For Reilly Smith, the anticipation of playing for Las Vegas next season goes beyond playing for the league’s newest team.
It’s also about playing for his old coach, Gerard Gallant.
“I think he kind of embodies the motto that it’s a players-first league and everything kind of revolves around that,” Smith said, per the Golden Knights website. “I know particularly last year in the Florida Panthers organization, there was a lot of change and things going on and I know one of the main messages that he always put forth was that whatever goes on outside, make sure you guys are a tight-knit group inside and play for each other.
“That was one thing that he definitely tried to convey to the team and try to get us to rally behind.”
Smith’s time in Florida was a two-part tale.
After coming over from Boston as part of the Jimmy Hayes swap — Marc Savard’s contract was also shipped to Florida — Smith had a terrific ’15-16 campaign under Gallant, posting career highs in goals (25) while helping the Panthers qualify for the playoffs.
In the postseason, he was a consistent scoring threat, finishing the series with four goals and eight points in six games.
Year two wasn’t nearly as successful.
Gallant was fired early on — controversially so — and Smith’s production dropped off. He ended with just 15 goals and 37 points, disappointing figures that were exacerbated by the big five-year, $25 million extension he signed in the offseason.
Reading between the lines, fair to suggest Smith struggled with the coaching change from Gallant to Tom Rowe. Things came to a head in early March, when Rowe called out Smith following a loss to Dallas.
On the Stars’ first goal, Smith seemed to lose his man in front of the net. Rowe was asked about it, and responded.
“We went over that exact play in team meeting and we haven’t learned our lesson yet,” he said. “That is the problem.”
Rowe wasn’t done there. Later, he was asked about Dallas’ winning goal, which may have been deflected in off a skate. The criticism went back to Smith.
“I don’t know,” said Rowe. “All I know is Reilly Smith was blowing the zone doing exactly what he is not supposed to be doing.”
Smith will certainly be a guy to watch this season. He’s still only 26 years old, looking for a bounce back, and noted that Gallant gave him the opportunity to play a larger role than he had with the Bruins (and, prior to that, the Stars).
One wonders if that’ll happen again, this time in Vegas.