The Toronto Maple Leafs announced the hiring of Guy Boucher and Mike Van Ryn as new GM Brad Treliving continues to put his stamp on the team.
We will dive into the specifics of each addition, but at a high level, this continues the theme of hiring individuals with notable NHL experience and the pedigree of measurable success in the league. Guy Boucher has gone to the Eastern Conference Finals twice (and lost in heartbreaking Game 7s both times), while Mike Van Ryn won the Stanley Cup with St. Louis in 2019.
New Assistant General Manager, Derek Clancey, won multiple Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Add Marlies head coach John Gruden to that mix – most recently, he was an assistant with the record-setting Bruins club, and before then, he was a back-to-back conference finalist with the Islanders. We can also include new Marlies assistants Michael Dyck (multiple Golds with Team Canada at various levels) and Eric Wellwood (OHL Championship and Memorial Cup championship) as matching this description.
Guy Boucher: New power play coach
Guy Boucher rose to fame coaching Sidney Crosby in the QMJHL – where Crosby had him pore over hours of films to teach him new moves and new drills – followed by a move to Hamilton, where he won a division championship before losing in the third round of the playoffs.
When Boucher was hired into the NHL by Tampa Bay the following year, the Lightning experienced a 23-point improvement from the season before and came back from a 3-1 series deficit before sweeping the Washington Capitals, ultimately losing to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 by a score of 1-0. He wore out his welcome in Tampa before eventually ending up in Ottawa, where he led the Senators to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals – where they lost in double overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins – in his first season at the helm.
Boucher is most known for implementing the 1-3-1 neutral zone trap, a system designed to force dump-ins with a defender already back in the zone to retrieve the puck and transition the puck back up ice. It worked, which is evident in the success he enjoyed with teams that were not really expected to go very far at the time, but it was also often criticized for its low entertainment value. The forechecker never even crossed the offensive blue line as the system forced teams to try to slice through a tight neutral zone wall of three players lining up across center.
Boucher has spoken about coaching individuals as each player is unique within the overall concept of a team. In all of his stints, he has achieved early success before flaming out quickly. Chris Neil publicly criticized him in saying he didn’t have control of the locker room, but in fairness, it should be noted that Neil was bitter that Boucher didn’t want him back in Ottawa and was the reason the Senators didn’t attempt to extend him (which, to be honest, was the right call).
The indication from Sheldon Keefe is that Boucher will run the Leafs power play, taking over for the recently departed Spencer Carbery, who was not a small loss. Yes, the Leafs have tons of scoring talent, but success is success. The Leafs‘ power play was excellent at entering the zone with consistency and ran all sorts of looks and plays to create goals. They fizzled out on the power play in the playoffs year over year until this past season.
In Boucher’s last season with Ottawa, he took over running the power play and the Senators jumped from 27th to 13th under his watch. It had a lot of similar looks to the Leafs‘ current setup – a 1-3-1 with lots of movement.
Mike Van Ryn: New defense coach
The Leafs have also added one-time Leafs defenseman Mike Van Ryn to the bench after he spent the last five seasons as an assistant with the St. Louis Blues. He is expected to run the defense while Dean Chynoweth remains in charge of the PK. Previously, Chynoweth also oversaw the defense.
The Leafs’ team defense was great last season, but it’s fair to question some of the management of the defensemen themselves. Timothy Liljegren bounced between a top-four player who was performing well to a healthy scratch, TJ Brodie bounced between the right and left side, and Mark Giordano ran out of gas as the season progressed.
With the Blues under Van Ryn, the defense also produced mixed results. The Blues defense really struggled after he was hired – as did the whole team – before Jordan Binnington arrived, caught fire, and the team went on a massive run to win the Cup that season. In Van Ryn’s first two seasons, the Blues finished top five in shots against both seasons. Over the past three years, St. Louis’ team defense has gotten progressively worse, which was exacerbated by losing Alex Pietrangelo as well as Colton Parayko’s game taking a significant step back.
Adding two coaches with only one apparent opening also means that Manny Malhotra will be moving to the press box to act as an eye in the sky. How that dynamic will play out remains to be seen. It was always curious that Malhotra initially ran the power play as the man advantage fell off a cliff each season under his watch. He will continue assisting with faceoffs, an area where the Leafs have been one of the strongest teams in the league.
Presumably, Sheldon Keefe will focus on the forward group, where he has done a good job of getting buy-in defensively from his players (something Brad Treliving has noted publicly). He will have his hands full now with newcomers like Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi as well as a developing Matthew Knies.
Adding a former multi-time head coach in the league (Boucher) plus an up-and-coming future HC (Van Ryn) on the bench will only intensify the pressure and scrutiny on the head coach, who is still without a contract extension beyond the year, at least as far as what’s been reported so far. For what it’s worth, Treliving did hint at some sort of extension in the works at some point in the summer, which would make sense in that having a lame-duck coach is a recipe for disaster in this market.
After the departure of Kyle Dubas, there was lots of talk of a mass exodus in the fallout. Jason Spezza resigned — and there’s still plenty of time for more changes to shake out — but to this point, it has generally been business as usual off the ice. The Leafs replaced Spezza with executives that have far more management experience and have now rounded out the coaching staff.