Here’s the backstory – and almost every Toronto Maple Leafs fan knows it. The Maple Leafs defense has been in need of major improvement for several seasons. For the past two seasons, it was pretty much in shambles. This season one of the organization’s priorities was to right that issue, and general manager Kyle Dubas did a couple of things.
First, he went out and signed T.J. Brodie, who had just become a UFA after playing with the Calgary Flames. Second, he also signed Zach Bogosian, who also was a UFA and had been part of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s recent Stanley Cup championships. Third, KHL’s best defenseman from last season Mikko Lehtonen is arriving in town soon to compete for a job.
So, did those moves improve the Maple Leafs defense? That’s a rhetorical question, but there have been a number of conversations taken about the team that suggest that – at least within the organization – there’s a mutual feeling that the defense is vastly improved. On Saturday, Maple Leafs fans got a sample of how much the feeling about the defense has been reshaped by these moves.
Has the Maple Leafs Defense Become a Strength of the Team?
A number of stories and insights have emerged from Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas’ shared insights at Toronto’s annual Coaches Open House on Saturday. One was that Dubas believes the Maple Leafs could use seven blueliners at times during games in 2020-21.
On Saturday, Dubas noted: “The depth of our D would lend itself to this and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us use it from time to time.”
Dubas mentioned that Zach Bogosian’s unique penalty killing abilities and Mikko Lehtonen’s power-play skills could help the team make these decisions; and, obviously, the final arbiter in implementing any decisions would be coach Sheldon Keefe.
However, even the conversation comes from somewhere. I can only guess it’s a general feeling that the defense is strong enough and versatile enough to pull this off.
Speaking of Bogosian, he was with the Lightning who dressed seven defencemen at times during their championship run this summer, so he has a clue about what Dubas is speaking about. Clearly, the Maple Leafs general manager wouldn’t even bring up the idea unless he believed that alignment might work well for his club.
As Dubas told those who attended the team’s annual Coaches Open House on Saturday, “The depth of our D would lend itself to this and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us use it from time to time.”
Dressing seven defensemen in games could also provide Toronto’s star forwards with more ice time during even-strength situations because they wouldn’t have to worry about their defense as much.
The Idea About Playing Three Defensemen at the Same Time Isn’t New, Actually
In early November, the Toronto Star’s sportswriter Dave Feschuk wrote about the possibility of Maple Leafs employing a two forward/three defensemen (2F3D) lineup at times during the season. Prior to writing that article, Feschuk had interviewed former Toronto Marlies assistant coach Jack Han about the idea of using this different on-ice tactic. (from “What if the Maple Leafs experimented with three defencemen and two forwards? It’s worth a shot,” Dave Feschuk, Toronto Star, 07/11/20).
Han believes that sometime next season, Maple Leafs head coach Keefe will employ the tactic of using two forwards with three defensemen – the 2F3D strategy. Han told Feschuk that he hadn’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.”
Han’s logic and his reason for using 2F3D is that, when teams keep their third man back on the forecheck, it limits the number of problems that could happen. However, not all teams and coaches would choose to utilize this strategy.
Han admitted that most teams wouldn’t use a 2F3D “because there’s not enough good, mobile, skilled, imaginative defencemen — or backs — available to fill those spots. You’re always going to leave talent on the table if you dress more defencemen than forwards, because growing up the best players play forward, generally speaking.”
The Maple Leafs have just that – a top-heavy forward roster. However, next season’s roster has such an improved and a revamped defense that includes players who are more mobile and who have good hockey sense. As a result, if a game dictates a 2F3D lineup, there’s a chance that Keefe will utilize it.
What Does this Conversation Suggest About the Team?
Perhaps the Maple Leafs won’t ever utilize this tactic during a game; however, even the conversation suggests how much improved the organization believes its defense now is compared to last season or even the season before.
The upside of Dubas’ conversation on Saturday and Feschuk’s article earlier in November is that the organization believes that the team’s defense has improved – significantly. That’s certainly different than not that long ago, and it’s a good omen for Maple Leafs fans who are hungry for more success.
/ 1 day ago
Reports are Adam Larsson is close on a three or four-year extension with the...
/ 2 days ago
TSN's Darren Dreger notes that Edmonton Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie is likely to test...
/ 3 days ago
Kevyn Adams didn’t seem angry, but he did seem a bit annoyed that there...
/ 3 days ago
After John Davidson and Jeff Gorton were fired by New York Rangers owner David...
/ 5 days ago
The Edmonton Oilers are making ground on a four-year extension with defenseman Adam Larsson.
/ 6 days ago
As per reports by multiple sources, John Tortorella has agreed to leave the Columbus...
/ 1 week ago
George Parros says he doesn't want the gig as head of NHL Department of...
/ 1 week ago
Tom Wilson spoke to the media this week and said he's surprised this incident...
/ 1 week ago
After landing a huge television rights deal with the NHL, ESPN wants Hall of...