The Maple Leafs have formally announced the long-rumoured hiring of Marc Savard as an assistant coach. 

With Guy Boucher and Dean Chynoweth officially departing, this addition rounds out the Leafs‘ new coaching staff under Craig Berube.

Craig BerubeHead Coach
Lane LambertAssociate Coach
Marc SavardAssistant Coach
Mike Van RynAssistant Coach
Curtis SanfordGoaltending Coach
Jordan BeanVideo Coordinator and Statistical Analyst
Sam KimVideo and Coaching Coordinator
Harry MaheshCoaching Development Associate

Savard will likely oversee the power-play unit, as he did under Berube in St. Louis, while Lane Lambert runs the penalty kill (and potentially the forwards, although it remains to be seen which of Savard or Lambert takes on those duties). Berube appears to be retaining Mike Van Ryn as the defense coach — no surprise given their past connection with the Blues, and Van Ryn did some reasonably encouraging things with a limited blue-line group in his first season behind the Leafs‘ bench in 2023-24 (Simon Benoit emerged, Jake McCabe produced a career year, and the defense was solid in the playoffs — at least in its own zone — relative to the personnel).

Savard rounds out Berube’s staff

Savard was an assistant with the St. Louis Blues for one season in 2019-20, overseeing a power play that ranked third in the league. It was the season right after the Blues won the Cup, and Vladimir Tarasenko played all of 10 games, but they still found a way to boast an elite unit featuring Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, and Brayden Schenn.

Perron — who, notably, is a UFA this summer — led the Blues in power-play points with 27. It was a 1-3-1 power play like most teams run in the league, with Pietrangelo up top and Perron and Schenn on the half-walls, with ROR in the bumper and Schwartz around the net. They ran it up top between Pietrangelo, Perron, and Schenn – the three would rip the puck around to each other, looking for one-timer opportunities and cross-seam passes. They would bump it low to Schwartz for a counterplay if those options were taken away. It was simple, effective, and successful, although interestingly, between Pietrangelo in St. Louis and Mackenzie Weegar in Calgary, Savard has worked with some big shooters at the point, which the Leafs don’t currently possess at the moment (and could be something they look to add this summer).

Savard moved on to try his hand at head coaching in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires. In his two years behind the Windsor bench, the Spitfires led the league in goals in both seasons (with the league scoring champion on their roster in both years).

In Savard’s first OHL season, the Spitfires went all the way to the finals led by Wyatt Johnston. In the next season, Johnston made the NHL, but the Spitfires still finished first in the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs, they were not only upset by the eighth seed but also swept. Of note, Windsor played a Kitchener team with more NHL draft picks and more veterans than them (traditionally, older teams win in the OHL, much like in the World Juniors and NHL playoffs, for that matter). How much of an upset it was is up for debate, although a sweep was still a shocking result.

In the summer after the Spitfires were swept out of the playoffs, the Windsor Star reported the following when Savard left Windsor for an assistant coaching position in Calgary:

“I interviewed for a couple of head coaching positions and it came back to the same thing,” Savard said. “Not enough experience.”

Savard said he spoke with two teams about a head coaching role, but was also approached by ‘four or five teams’ about becoming an assistant coach.

“I love Windsor and the question was, ‘Should I go back and try to win again or go to the NHL and get acclimated to the fastest game,’” Savard said. “I think this is my best chance.”

Savard again oversaw the power play in Calgary and contributed to the team’s overall offensive attack. The 2023-24 season was tough for the Flames, but a few things are worth noting.

The team started slowly under a rookie head coach (2-7-1 in their first 10 games of the season). By the time November rolled around, Nikita Zadorov was calling out teammates for playing for themselves while his agent publicly requested a trade, noting frustrations over ice time. Elliotte Friedman reported the following barely a month into the season:

“The other thing that happened in Calgary this week came from their captain Mikael Backlund. From what I understand, Backlund spoke to some of the players. I don’t know if it was in a group or if it was one-on-one, but he said “we have to end the noise.”

There are too many distractions around the team. Remember what happened last Friday night with [Nikita] Zadorov. He just said: “Enough of that. We have to concentrate on playing. If you don’t want to be here, let the general manager know and we’ll figure it out. As long as you’re here, no more noise, we have to play.”

It was a mess in Calgary, and the power play coach was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind at that point. While the power play ultimately ranked 26th, if we dig a little deeper, after the initial turmoil and trade chatter cleared up, the power play actually did start to roll. From Christmas onward, the Flames’ power play was tied for 12th in the league with the Leafs and the Predators. The Flames have nowhere near the scoring talent of the Leafs, nor do they have an elite offensive defenseman like Nashville’s Roman Josi or a player of Filip Forsberg’s calibre.

That’s an impressive turnaround amidst the turmoil of a team that underwent a firesale and clearly lacked high-end talent. In fact, three of Calgary’s top four scorers this season – Yegor Sharangovich, Blake Coleman, MacKenzie Weegar – all enjoyed career years. Their leading scorer, Nazem Kadri, put together the second-most productive season of his career. Coaches can only work with what they’re given.

When the Leafs hired Craig Berube, we flagged Savard as a potential AC due to his success alongside Berube, knowing coaches generally bring in assistants they’re familiar with. Savard has a good track record of successful offensive seasons and squeezing out extra production from his players.

Savard has some experience in the league now; Toronto would be his third NHL stop, which means he’s had some different looks to think through. You would like to think that he has learned some lessons and will continue to improve. He’s worked through experiences on a good NHL team, a bad NHL team, and as a head coach in the OHL. The more experiences, the better. Savard has had some wins in each situation.

Toronto is the place to put your name on the map for someone with head coaching aspirations in the league. Spencer Carbery was hired after his time as Sheldon Keefe’s assistant, and just before Carbery, Dave Hakstol went from an AC role with the Leafs to head coach of the Seattle Kraken. Coupling the exposure the Toronto market provides with the talent on the Leafs’ roster makes for a golden opportunity.

Savard’s primary year-one mission in Toronto will be to build a power play that can sustain success into the playoffs, where the man advantage clicked at just 15.4% over the five playoff appearances under former head coach Sheldon Keefe’s watch and hit rock bottom at 1-for-21 (4.8%) this past spring under the now-departed Guy Boucher.

with notes from Anthony Petrielli