When faced with the option of a contract expiring next spring or leaving for a multi-year deal, Scott Bell opted for longer job security.

Bell, a Gophers assistant men’s hockey coach last season and former team captain, has left the program to join the scouting staff of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Bell was retained as an assistant when new head coach Bob Motzko was hired to replace Don Lucia in late March, but Bell’s contract with the Gophers ran only through the 2018-19 season.

“There was a lot of uncertainty with Bob coming in, and he never expressed to me that I’d be there going forward,’’ said Bell, 47. “NHL teams found that out, and I had a few teams show some interest.

“I was planning on staying with the Gophers and fulfilling my contract, and then Toronto came back at me with an excellent offer. It was like, ‘Well, I can go on a multi-year contract or stay on a multi-month contract.’ It was a difficult decision because I love the university.’’

Before joining the Gophers for the 2017-18 season, Bell, a two-year Minnesota captain in the mid-1990s, spent the previous five years as a scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was instrumental in the Penguins drafting Jake Guentzel, who scored a combined 23 goals in the past two playoff seasons.

Bell said he’ll have a bigger role with Toronto than he had with Pittsburgh. He will remain based in Minnesota.

“I’ll probably have more responsibility with the top 60 draft list, probably have more of an expanded role,’’ he said.

The interest in Bell from NHL didn't catch Motzko off-guard.

"It's not a surprise that he had a handful of teams coming after him,'' Motzko said. "He was an excellent scout for Pittsburgh, and he's a big-time recruiter. It's a great opportunity for him, and obviously we wish him the best.'' 

Bell’s departure creates an opening on Motzko’s staff. The new coach didn’t retain associate head coach Mike Guentzel, who like Bell interviewed for the Gophers head coaching job. Motzko filled one assistant job with his former St. Cloud State assistant Garrett Raboin. Motzko said he'll take his time in filling the position.

"We're sure not in a hurry today, but also we've got one month before the start of school,'' Motzko said. "I haven't reached out to a single soul yet, and I want to take a little time on this and gather all our thoughts before moving forward. ... I believe there are a lot of great candidates we can get for this job.''