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Canucks coaching shuffle: Eye in the sky Manny Malhotra leaves club for Maple Leafs

Manny Malhotra worked with the Canucks’ centres and penalty-killing units, was lauded for his work with captain Bo Horvat.
Manny Malhotra worked with the Canucks’ centres and penalty-killing units, was lauded for his work with captain Bo Horvat.

Manny Malhotra has changed benches.

After three seasons as one of Travis Green’s assistant coaches, the former NHL centre has joined the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs announced Thursday that the 40-year-old Malhotra was hired to replace Paul McFarland as one of Sheldon Keefe’s assistants. McFarland was hired by the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs last month to be their new general manager.

“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,” Malhotra said in a statement released by his new team. “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, who was an assistant coach in Vancouver for one season before teaming up with Green, was the eye in the sky for the bench boss, watching games from high above. He also worked closely with the team’s centres and penalty-killing units.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning said a few teams had asked to speak with Malhotra and that the Leafs presented an opportunity to move on.

“I thought he did a good job working with our young players,” Benning said Thursday. “We’re happy for Manny. He gets a chance to keep working his way up the coaching ladder. Being on the bench was the next step. It’s a feather in the cap for Travis.”

Benning said the long-term plan is to hire a new assistant coach and that they’d start looking at candidates to interview but that the process would be methodical.

Green said he was sad to see his friend go but happy he was getting a bigger opportunity.

“When someone gets promoted to a bigger role, you have to be happy for them. That’s also part of the game. He’s a good friend of mine. I really want the best for him,” Green said. “You never like to lose good people on your staff, but you also want the most for the people on your staff.

“First and foremost Manny is caring. Strong character, strong belief, strong worker, passionate about the team, passionate about winning. Passionate about learning. I think he’s got a chance to be a really good coach in the league. Could be a head coach if that’s a path he wants to follow. I think he’ll have success in whatever he does.”

The Canucks boasted some of the league’s most dominant faceoff men, winning 54 per cent of their draws in 2019-20, second best in the NHL. (Incidentally, the Leafs were the league’s third-best team at winning faceoffs.)

In a session with media Thursday via Zoom, Canucks winger Brock Boeser said he was happy for his coach to get a promotion, even if it now made him a rival.

“Manny’s such an awesome guy. He really cares about each individual he works with on the ice,” Boeser said. Malhotra would take players aside during intermissions to give them feedback on plays he’d seen from high above.

“He really cares about you,” he said.

Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said he was ecstatic to add Malhotra to his staff.

“The work ethic, character, intelligence and attention to detail that made Manny the ultimate teammate when he played are all assets that have translated to his coaching. That, combined with his charisma and communication skills, make us really excited to have him join the organization,” Keefe said.

“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.”

Drafted in the first round (seventh overall) by the New York Rangers in the 1998 NHL entry draft, Malhotra played in the NHL for 16 years, including three with the Canucks, though the last season saw him play in only nine games before then-general manager Mike Gillis and his staff decided they weren’t comfortable watching Malhotra play with hampered vision any more. (A deflected puck struck him in the eye late in the 2010-11 regular season, causing lasting damage.)

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