The Toronto Maple Leafs have filled the assistant coaching vacancy left by the departed Paul McFarland with former Canucks assistant coach Manny Malhotra, the club announced on Thursday.
The 40-year-old Malhotra spent much of his NHL playing career serving in the role of a prototypical checking-line center who put his work habits and attention to detail on the defensive side of the game / penalty kill ahead of his skill and desire to produce offense — a transformation he had to undergo throughout his career as a former seventh-overall pick of the Rangers in the 1998 draft.
As someone who will be working with a lot of high-skill star forwards in Toronto who are still honing those aforementioned areas of their games, there might be something to be said for the value of his experience and presence rubbing off in that respect. Malhotra was also a renowned faceoff specialist as a veteran player in the NHL who, as a coach, put in a lot of good work with the Canucks’ centermen in that area of the game.
Bo Horvat's year by year faceoff % since Manny Malhotra took the AC job w/ the #Canucks:
— Randip Janda (@RandipJanda) September 17, 2020
A lot of the attention here is also going to be placed on who Malhotra is not — and he isn’t Bruce Boudreau, who reportedly spoke to Sheldon Keefe multiple times about the role and was more or less campaigning for the job in the media. Maybe that very fact is one indication of why the Leafs chose to go in the direction of bright up-and-comer in Malhotra rather than a larger-than-life, highly-experienced veteran coach. In a market like Toronto, having Boudreau standing next to a rookie coach in Keefe on the bench would be tantamount to tossing red meat to starving wolves in the media — after every bad loss, the headlines of the Toronto Sun op-eds would write themselves.
With Dubas’ GM tenure married to Keefe for better or worse and in sickness or in health — he’s Dubas’ guy — it might have added an unnecessary level of pressure and scrutiny to what is already one of the hardest head coaching jobs in the NHL. It was also hard to picture Boudreau easily following a gag order with the media, as assistant coaches in Toronto are required to do.
Not that fear of the outside perception would be the only or primary consideration here — Dubas and Keefe’s hiring practices clearly show they value player developers, bright thinkers, communication skills, shared core hockey philosophies, and different ways of thinking about the game.
With three years experience as the eye-in-the-sky in Vancouver, Malhotra was a development coach with the organization at the time when the Canucks hired Travis Green, who put himself on the map this season with the year the Canucks had and is now widely perceived as one of the better young head coaches in the game. Green reportedly met with Malhotra before making a decision on his assistants back in 2017 and was so impressed by Malhotra that he decided to promote him into an AC role. According to Elliotte Friedman, Malhotra had numerous suitors this offseason offering him an opportunity for more responsibility on their team’s bench.
Malhotra was said to be eager to take on more and more responsibilities with the Canucks, and Green was said to be constantly looking for ways to add more to his plate. In Toronto, he will likely be managing the forwards, which isn’t just about scoring and offense but also defensive responsibility, faceoffs, and penalty killing as well. On special teams, he will take over power-play duties from the departed Paul McFarland.
There was likely some hiring input from Leafs assistant GM Laurence Gilman here as well, as the two worked together in Vancouver before Gilman was hired away by Kyle Dubas. Malhotra appears to fit the culture behind the bench the Leafs are developing under Keefe with his player development background and ability to communicate effectively with today’s NHL players.
Manny Malhotra on the best coaching advice he's received. pic.twitter.com/p0DFhAzwp2
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) September 17, 2020
Watched Manny Malhotra give a presentation at the @NHLCoachesAssoc's clinic at the 2019 draft about pre-scouting opponents. It was detailed and digestible (and he was often self-deprecating).
He also did a lot of behind the scenes work with Vancouver's younger players.
— Israel Fehr (@israelfehr) September 17, 2020
— thomas williams (@nosalaryretaind) September 17, 2020
Manny Malhotra Statement on joining the Leafs’ coaching staff
“I’m very grateful to the Canucks organization for the opportunity given to me to start my coaching career. It was truly a great experience to learn from Travis Green and the rest of his staff. I’m now very excited for this opportunity with the Leafs moving forward – to be working with Sheldon, his staff and this young, talented team.”
Sheldon Keefe Statement on hiring of Manny Malhotra
“The work ethic, character, intelligence and attention to detail that made Manny the ultimate teammate when he played are all assets that have translated to his coaching. That, combined with his charisma and communication skills, make us really excited to have him join the organization.
On behalf of the Leafs, I’d like to thank Travis Green, Jim Benning and the Canucks organization for the opportunity to speak with Manny.”