« COACHING SEARCH CONTINUES: Dale Tallon Says Panthers to Have New Coach Before Draft | Main | MEET THE FINALISTS: Dan Bylsma »


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Florida Panthers are apparently close to hiring a new coach and one man deep in the running is Montreal Canadiens assisant Gerard Gallant.

Here's a closer look at Gallant:

Gallant, 50, was coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of three seasons from 2004-06. The Jackets, not far removed from their expansion years, went 56-76-6 with four ties during his tenure.

The Panthers have been searching for a coach ever since letting interim coach Peter Horachek go in April.

General manager Dale Tallon has said he is looking for a coach with vast NHL coaching experience.

Gallant, former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma and former Colorado and Los Angeles coach Marc Crawford are the finalists to become the 13th coach in franchise history although word is the job is now between Gallant and Bylsma.

Although Gallant doesn't have extensive head coaching experience in the NHL, he played 11 seasons with Detroit and Tampa Bay before becoming a junior coach in 1995.

Since turning to coaching, Gallant has been a head coach in Columbus and at the Canadian junior level. Gallant has also been an NHL assistant for seven years with the Blue Jackets, Islanders and Canadiens.

In his three years of coaching the Saint John, New Brunswick, Ice Dogs of the Quebec junior league, Gallant's top player was current Florida winger Jonathan Huberdeau.

Under Gallant's watch, the Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup with Huberdeau in 2011. Huberdeau became the third-overall pick of the Panthers a few weeks later. Gallant was the Canadian Hockey League's coach of the year in two of his three seasons with the Sea Dogs.

After this past season, Huberdeau -- the NHL's rookie of the year in 2012 -- said Gallant was one of the most influential coaches in his career.

"He really helped me a lot,'' Huberdeau said in April. "He played in the NHL and had a passion to win. He was great with the young guys, always gave them a chance. I think that's important for a coach. He related very well with all of us.''

Gallant is very close to former Panthers coach Doug MacLean as both hail from Summerside, Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Gallant's first NHL job came when he was hired in Columbus by MacLean -- then the team's president and general manager -- in 2000 to be an assistant under Dave King for the Blue Jackets' inaugural season.

When King was fired in 2003, MacLean took over coaching duties. In 2004, MacLean replaced himself by promoting Gallant midway through the season.

After a 5-9-1 start to the 2006-07 season, ownership ordered MacLean to fire Gallant. MacLean was let go at the end of that season as well. Gallant spent the next two seasons as an assistant with the Islanders before moving on to the Sea Dogs. Gallant has spent the past two seasons with the Canadiens and has been a big part of Montreal's recent success.