Report: Jim Hiller to join Mike Babcock on Leafs new coaching staff

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According to Ansar Khan of Michigan Live, assistant coach Jim Hiller will join Mike Babcock on the Maple Leafs coaching staff next season.

Some management groups, upon hiring a new head coach, allow the new HC to bring along an assistant of his choosing and hire the rest by committee, but it’s not yet clear what the agreement or hiring strategy will be for Mike Babcock as he goes about building his staff. It does sound like Babcock will be bringing along Hiller, who, based on his role with the Red Wings last season, would run the powerplay and do some analytics work.

After retiring from pro hockey in 2001-02, Hiller joined the Tri City Americans as an assistant coach. He took a head coaching job in the BCHL for a year before returning to the WHL to serve as head coach of the Chilliwack Bruins, where he coached the team to two first round playoff exits before missing the playoffs and getting dismissed in 2008. In 2009-10, he returned to Tri City in the head coaching role, where helped the Americans to four playoff berths, two U.S. Division titles and an appearance in the WHL Finals in 2010. He was fired by Tri City after two consecutive first round playoff exits.

Hiller was then given a one-year contract in the summer of 2014 to line up with Babcock’s contractual situation in Detroit, so he is now free to be signed by the Maple Leafs.

In his first year on an NHL bench, Hiller was in charge of the Red Wings’ second-ranked powerplay, which ticked along at a 23.8% success rate last year.  Their powerplay went 2 for 27 out of the gates and Hiller garnered some early criticism, but it took off after the early struggles, with Hiller emphasizing an approach to outnumbering the opponent down low:

[quote_box_center]“We want to be aggressive at their net-front,” Hiller said in October, per the Detroit News. “When the puck gets to their net, we want to have more players than they do.

“To create more chances, you have to get the puck back once you’re there. It’s outnumbering at the net for your goal-scoring chances, and outnumbering so we can get it back and start over again.”[/quote_box_center]

The Red Wings typically deploy noted crease mule Johan Franzen as the net front presence on their top powerplay, but he only played in 33 games due to injury last season. Hiller used Justin Abdelkader as his crease presence and he potted eight powerplay goals, tied with Pavel Datsyuk, and 14 powerplay points as he enjoyed a career high in powerplay time on ice, points and goals this season en route to a career year across the board.

Here’s a good example of how Hiller’s powerplay unit crashed the net four men-strong once the puck was directed to the net front:

Gustav Nyquist potted more than half his 27 goals on the powerplay last season (14 goals, 24 points).

It would also appear Hiller will work with the Leafs analytics department as the numbers-inclined guy on the bench.

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He’s published five magazines on the team entitled “The Maple Leafs Annual” with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosts “The Battle of the Atlantic,” a weekly show on TSN1200 that covers the Leafs and the NHL in-depth.

Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada’s Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian.

You can contact him at [email protected]