Over the past week, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost Dave Hakstol, the team’s assistant coach in charge of the defense, to the Seattle Kraken. Hakstol will become the first head coach in Kraken franchise history. As a Maple Leafs’ writer and a long-time Alberta resident who’s been to Hakstol’s hometown of Warburg many times, I wish him luck in his new venture.
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That leaves an assistant coaching job open. Who will fill it? In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll go back about a year to show that there might have been – at least at one time – mutual interest that connects former NHL head coach Bruce Boudreau to the Maple Leafs.
Bruce Boudreau’s Name Enters as a Replacement for Dave Hakstol
Earlier this week in an article on Yahoo Sports, hockey commentator Thomas Williams brought up Bruce Boudreau’s name as a possible replacement for Dave Hakstol on Maple Leafs’ staff. He suggested that Maple Leafs’ fans were desperate for Boudreau to replace Hakstol. Perhaps that’s true, although I haven’t seen the kind of desperation Williams has spoken about come up in any discussion on The Hockey Writers.
Still, given that a coaching spot seems to be open, it’s a good practice to explore who might be available, what they have to offer, and if they’d be a good fit with the team. I know Boudreau a bit from watching him as a head coach with the Washington Capitals and the Anaheim Ducks, and I have watched a few locker room “speeches” of him working to motivate his players.
He’s a fiery, old-school sort of coach who speaks his mind and will get into the faces of his players. Would that style work with this team? There seems to be a Mike Babcock element to his nature, although he’s a much more entertaining interview than Babcock. I’ve enjoyed his insights on a variety of radio hockey talk shows.
Boudreau’s First Name Came Up About a Year Ago
Boudreau is an interesting candidate whose resume brings a history of head-coaching success. I first heard the rumor of Boudreau potentially coming to the Maple Leafs about a year or so. When Paul McFarland left after the 2019-20 season, on Aug. 11, 2020, Elliotte Friedman noted on his 31 Thoughts:
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“The Maple Leafs have an opening on their coaching staff, as power play specialist Paul McFarland heads to OHL Kingston. Out-of-the-box thought: Bruce Boudreau. He will want to be a head coach, first and foremost. That’s what he is. However, he’s always had a fascination with the team he grew up watching and played for.”
Shortly after Friedman’s post, The Athletic’s James Mirtle added more fuel to the rumor when he wrote:
“The Leafs asked the Minnesota Wild for permission to talk to Boudreau at some point in the past few months. No formal interview has taken place, but the news got back to the 65-year-old coach fairly quickly. Those close to Boudreau say he is intrigued by the idea. The Leafs declined comment.” (from “Why Bruce Boudreau is a candidate to join the Maple Leafs coaching staff, James Mirtle, The Athletic, 19/08/20).
We have a sense that there was mutual interest about a year ago. Does it still exist?
Boudreau’s Far from a Perfect Fit into Hakstol’s Old Job
Hakstol’s job with the team was as an assistant who coached the Maple Leafs’ defense and penalty kill. However, that’s not Boudreau’s strength. Williams’ article suggested that Boudreau wouldn’t come as a replacement to run the defense; instead, he offered that perhaps Keefe might move Manny Malhotra from offense to defense, make him the penalty-kill coach, and install Boudreau to run the team’s offense and focus on the power play.
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There’s some logic there because the power play needs to become more consistent and potent. Good offenses are Boudreau’s modus operandi. Over the years, his teams have focused more on putting points on the board more than keeping pucks out of the net.
Boudreau’s Teams Have Never Had a Regular-Season Losing Record
Interestingly, Boudreau’s never been an NHL assistant coach. At the NHL level, he’s always been a head coach. Before last season, Boudreau was a head coach in the NHL for 13 consecutive seasons and three different teams. His first team was the Washington Capitals and his last team was the Minnesota Wild.
In his five seasons with the Capitals, his five seasons with the Ducks, and his four seasons with the Minnesota Wild, he never had a losing record as a head coach. Of the 984 games he coached, his team won 567 of them. That puts him in 22nd place for wins in NHL history.
Furthermore, he’s only missed the playoffs twice in his coaching career. But that’s where it gets frustrating and where Boudreau’s record falls short. Like the Maple Leafs, Boudreau’s teams have experienced regular-season success and postseason frustration. His postseason record is 43-47. Ten times in his 11 seasons as a coach his teams made the Stanley Cup playoffs; however, six times his team couldn’t make it past the first round. Still, that’s an improvement on the Maple Leafs.
Boudreau Might Be a Fit with the Maple Leafs’ Talent
Boudreau’s success as a head coach has been with high-tempo offenses that have relied on creative star players (Alex Ovechkin, for example). That seems to match the Maple Leafs’ roster and talent level. Those are the kinds of players Boudreau’s had success with.
Boudreau also has a Maple Leafs connection. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was a depth player and played over 100 games for the Maple Leafs. His two best seasons were 1977-78, when he played 40 games and scored 11 goals and 18 assists (for 39 points), and 1980-81, when he played 39 games and scored 10 goals and 14 assists (for 24 points).
Is Boudreau Interested in Coming to the Maple Leafs?
It also sounds as if Boudreau wants to work with the Maple Leafs. As Mirtle discovered during the offseason prior to 2020-21, Boudreau expressed some interest. Because Toronto is his hometown team, he’s also a Maple Leafs’ fan. Obviously, many Maple Leafs’ fans believe that, putting two and two together, that means Boudreau might soon be hired as a Sheldon Keefe assistant. Maybe, maybe not.
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Because there are no salary-cap implications on hiring coaches and a deal could be done regardless of the Kraken expansion draft, the answer to this question of mutual interest might be answered soon. Having Boudreau around the team could be fun and he’d sure bring a different look to the bench and probably the locker room.
This decision might be interesting.