Mike Babcock may be the new man leading the bench in Toronto, but the head coach can’t do it all on his own. As such, the focus has shifted to his assistants, and from the looks of it, the Leafs have added one one of Babcock’s previous assistants in Jim Hiller.
Unlike Babcock, Hiller was a relatively new addition to the Red Wings organization, joining them at the start of last season. Prior to that, he spent over a decade coaching in the junior ranks. Hiller started off as an assistant with the Tri-City Americans in 2002/03, and had that role for two seasons before heading to the BCHL’s Alberni Valley to begin his time as a head coach. He was back in major-junior within, a year, however, as he took the reigns of the Chilliwack Bruins in 2006/07.
The Bruins weren’t a particularly successful team in Hiller’s three years coaching them, but it was sitll enough to send the expansion team to the playoffs twice and regain the eyes of the Americans. He became Tri-City’s head coach in 2009/10, made the WHL Finals in his first year, and made the playoffs in all five seasons. After that, he took the Red Wings gig as an assistant.
It’s not a surprise that Babcock wanted to bring at least one person with him that he had a sense of familiarity with. He’s also somebody that brings with him an area of expertise; the powerplay.
While Hiller was never an offensive dynamo as a player (peaking at 31 goals in college and scoring just eight times in the NHL), he has a knack for making things happen as a coach. Tri-City ranked in the top three with a man advantage in three of Hiller’s five years with the team, and he brought the Bruins to third in the WHL in just their second year of existence. In Detroit, the Red Wings went from a ranking of 18th to a ranking of 2nd in the NHL under Hiller, using a high-volume, net-front philosophy that lead to a 23.8% conversion rate.
Depending on which players in the current group stay, that can be easily replicated in Toronto. They have players like Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf that like to shoot, and guys like James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul who cause havoc in front of the net. If you throw a few of the others into the mix and get them to buy into a system, it’s not unrealistic to think that this team could crawl back up from their 26th-placed powerplay of last year. Presumably, this would help the team finish a heck of a lot higher than 27th overall.
According to a radio hit by TSN’s Bob McKenzie fellow Red Wings assistant Andrew Brewer might also join Hiller in Toronto, though we’re still at the speculation stage at this time. Brewer also joined the Red Wings last summer.