Six possible candidates for the assistant coach vacancy

The Leafs announced yesterday that assistant coach Paul McFarland will be leaving the organization to be the head coach of the Kingston Frontenacs. For more information on what this means for the Leafs, Jon Steitzer covered it here.

That means that once this season is over, we’ll have a new assistant coach to run the power play for the Leafs, something that McFarland didn’t do the best job of. He had some good ideas (putting William Nylander in front of the net, giving Tyson Barrie an opportunity on the top unit), but the few that he did were probably more Sheldon Keefe’s ideas than his.

So, this vacancy gives the Leafs an opportunity to bring in someone that Keefe wants and can work with, and maybe shares a similar philosophy with him. Let’s take a look at some possible candidates for the position.

Bruce Boudreau

We’ll start off this search with the pipe dream. Boudreau needs no introduction, as he has seen tons of success as coach of the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, and Minnesota Wild, and has the 22nd most wins among coaches, with the 3rd highest winning percentage among coaches with 500 NHL games behind the bench. Not only would his style be a good fit for this Leafs team, but he’d also work well as the bad cop to Keefe’s good cop to help motivate the team, although I use the term bad cop loosely.

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However, it’s probably unlikely that this happens. With his pedigree, Boudreau could probably still get a head coaching gig, so unless the Leafs really pay up, I doubt it happens.

A.J. MacLean

Not to be confused with the member of the Backstreet Boys, MacLean is one of the current assistant coaches for the Marlies, and has worked alongside Keefe for most of his coaching career. He started out with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2013, before coming with Keefe to the Marlies in 2015. He has since been the Marlies power play coach, which has seen the power play click at a 19.99% rate under his tenure.

If I had to pick someone, I’d probably go with MacLean, due to him already having worked with Keefe for so long, and being the power play coach on the Marlies. Unless a bigger NHL candidate surfaces as an option, it’s likely the position goes to MacLean.

Rob Davison

Davison is similar to MacLean in that he has worked with Keefe in the AHL (although only since 2017), but his path getting there is much different. He had a bit of an NHL career in the 2000’s before starting his coaching career in Austria and the KHL. The Marlies won the Calder Cup in his first season running the defense and penalty kill, which has allowed 2.86 goals a game and had a 82.74% success rate since he took over.

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I’d imagine Davison is the other top candidate for the position, with his only disadvantage to MacLean being that it’s the power play assistant coach position available. However, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that Dave Hakstol gets let go soon to replace him with Davison.

Hayley Wickenheiser

Wickenheiser getting the position would be amazing, not just for the Leafs, but also the sport. Not only is the four-time gold medal winner a fantastic hockey mind, and would provide excellent experience and expertise to the coaching staff, but it would also be a big step forward for the game, and creating a better environment for women in hockey (especially in the wake of the recent events with Brendan Leipsic and Jack Rodewald). It shouldn’t be the only reason she is hired, as her resume speaks for itself, and she is already a part of the Leafs organization.

However, it’s very unlikely that it happens at this point in time, as Wickenheiser is still primarily focused on medical school. Perhaps down the road, but not right now.

John Dean

Dean is currently two seasons into his tenure as the head coach of the Greyhounds, which has had a 73-47-10-2 record, including a third place finish in his first season and a trip to the second round before losing in six games to the Saginaw Spirit. He mostly is a candidate because of the Leafs connections to the Soo with Dubas and Keefe, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them stretch that muscle again.

Dean would certainly be one of the more likely candidates, but I still wouldn’t hold my breath over him getting the position.

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Rocky Thompson

Thompson was speculated to be one of the candidates for the assistant coach vacancies last year, so it’s possible that he could be looked at as an option again. Thompson has been all over the place in his coaching career, starting with the Edmonton Oil Kings before moving up to the Oklahoma City Barons, and then the Edmonton Oilers in 2014-15, all as assistant coach. He then became head coach of the Windsor Spitfires before getting the head coach position with the Chicago Wolves in 2017, boasting two division championships, a conference championship, and a trip to the Calder Cup Finals last season.

This one probably isn’t too likely, since he probably only wants a head coaching job, and if he was a candidate under the Babcock regime, there’s the possibility that his philosophies and Keefe’s don’t line up as well.