Just eight minutes after the Toronto Maple Leafs tweeted the bombshell news regarding the future of Kyle Dubas, the Toronto Marlies announced that the club will not renew the contracts of head coach Greg Moore and assistant coaches A.J. MacLean and John Snowden.
“I would like to extend our club’s sincere thanks to our coaching staff for their commitment and contributions to the organization,” said Ryan Hardy, Maple Leafs Assistant General Manager of Minor League Operations. “Our club wishes Greg, A.J., John, and their families all the best moving forward.”
Moore was hired to coach the Toronto Marlies on December 1, 2019, replacing the promoted Sheldon Keefe. At the time of the appointment, Kyle Dubas described the hire:
“Over the last 10 days, we have evaluated all options after Sheldon Keefe’s promotion to the Maple Leafs. After a detailed review, it was clear to us that Greg Moore was the best fit to become the Head Coach of the Marlies.”
“Greg’s record in development and winning with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and the USHL’s Chicago Steel to begin his coaching career made us take great notice of him as a candidate. More importantly, it became clear in speaking with his employers at USA Hockey and the Chicago Steel that Greg was the best fit for our program in terms of development philosophy.”
Appointing a rookie head coach is always a gamble to some degree, and it failed to pay off for Toronto. Excuses, with varying degrees of validity, have been a regular feature of Greg Moore’s rocky tenure.
The first was the difficulty of taking over from Sheldon Keefe, who led the Toronto Marlies to a first Calder Cup success. A mid-season appointment in such circumstances isn’t always the easiest gig, especially when it’s your first role as a professional head coach.
After some initial promise, there appeared to be a disconnect between the players and the new HC before a premature end to the 2019-20 campaign because of Covid-19. The Marlies were set to miss the playoffs by a large margin regardless. With 11 games left of the season, Toronto sat nine points back of fourth place and were in a torrid run of form, winning just three of their last 11 games.
The 2020-21 shortened season due to the pandemic was also considered a wash. The emphasis was on game and practice time rather than results and team success. In a 35-game campaign, Toronto finished with a losing record of 16-17-2.
Moore’s first complete season behind the bench in 2021-22 was no more successful than his first two campaigns.
Admittedly, there was a goaltending crisis at one point, and there were other injuries scattered across the roster. Toronto was able to get reasonable goaltending with lesser lights between the pipes, so that wasn’t much of an excuse in the circumstances.
The Marlies put up a winning record for the first time under Moore (37-30-5) but missed the playoffs in spectacular fashion. Despite the extra playoff berth on offer under an expanded format, Toronto missed out by a single point after getting blown out by Belleville on the final day of the season. It was no less than Toronto deserved having won just two of their last seven games to finish the campaign.
Toronto finished first place in an abnormally uncompetitive North Division in 2022-23, Moore’s fourth year and second complete season behind the bench.
The Marlies got off to a fast start and clung to first place despite falling into a hole at the end of the season (2-8-3). Toronto won 11 of their first 14 games by virtue of scoring 52 goals, and the power play, in particular, was often the difference maker early in the season (clicking over 30%).
The other aspect covering the deficiencies in the Marlies’ game was excellent goaltending. Initially, Keith Petruzzelli and then Joseph Woll stepped into the fray, with the latter winning 16 of his first 17 games, posting a .931 SV% along the way.
The trade deadline and injuries depleted Toronto’s roster, but the issues were more complex than the availability of players. Team defense was an issue that was never fully addressed, and the Marlies’ poor performance at five-on-five play was born out by a -17 goal differential. Baffling player deployment, haphazard line combinations, and a lack of individual accountability were constant points of concern.
This was apparent throughout the majority of Moore’s tenure — no more so than during the most recent season and in the playoffs, where Moore flat-out refused to adjust ill-fitting forward line combinations or make players accountable for unacceptable performances.
Watching the farm team humbled and at times embarrassed by a good but not great Rochester squad in a one-sided series likely played a part in the organization’s thinking regarding Moore’s future.
A.J. MacLean will also leave the Marlies after eight seasons with the team after joining in 2015-16 as part of Sheldon Keefe’s staff.
The departure of assistant John Snowden is somewhat of a surprise. The 41-year-old led the Newfound Growlers to a Kelly Cup championship in 2019 and spent the last two seasons with the Marlies following a promotion. The organization previously appeared to be high on the Washington native, and Snowden would have been on my shortlist of possible candidates to replace Moore had he not been released.