In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share the news of a new coach hiring in Manny Malhotra, look at some insider scoop from St. Louis Blues hockey commentator Darren Pang about Alex Pietrangelo, and share some insights from hockey insider Darren Dreger that might shed some light on recent Frederik Andersen trade rumors.
Item One: Manny Malhotra Named Assistant Coach
The Maple Leafs announced yesterday that the organization has hired Manny Malhotra as an assistant coach. He’s most recently been working with the Vancouver Canucks but will leave that job to accept the Maple Leafs position.
First, thanks to the Canucks’ organization. Although it’s standard NHL practice to allow a coaching hire to speak with another team and accept an upgraded position with that other team, the Canucks organization showed class and probably are also celebrating with Malhotra about his promotion. With the Canucks, Malhotra was an “eye-in-the-sky,” but he’ll be working the bench beside Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Both Keefe and Malhotra thanked the Canucks organization. Keefe noted: “On behalf of the Leafs, I’d like to thank Travis Green, Jim Benning, and the Canucks organization for the opportunity to speak with Manny.”
Malhotra also expressed gratitude to the Canucks: “I’m very grateful to the Canucks organization for the opportunity given to me to start my coaching career. It was truly a great experience to learn from Travis Green and the rest of his staff. I’m now very excited for this opportunity with the Leafs moving forward – to be working with Sheldon, his staff and this young, talented team.”
Malhotra is one of those journeymen players who will likely make a good coach. He’s well-traveled, playing more than 1,000 games for seven different NHL teams during his career. He retired after playing his last NHL game with the Montreal Canadiens during the 2014-15 season.
During his injury-shortened career, he had the reputation of being a faceoff specialist and a defensive center. That could be one reason that the Canucks were the second-ranked NHL team in faceoff percentage (54%) during the 2019-20 season. (By the way, the Maple Leafs had the third-best percentage at 52.5%.) Malhotra was reported to be well-liked by Canucks players.
By accepting the job with the Maple Leafs, he’s coming home, having grown up in the Toronto area (Mississauga). Malhotra’s hiring likely means the end of Bruce Boudreau’s name being connected to the Maple Leafs. Although Boudreau has great experience, he seems more of a fit with former Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello than with the current management team of general manager Dubas and head coach Keefe.
Item Two: Alex Pietrangelo: Insights from an Insider
Four days ago (Sept. 14), Darren Pang was interviewed on TSN1050 radio and offered insights about Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Currently, Pang is an “Inside the Glass” reporter for the Blues and a part-time Sportsnet and NHL Network analyst. Pang has also been a color commentator for the St. Louis television broadcasts. My point is he knows lots about the Blues.
During his interview on “Leafs Lunch,” Pang provided his “feel” for what was happening with Pietrangelo’s negotiations with the Blues’ organization. Reading the text of what Pang said reveals a number of insights.
Point #1: The negotiations are quiet and fans shouldn’t expect to hear anything before it happens. Pang noted that the negotiations were as “discreet” as he’s seen in a while. Specifically, Pietrangelo isn’t talking. In fact when Pang spoke with him about his contract, Pietrangelo would “look at me and go pretty quiet.”
Point #2: Everyone just assumes Pietrangelo will take a “hometown discount” because his wife and family are from here and he owns two homes in the area. This isn’t news, because we know he has ties with the community. He clearly wants to stay in St. Louis. Still, as Pang’s next point suggests:
Point #3: Pietrangelo is a keen businessman. He’s pragmatic and makes rational and not emotional decisions. From a business perspective, “Pietrangelo is even-keeled. He takes the emotion out of it.” Negotiating a contract is simply doing business.
Point #4: Pietrangelo wants to stay in St. Louis, but Pang isn’t “sure if the dollar figures and the economy works for him.” He believes Pietrangelo won’t fold much on what market value for his services.
Point #5: Pietrangelo had a great 2019-20 season, one Pang believes was his best. He shared that Pietrangelo’s a really good player who’s getting better. In addition, Pang finished his interview by noting that Pietrangelo “is a great person.”
In general, Pang said was that, should Pietrangelo land with the Maple Leafs, the team would be getting a fine player, leader, and person.
Item Three: Darren Dreger Gives Insights about Frederik Andersen Trade Rumors
On Sept. 15, Darren Dreger was interviewed on Leafs Lunch and spoke about, among other topics, whether the Maple Leafs might be a potential fit for Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury. However, his comments about Fleury were less interesting than what he said about the Frederik Andersen trade rumors.
Dreger doubted Fleury would be a fit with the Maple Leafs, although he admitted he hadn’t spoken with Dubas about it specifically. He lauded the Vegas goalie but added a note about Andersen: “Aside from the resume with Marc-Andre Fleury — which we all know is highly decorated — you have to look into the future, and you have to look at the position. I don’t know that Frederik Andersen isn’t [the future].”
Dreger went on: “[The media] hasn’t made this stuff up. The Toronto Maple Leafs — play the game of semantics — are maybe not shopping Freddy, but they are certainly willing to consider what they perceive to be an upgrade in the position of goal. Is that Fleury because of his resume or is that Matt Murray because of his resume and he’s younger and you’ve got a relationship with him? I am not sure. But I am sure of the level of respect the Leafs organization has for Frederik Andersen. This isn’t simply Toronto trying to unload Freddy.”
His final take was: “If there is a deal to be made for Frederik Andersen, it has to be a good hockey deal — a deal that helps them out and gives them the freedom to take a harder look at Murray or someone else.”
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
One current Maple Leafs player I’m curious about is Kyle Clifford. I thought he added something different and needed to the team, and during the Columbus Blue Jackets play-in series a case could be made that the Clifford-Jason Spezza-Pierre Engvall fourth line was the team’s second best.
However, even if the Maple Leafs wanted to re-sign Clifford, the money and conditional draft choice the team has to give up to the Los Angeles Kings as part of the trade compensation might militate against it. I’m thinking Dubas will allow the Stanley Cup Final to finish, enact his free-agency plan, and see what’s left after those ice chips melt.
The next month will likely be busy.