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Expect Maple Leafs To Try Curious 5-on-5 Strategy Next Season

A former Marlies assistant coach believes the Toronto Maple Leafs will try and interesting line strategy during the 2020/21 NHL season.

Maple Leafs win in OT of Game 4

On the power play, head coaches do some interesting things that statistically give the team a better chance to score. Typically, it’s deploying a forward on the blue line. The reasoning often that that roster is up one man and more skill on the man advantage and possession equates to better results. In the NHL, you might also hear about coaches going with intriguing line combinations in 3-on-3 overtime. But, you don’t often hear about NHL teams trying to go the other way, sacrificing some of the team’s best offensive weapons in 5-on-5 play.

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Specifically, you don’t often hear about an NHL coach who removes a forward off the 5-on-5 roster for a defenseman. You especially wouldn’t expect it on a team that has some of the best forwards in the league and not the best blue line. Yet, it sounds like the Toronto Maple Leafs might be considering such a maneuver this coming season.

Leafs to Run Two Forwards and Three Defensemen?

Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star spoke with Jack Han, a former assistant coach for the AHL Marlies and Han believes the Maple Leafs might try running with two forwards and three defensemen during regular 5-v-5 play at times this coming season. It’s an intriguing idea for a couple of reasons. First, because the Leafs are so incredibly skilled at the forward position that it sounds odd to pull a forward off the ice if you don’t have to. Second, because there’s a potential knock that the blue line is not the Maple Leafs’ strength.

NHL Rumors and News: Maple Leafs
NHL Rumors and News: Maple Leafs

Still, Feschuk writes, “Han is of the belief that Keefe, with whom Han worked on the Marlies, may be inclined to try such a strategy in the coming season.” He added, “I haven’t talked to Sheldon (since writing about the concept) but I would say the likelihood is pretty high. I think you’ll see some of that.”

The idea would be to keep a third man high on the forecheck and have three players back, limiting rushes against. It’s not a great strategy for most teams if they don’t have mobile defensemen, but the Maple Leafs believe they do have the right mix, especially when it comes to young prospects who are moving up in the system nicely.

So too, because the Maple Leafs often deploy forward pairs — Auston Matthews with William Nylander and John Tavares with Mitch Marner — the third forward on each line is less important and a defenseman could fill in that spot, often at a much less expensive price point.

Will This Help the Maple Leafs?

Han argues that this could be good for the Leafs, even if they don’t roll their lines this way all that often. He contends, “They’re heavy up top, and they have a lot of Ds who are OK but need a little help.” He adds, “It’s a configuration that can help them.”

At the same time, Han argued the Maple Leafs can find some cap efficiency if they believe this approach will work for them. GM Kyle Dubas can insulate his defense, spend less money on pricy forwards and, who knows, maybe eventually move a top-six who’s making the big bucks for additional blue line help.

Again, Han says don’t expect this to be a regular thing. But, perhaps Sheldon Keefe to toy with the idea a bit.

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