When Sheldon Keefe was hired in 2015 as head coach of the Toronto Marlies, more than a few eyebrows were raised over the hiring of a man with a chequered playing career, a controversial personal history, and no experience in the professional coaching ranks.
Roll forward four years, Keefe is now head coach of the storied Toronto Maple Leafs franchise and the man tasked with replacing Keefe is also something of an unknown quantity — arguably even more so when compared to Keefe’s track record in the OHL at the time. At 35 years old, Greg Moore is the same age as Sheldon Keefe when he was hired by Kyle Dubas to develop the Maple Leafs of the future while implementing a winning culture at the AHL level.
So what do we know about Greg Moore?
Drafted by Calgary Flames in 2003, Moore’s NHL career amounted to just 10 games, as much of his playing career was spent in the AHL from 2005-11 until he hung up his skates following a four-year stint in Europe.
Having retired from playing in 2012, Moore thrust himself straight into the coaching scene as an assistant with the USNTDP Juniors program that included talent such as Clayton Keller, Casey Mittelstadt, Jake Oettinger, and a certain Joseph Woll on the roster. After two years as an assistant with both the USA U18 and U17 teams, the Maine native was then appointed head coach of the Chicago Steel in the USHL in 2018.
Despite spending only one full season with the Steel in 2018-19, Moore leaves the program with a track record of success. Chicago posted a 37-21-4 record through the 2018-19 regular season and made it all the way to the Clark Cup Final, where the Steel came up short against the Sioux Falls Stampede. Prior to being snapped up by Toronto, Moore guided the Steel to a 15-4-1 record in the 2019-20 campaign, leaving Chicago in a far better position than when he was originally hired.
There have been links between Chicago Steel and Toronto that makes the acquisition of Moore less of surprise than it may have appeared at first blush. Skills specialist Darryl Belfry works for both teams, Moore attended the Maple Leafs development coach in June as a guest coach, and Toronto drafted Nick Abruzzese 124th overall in 2019, the summer after the centerman led Chicago in scoring with 80 points in 62 games — meaning, there would have been quite a bit of contact between the two sides and extensive monitoring of that Chicago Steel team over the past year-plus.
“I want to thank the Steel family for the positive experience through my time in Chicago,” said Moore. “The genuine care and love for working together that the players and staff have demonstrated has been something special to be a part of. I’m very thankful for the players, staff and management and the support they have given to me during my time here. With the strength of the staff and management, I have all the confidence in the world for the continued success of the Steel this season and that the growth and development of the players will continue.”
“The hallmark of a successful team is when each member elevates those around them,” said Steel Owner Larry Robbins. “Our Steel team and family is proud to have contributed to Greg’s rapid ascent up the coaching ladder, and we are forever grateful for Greg’s contributions to our culture for players and coaches alike: professionalism each day, individual skill development and growth, eagerness to learn and innovate and to compete daily with passion and purpose.”
This statement from Chicago Steel GM Ryan Hardy is perhaps the most telling as the values mentioned clearly align with Kyle Dubas’ vision for the organization:
“We are extremely proud of Greg for earning this incredible opportunity with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization,” said Steel General Manager Ryan Hardy. “The Marlies are getting a world-class coach with a brilliant hockey mind and impeccable character. What he and his staff built here has, and will continue to have, a ripple effect on player development across the global hockey landscape. Thank you to Kyle Dubas, Laurence Gilman, and the entire Toronto Maple Leafs organization for their professionalism throughout this process.”
A young coach who isn’t afraid of implementing new and fresh ideas — including integrating analytics into his decision-making process – this would seem like a hockey philosophy and character fit if the following from Stephen Valiquette (former NHL goaltender) proves true.
— Stephen Valiquette (@VallysView) December 2, 2019
Having already taken their time to make this hire, the Marlies are in no hurry to rush Moore into his first professional gig. A.J. MacLean, Rob Davidson and Jack Han have held the reigns since Keefe’s departure on November 20th and will continue to keep the ship pointed in the right direction for the next couple of weeks.
New Marlies coach Greg Moore will join the Maple Leafs for the next two weeks to work alongside Sheldon Keefe and his staff, to better understand the Leafs’ style and philosophy.
His first game behind the Marlies’ bench will be Dec 16.
— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) December 2, 2019
After the disconnect between Kyle Dubas and Mike Babcock led to tensions and seemingly a fundamental gap in the vision for how the team should play, establishing cohesion throughout the organization is clearly now high on the list of priorities. Babcock worked with Keefe during camp and stayed in contact with him throughout the hockey season, but bringing Moore in to be a fly on the wall of the NHL operations mid-season is a far more integrated approach to fostering continuity between the two levels of the organization. It also speaks to Keefe’s open-door philosophy to teaching and developing players and coaches alike.
Filling Keefe’s shoes is a hard act for anyone, let alone a rookie, but betting on a well-respected, bright young coach is far from surprising from a GM that has sought not only to develop players but grow emerging talent at the coaching position as well.