The Toronto Maple Leafs will have two new voices – whispering, yelling, getting the most out of the players – from behind the bench in 2022-23 and it may be just what they need.
The Toronto Maple Leafs should benefit from the hiring of assistant coaches Guy Boucher and Mike Van Ryn. For sure, each will bring a different perspective that will push and challenge head coach Sheldon Keefe to do things a little differently.
Keefe does have the highest winning percentage for any coach in the history of the Leafs, but that only covers the regular season. In fact, Keefe has the highest winning percentage (.622) in National Hockey League history (minimum of 250 games coached).
Boucher, who was brought in to run the offense and the power-play, has taken both the Tampa Bay Lightning (2010-11) and the Ottawa Senators (20617) to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Van Ryn, who will oversee the defense and help incumbent assistant Dean Chynoweth with the penalty killing unit, won a Stanley Cup as an assistant head coach of the St. Louis Blues in 2018-19.
So, both Boucher and Van Ryn bring solid playoff pedigrees and also are known to have fiery personalities. Former assistant coach Spencer Carbery was hired to be the head coach of the Washington Capitals and current Leafs assistant Manny Malhotra will move up to the press box to get an eye-in-the-sky view of the team.
Boucher and Van Ryn represent a direct link to how the roster – assembled by Kyle Dubas with finishing touches by new general manager Brad Treliving – ultimately augments its’ performance.
Here’s a look at what each Leafs assistant could provide:
Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant Head Coach: Guy Boucher
The Leafs have had one of the league’s best offenses for the past few years with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and captain John Tavares providing the bulk of the team’s scoring.
However, there are some areas that need improvement. The Leafs have trouble starting games on time, especially weeknight tilts against teams at the bottom of the NHL standings. Boucher is a no non-sense type of coach and has something to prove.
At some point, Boucher wants to be a head coach in this league again, so he could be the man to get this team fired up for the opening puck drop. Any coach who took two separate teams to the conference finals should have the right technique and words to impart on a Leafs team that could use a unique point of view.
In addition, the Leafs need to improve their transition game. When the Leafs are in sync, the forwards are in the proper position to chip pucks out of their defensive zone and start a rush with their speed, which is their No. 1 asset as a team. Boucher is known for his play designs and should be able to get the Leafs headed up ice as a cohesive unit. This will also alleviate pressure on a Leafs defense that has aged a bit and is known as the Leafs weak unit.
Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant Head Coach: Mike Van Ryn
Van Ryn is a former Leaf player (2008-10) who could infuse some of the blue-and-white passion into a defensive unit that needs some inspiration. The Leafs have taken a step back with their current top-six defenseman and Keefe has been reluctant to do what is necessary with his in-house options.
The penalty killing unit let the team down in the playoffs. During the regular season, the Leafs were ranked 12th out of 32 teams with an 81.9 percent success rate. They were 11th out of 16 teams in the post-season with a 73.3 kill percent. That’s a significant drop off during meaningful games when even strength goals are hard to come by. Chynoweth will continue to spearhead, but Van Ryn can use some of the strategy that helped the 2022 Blues have the fifth-best PK unit (81.08 percent) in the playoffs. (stats nhl.com).
There is a huge possibility the Leafs defense will regress this year. The hope here is that a former Leaf, who understands the pressures of playing in Toronto, can get players like Brodie and Jake McCabe to clear the puck out of danger and limit the turnovers that have plagued this team.
Treliving stated Keefe’s willingness to adaptation as one of the main reasons why he signed the Leafs head coach through 2025. Boucher and Van Ryn are brokers for change. Keefe will be smart to lean on them. They will implement fresh strategies, which should provide in-game sparks for the Leafs this season.