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Next Coach for Maple Leafs Faces a Huge Offensive Challenge

For the Toronto Maple Leafs hope to go far next season in the playoffs, they need to play both offence and defence. Can they do so?

When the Toronto Maple Leaf’s new coach comes next season, whoever that might be, he’ll face one huge issue. How can the team combine offense and defense at the same time? That single issue could be the biggest problem he’ll have to overcome for this Maple Leafs team.

The team can play offensive hockey. And, as the postseason showed, it could also play defensive hockey. However, can they learn to play both at one time?

Related: What Shanahan Has Done Right as Maple Leafs President

Combining Offense and Defense Was Sheldon Keefe’s Biggest Issue

One of the persistent challenges facing the Maple Leafs during Sheldon Keefe’s tenure as coach was finding the balance between solid defensive play and offensive firepower. It often felt like a trade-off, where the team struggled to excel in both aspects simultaneously. A closer look at their recent regular seasons underscores this dilemma.

In the 2021-22 season, the Maple Leafs showed their offensive excellence by ranking second in goals scored with 312. However, their defensive performance lagged, as they ranked 14th in goals against, conceding 252 goals. The following 2022-23 season saw a reversal of fortunes, with the team improving defensively to become the second-best team in goals against, allowing only 220 goals. Yet, their offensive output dropped, landing them ninth in goals scored with 278. The inconsistency persisted in the 2023-24 season, where they once again excelled offensively but struggled defensively, finishing second in goals scored and 12th in goals against.

Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs

This pattern continued into this season’s playoffs, where the Maple Leafs struggled to generate consistent offense against the Boston Bruins. Scoring more than two goals in only one of the seven games, they faced a recurring challenge of maintaining offensive potency while tightening their defensive play.

The task ahead for the next coach of the Maple Leafs will be daunting yet crucial: finding a formula that allows the team to play responsible defensive hockey while generating enough offense to score more than two goals per game consistently.

The Maple Leafs Offensive Struggles on the Power Play

The Maple Leafs’ Achilles’ heel during the playoffs was their ineffectiveness on the power play. Despite fielding a lineup of offensive stars, including Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and William Nylander, the team converted just one out of 21 power play opportunities. Their 4.8% success rate was the lowest in the NHL playoffs, underscoring a glaring deficiency in their offensive strategy.

Compounding their power play struggles was the coaching staff’s failure to adapt successfully to the Bruins’ defense. Despite repeated failures, they stuck to a stagnant and predictable approach, resulting in excessive perimeter passing and a lack of shots on goal. This lack of creativity and adaptability stifled their offensive potential and allowed opponents to defend against them easily.

Contrasting the Maple Leafs’ struggles with the success of teams like the Edmonton Oilers highlights the importance of offensive fluidity and creativity. The Oilers boast the most efficient power play in the playoffs. In fact, their current success rate this postseason is an astounding power-play percentage of 46.7 in the 2024 playoffs.

TEAMPP%PK%
Edmonton Oilers46.787.5

As the table above shows, the Oilers can play both offense and defense. By contrast, the Maple Leafs’ static power play made it easier for opponents to neutralize their attacks.

If the Maple Leafs Expect to Experience Success, They’ll Have to Figure This Issue Out

Credit must be given to the Bruins for executing a disciplined defensive game plan that neutralized the Maple Leafs’ offensive threats. They frustrated the Maple Leafs’ offensive efforts throughout the series by forcing Toronto to the perimeter, blocking shots, and limiting high-quality scoring chances.

Addressing the Maple Leafs’ offensive struggles, particularly on the power play, will be essential for the team’s future success. Finding the right balance between defensive stability and offensive creativity will be critical as the team aims to overcome postseason obstacles and achieve its championship aspirations.

The team’s ability to strike this balance will define its fortunes in the seasons to come. It would seem they’ll likely spin their collective wheels unless this singular issue can be solved.

Related: Maple Leafs Coaching Change: Why a Cynic Should Doubt This New Direction

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Grant

    May 15, 2024 at 1:59 pm

    I think they have several issues but this is an important one. A core 4 top paid on team with such a similar skill set who lack other skills and will not get in front of the net, screen shots and battle for pucks to any decent degree means poor 5v5 production and even poorer 5v4. It is obviously not the proper top 4 and many of us have known so for 4+ years now! Add in their top defenseman being lousy at defense and having a weak point shot and it’s a disaster. Also add in having the lesser goalie by a significant margin each series for years now. It’s easy to know why they keep failing but seemingly difficult for Shanahan unfortunately.

  2. afp1961

    May 15, 2024 at 3:21 pm

    You have well documented why Keefe got fired (and should have been fired 3-4 year ago). Whe you cannot get that group of talent to have a top five PP you have major problems. Ditto with the PK. New coach will have loads of issues to deal with. Hope its Quenneville and if not BrindAmour. They will get this group going by creating internal competition rather than entitlement.

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