After GM Kyle Dubas gave head coach Mike Babcock peace of mind earlier this week, it appears that there will still be new faces behind the bench for next season.
In the most recent 31 Thoughts blog by Elliotte Friedman, he updated everyone on what will and might happen to the coaching positions on the Leafs.
With confidence, he wrote that assistant coach Jim Hiller has been given “blanket permission” to interview with any team and is not expected back. Friedman added that the Nashville Predators appears to be one of the teams interested in Hiller’s services.
Hiller, who has been with Babcock since his last season in Detroit, was in charge of the Leafs’ power play since arriving. This past season the Leafs had a 18.8% conversion rate, good for 10th in the league. While that number does not appear successful, they had a historic season for how often they were able to create important scoring chances.
On the other end of the ice, the defensive assistant coach DJ Smith is not completely gone, but other NHL teams are keeping him in mind for their vacant head coaching positions.
The Ottawa Senators are one of those teams and that connection has been talked about thoroughly.
Smith was the head coach of the Memorial Cup-winning Oshawa Generals and was brought on as a rookie assistant coach in the NHL when Babcock was first introduced in Toronto.
Although his contributions to the Leafs are less visible than what Hiller has done, if he was solely in charge of the Leafs’ defence, he failed at his job. The Leafs have lacked at limiting opposing scoring chances ever since Smith has started, but that could be personnel rather than coaching.
If both positions are empty heading into next season, there are no highlighted candidates to take over the two spots. Sheldon Keefe, head coach of the dominant Toronto Marlies, is rumoured to be considered as an assistant, but I’m sure there will be many internal discussions between the three of Dubas, Babcock and Keefe for what his future holds.
Some names to remember are Pascal Vincent, head coach of the Manitoba Moose and past assistant coach of the Winnipeg Jets, and Rocky Thompson, current Chicago Wolves head coach and past assistant coach for the Edmonton Oilers. Neither are likely, but with Babcock spreading out his search, those might be some names to consider.
Once these moves are confirmed, there will be more talk of who will be their replacements.