Approached by two reporters after practice Wednesday, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Colin Miller actually asked the first question about some news that had just been relayed to him by teammates.
"That happened?" said Miller, who played the last two years for the Vegas Golden Knights. "I didn't know if the guys were kidding or not."
That was probably the reaction around the NHL on Wednesday morning after the Golden Knights pulled a stunner in the wake of their loss here to the Sabres on Tuesday. In a move nobody saw coming, Vegas fired coach Gerard Gallant and replaced him with former San Jose and New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer.
The announcement was made in Ottawa, where Vegas continues its road trip Thursday night. Gallant was the only coach the Golden Knights have had in their two-plus NHL seasons, and led Vegas on its memorable run to the 2018 Stanley Cup final against Washington, earning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. Assistant Mike Kelly also was fired.
"I'm completely shocked," said Miller, who scored Vegas' first goal in the Cup final. "When I was there, he was a fantastic coach, a players' coach. Everybody loved him. So yeah. A tough day for him. Hopefully he'll come out on top. He's a great coach. I'm sure he'll have another job soon. Tough to see that piece of their puzzle go."
Buffalo's 4-2 win in KeyBank Center was the fourth consecutive loss for Vegas, which has been outscored 10-0 in the first period of its last five games. The Golden Knights (24-19-6) are tied with Vancouver and Winnipeg for the final two spots in the wild-card race, but if the Western Conference playoffs started Wednesday, Vegas would be out. The Golden Knights are three points behind Arizona for the Pacific Division lead.
It's the second time this year a loss in Buffalo marked the end for an NHL coach. New Jersey fired John Hynes on Dec. 3, the day after a 7-1 loss to the Sabres. He has since been hired in Nashville.
"In order for our team to reach its full potential, we determined a coaching change was necessary. Our team is capable of more than we have demonstrated this season," Vegas General Manager Kelly McCrimmon said in a statement. "We would like to thank Gerard and Mike for their service to the Vegas Golden Knights. They were both instrumental to the success we have enjoyed in our first two-plus seasons and we wish them all the best moving forward.
"In Peter DeBoer, we have a proven, experienced head coach who we believe can help us achieve our ultimate goal. We are excited to welcome Peter and his family to the Vegas Golden Knights organization. We look forward to a strong finish to the 2019-20 season with Peter at the helm and a successful tenure in the seasons to come."
Gallant was set to coach the Pacific Division in next week's All-Star Game in St. Louis because the Golden Knights were in first place on Jan. 3 when those positions were firmed up.
McCrimmon and Vegas President George McPhee were seen grim-faced on the arena service elevator following Tuesday's game. The Golden Knights arrived in Buffalo after dropping the final three games of a seven-game homestand, and Tuesday's contest was the opener of an eight-game road trip that is actually a pair of four-game jaunts around the All-Star break.
DeBoer led New Jersey to the Cup final in 2012 and took San Jose there in 2016. His Sharks beat Vegas in a controversial seven-game first-round series last spring before losing to St. Louis in the Western Conference final. He was fired by San Jose last month.
After Tuesday's game, Vegas forward Mark Stone seemed to indict the team's preparation and how the losing streak was weighing on the club.
"It's tougher, especially when you're losing to teams you know that you're better than," Stone said of the Sabres. "And we're a better hockey team. Just have to find ways to put the puck in the net, and we've kind of gotten stale the last bunch of games."
San Jose has become Vegas' archrival, largely from the hard feelings created by the playoff series, so Miller also was surprised to see his old team reach out to DeBoer. Gallant called DeBoer a "clown" in a news conference prior to Game 7 of last year's series.
"It's interesting. We, they, definitely had some battles with San Jose and even a couple times 'Turk' (Gallant) and him had some disagreements," Miller said. "I don't know. That's their business. Their stuff to deal with and so I'm sure they'll move forward."
It's the second time in his career Gallant was fired in shocking fashion. He was dropped as the coach of the Florida Panthers on Nov. 28, 2016, following a loss in Carolina and was infamously left at PNC Arena in Raleigh. He was forced to call a taxi to get him to the airport and out of town.
Gallant is the seventh NHL coach fired this season and the fourth to have led a team to the Cup final, joining DeBoer, Toronto's Mike Babcock and Nashville's Peter Laviolette.
Stars shooting high
The Sabres headed for Dallas immediately after practice, where they'll meet the Stars on Thursday night in American Airlines Arena. Buffalo blanked Dallas, 4-0, here on Oct. 14 and that game was part of the Stars' 1-7-1 start.
Since then, Dallas has gone 26-8-3 for an NHL-best .743 points percentage. They also fired coach Jim Montgomery on Dec. 10 for unprofessional conduct and replaced him with Rick Bowness, who is 10-4-1. Montgomery has since announced he's entered alcohol rehab.
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said he's floored by the difference in the Dallas team of today compared to the one of October. The Stars are second in the West, nine points behind runaway leader St. Louis.
"It's a different planet. Really. It's crazy watching them last night and this morning," Krueger said. "There's a directness in their attack. There's a speed in their game we didn't see when they were here. It's as well-oiled a machine as we've watched in a pre-scout in a while and it's going to be a big challenge for us.
"They're very confident. They play extremely simple, give you nothing and they defend better than any team that I've seen the last 4-5 weeks on video. So let's see it live. We need to break it down and we need to be as patient as they are to have a chance."
Home cooking coming
The Sabres play Saturday at Nashville and then are off for 10 days for their bye and the All-Star break. When they resume play Jan. 28 against Ottawa, it will start a 10-game stretch with nine of the games at home.
The win Tuesday improved the Sabres to 14-5-3 in KeyBank Center (they also have a "home" loss in Sweden). That's a .705 points percentage in their home rink, tied with Vancouver for sixth in the NHL.
With 18 home games left, the Sabres have a chance to win 25 games downtown for the first time since their 2009-10 Northeast Division championship season. Of course, a big issue is their 7-13-4 road record. That percentage of .375 ranks 27th in the NHL.