Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper/ USA Today

Jim Hiller “not expected back”, DJ Smith given permission for Ottawa job

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.

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  • Matmarwill

    Wouldn’t be sorry to see either assistant go. I was surprised how poorly DJ did with the defence, and how poorly hiller did with revamping the power play after the league figured out how to stifle it a third of the way thru the season.

    Keefe would be a wonderful add to the leafs coaching staff, and I’d rather him there than lose him to some other team, because after how the Marlies have done, this year and previously under his guidance, he has shown a gift for player development, which is exactly what the buds need.

    The buds need a revised, adaptive and flexible power play. They need a defense that maximizes the effectiveness of every player in their given role. The penalty kill needs consistency. The assistants need to develop the young incoming assets as well as increase the effectiveness of the veterans.

    If the leafs are going to continue to rank in the top 8 of the league next season, all of this needs to happen, and I think it’s a coaching issue. The buds have enough current and incoming talent to make it work, but the coaching needs to be top shelf for that to happen. In addition, I’d rather promote decent prospects for nhl development, like liljegren, Sandin, et al, than rehire the polaks and hainseys of the world, since cheap youth is the way to squeeze under the cap and still be competitive.