In the most recent 31 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman states outright that Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach Jim Hiller is not expected back. He says Hiller has blanket permission to interview with anyone.
There are a number of head coaching and assistant coaching positions open, but the trend this season, after a few years of hirings from NCAA and junior teams, is for coaches with NHL experience.
Neither DJ Smith, who it has previously been reported, interviewed in Ottawa, nor Jim Hiller would see a path to promotion in Toronto. When they were hired, the Leafs and Mike Babcock talked about the expectation that good teams lose their staff and always have to be looking to add more. The surprise might be that they’ve stuck around this long.
So far, there isn’t a whisper of a name the Leafs might be interested in adding, and while more leaks out of the Leafs front office these days, Kyle Dubas seems to be able to lock things down when he wants to. But if Hiller isn’t expected to return, some sort of planning has to be going on to replace him.
Everyone will immediately suggest Sheldon Keefe, and there’s two schools of thought on that. Those who believe that Keefe is Dubas’s man and that Dubas and Babcock are philosophically on opposite poles and fight about everything all the time will not expect that relationship to work behind the bench. If you think that’s all bunk, you might consider it a good plan.
My personal take is that in Keefe’s 16 seasons of coaching hockey, he’s been an assistant twice. The first time was for one season as he transitioned from merely being the owner of the Pembroke Lumber Kings to becoming the GM and head coach in 2005-2006, which was just after he retired from playing hockey. He was an assistant once again in 2012-2013 on an World Junior A Challenge team. This does not sound like a man who is interested in not being the boss, and philosophy is not the stumbling block. As Friedman says: “Sheldon Keefe is only leaving AHL Toronto for a better situation.”
If Friedman, and other reporters, are right, and most of the vacant coaching jobs are going to go to experienced coaches like the Flyers and the Panthers jobs did, there isn’t a lot of routes to the NHL for a coach who is top six or bust. The exception to this seems to still be Buffalo, and Friedman has them linked to Ralph Krueger.
Jim Hiller will get snapped up. DJ Smith might be moving to a new team, too. And the Leafs are hiring. Silently, and without any rumours leaking out so far.
The other rumour from the weekend involved Swedish left wing Anton Wedin choosing Chicago over Arizona and Toronto.
This one struck me as odd. Wedin is 26, shoots left and has played his entire pro career with Timrå. That’s important, because the team has been in the SHL twice while he’s been with the men’s team — his first season in 2012-2013, and this season. The intervening five seasons, Timrå was an Allsvenskan team. When a team wins promotion to the SHL, they have more money to spend, and they usually spend big on players.
Timrå went from the 2017-2018 season, where the top forward was Canucks prospect Jonathan Dahlén (who has since become a Sharks prospect), to this season, where they added a handfull of SHL regulars.
Wedin led the team in goals, with 14 in 32 games. So, he missed over half the season, and a very quick look on the SHL official stats says he was eighth in the SHL in shooting percentage. On the bright side, most of that scoring was at even strength. However, this looks like the classic case of a player getting better teammates, having a shooting percentage spike and wowing everyone with his sudden improvement. (Par Lindholm, anyone?)
There’s nothing wrong with taking a chance on a player of this sort, but this rumour is mostly interesting because it says the Leafs are still looking at forwards to add to the roster depth.
So the Leafs are also quietly hiring at wing.
As we wait patiently for the Marner contract news, we should expect a bunch more changes over the summer as well.