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Maple Leafs Taking a Risk With Their New Power Play Mix

The Toronto Maple Leafs are splitting up their power play to offer different looks. Is it a good idea considering stats show staking it works?

Joe Thornton Maple Leafs

It’s one thing to change your top line and test the theory that an aging player like Joe Thornton can bring even more, if not the best out of high-end talents like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. It’s another thing to try to fix what isn’t broken. At least, that’s the feeling some are getting out of Toronto Maple Leafs camp as head coach Sheldon Keefe shuffles around the power play units.

Related: Maple Leafs John Tavares Is Poised to Have His Best Season Ever

Under Keefe, the Leafs had a 26.5 percent success rate on the man advantage last season. The numbers haven’t looked that good in years. So why make a change? Why alter a dominant power play when you don’t necessarily have to?

The answer is that Keefe would like to have two strong units going on any given night. As per Chris Johnston, the team has taken John Tavares and William Nylander off that top unit and replaced them with Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds. The hope is that spreading the talent out means the gains made on the second unit more than outweigh any drop off from the first unit.

On paper, it’s an idea that should theoretically work. Only, history of the most successful power plays in the NHL show that it doesn’t.

Why This Might Not Work for the Leafs as Expected

Outside of the initial reaction from some in Leafs Nation that taking Tavares and Nylander off the first unit is a crime, it’s fair to argue that over the course of their long careers, Simmonds and Thornton have been pretty good power play specialists. That is, until last season when their respective numbers dropped dramatically.

It’s clear that Thornton and Simmonds should see a bump in their totals playing with better players. That said, how much of a bump are we talking about here? Is it enough to warrant taking off two players — Tavares and Nylander — who absolutely deserve to get the bulk of the minutes?

Good NHL Power Plays Stack Their Top Unit

The other argument against all of this is that the NHL’s best power plays last season all belonged to teams who stacked their top units. The Edmonton Oilers ran Connor McDavid with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, while the Boston Bruins loaded theirs up with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. St. Louis, Vancouver and Tampa Bay all took the same approach and all of these teams finished in the top five.

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Toronto, who also stacked their top unit finished sixth. What will a power play that has been divided up do?

Essentially, what this means is that the Leafs are taking a proven formula for success and going against the norm. They’re taking the opposite approach to what tends to work.

This could work. The stats just don’t seem to back up the theory that it will. The good news, is that if it doesn’t, the Leafs can go back to a top unit that some of the highest-end skill in the entire NHL. The only key here is not waiting too long. In a shortened season, every game that the power play doesn’t produce for the Leafs like they want it to is a day wasted.

Next: Oilers Make Roster Moves, Coach Talks Improving NHL’s Best Power Play

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