalanche finished the 2012-13 season in 29th place, but had a solid young core of players, brought in new head coach Patrick Roy, and accumulated 112 points this past season.
Although it may be a little presumptuous to expect such a turnaround in Florida, it is not out of the realm of possibility.