Maple Leafs’ new assistants bring expertise but also pressure for Sheldon Keefe

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
10 months ago
The vacancy on Spencer Carbery’s position has finally been addressed and the Leafs true to form for them addressed the position in a very interesting way. Both Mike Van Ryn and Guy Boucher come to the Leafs as coaches capable of stepping into a Head Coach role on a moment’s notice and with Sheldon Keefe still without a contract extension and now an additional body behind the bench, the Leafs are sending a clear message whether it is intention or not, that Sheldon Keefe needs to achieve results and that while an extension is still on the table for him that pushing his luck in negotiations wouldn’t be the smartest approach.
Presumably in this shuffle Manny Malhotra will be working with the forwards as a skills coach a bit more, and while it seems that with Chynoweth focusing on the PK they are only getting a fraction of what he has to offer, Mike Van Ryn is someone who as a player understood the value of an active, puck-moving defence, and that is what the Leafs have personnel wise to work with some the change makes sense.
Guy Boucher leading the powerplay seems a little crazy when you consider that he has been responsible for some of the most boring hockey played in this century, but it starts to make sense when you consider that one of the biggest barriers to the Leafs on the powerplay is successfully entering the offensive zone as teams routinely deploy successful traps against them. Who better to help the Leafs defeat a trap than a coach that specializes in it?
Boucher is a big systems guy and powerplays thrive on systems. During his most recent Head Coaching stint in Ottawa, the powerplay was a problem for Boucher’s first two seasons before finally turning it around in his final year before being fired.
Mike Van Ryn is a coach I’ve been hoping to see the Leafs bring in. His success with the Kitchener Rangers really made him standout as a potential future NHL coach, and after already having successful stints as an AHL Head Coach and having served as an NHL assistant as well, I get the sense that van Ryn more than anyone else in the Leafs organization is the Head Coach in waiting, despite Boucher’s experience, but as David Alter noted, Guy Boucher was the runner-up for the Leafs’ head coaching job when Mike Babcock was hired.
Mike Van Ryn was most recently with the Blues organization, winning a cup with them. His responsibilities were primarily working with the defence, but after some reshuffling last season he also absorbed some penalty kill responsibilities as well.
The fact that Van Ryn was fired at the end of the season maybe doesn’t look great. It could also be the Blues recognizing that their season didn’t go well but weren’t quite ready to move on from their coach that won them a Stanley Cup.
Van Ryn’s defensive coach track record in St. Louis is a difficult one to assess. When times were going well he was working with Alex Pietrangelo as his number one defenseman and fitting pieces around him makes things a lot easier. After Pietrangelo’s departure it was a lot easy to poke holes in what was wrong with the Blues defence. Bringing in Justin Faulk and Torey Krug to replace better rounded options in Jay Bouwmeester and Vince Dunn was also a choice that made life harder, but honestly the Leafs’ defence more closely mirrors what Van Ryn was working with most recently in St. Louis than what he won a Stanley Cup with, so we’ll see how things go.
Part of me wonders if Van Ryn is going to be looked at as the Klingberg whisperer, as getting what the Leafs can get out of Klingberg seems like a similar task to getting what the Blues could get out of Faulk.
While neither Boucher nor Van Ryn are slam dunks as either a powerplay coach or defensive coach respectively, and neither is a lock to be the next Leafs Head Coach, if needed, both bring a lot to be excited about and some change in perspective to the Leafs bench. Van Ryn still having Chynoweth to lean on heavily on defensive responsibilities is a huge plus, and while the reduction of his role seems to be the most puzzling aspect of this, other than what’s next for Manny Malhotra, the Leafs being in a position where there are a number of coaches pushing each other while Gruden is also pushing from the Marlies seems like a good thing as long as collaboration is happening as well.
As for Sheldon Keefe, there are a couple ways of looking at what is going on here. The first is that he has a new GM who went out and found some of the best guys available to fill the vacancy and made that his priority along with the players over finalizing the new contract with the coach.
The second way to look at it is that the Leafs have set themselves up that if Keefe struggles at all this season, Treliving won’t have to think too hard about how he’s going to be replaced.
While Spencer Carbery was certainly held in high enough regard that he landed a head coaching gig, the idea of having Boucher and Van Ryn as his replacement seems like an upgrade. As with most things, it will be October before we see how it unfolds, but the changes seem to warrant some initial optimism.

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