Toronto Maple Leafs and the (Dreaded) Stretch Pass

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 29: Nikita Zaitsev #22 of the Toronto Maple Leafs battles with Sean Monahan #23 of the Calgary Flames during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 29, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 29: Nikita Zaitsev #22 of the Toronto Maple Leafs battles with Sean Monahan #23 of the Calgary Flames during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 29, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night.

The loss brought the Toronto Maple Leafs season to an end.

One of the most frustrating parts of the Leafs losing is that they almost won, despite doing several things that contributed to their loss, which suggests that even if they never become perfect, they can improve a lot just by cutting down on some of their worst habits, tendencies or problems.

Examples of these include, but are not limited to: playing Patrick Marleau for a preposterous amount of ice time, including with the goalie out; pulling the goalie without possession and at inopportune times; the annual Kadri playoff suspension, and the continued deployment of Ron Hainsey on the top pairing.

All of these things are idiotic, but today I’d like to talk about the stretch pass.

Bad Strategy

The stretch pass is a risky play that can lead to breakaways and odd man rushes.  Unfortunately, it is a play that doesn’t work often enough to justify using it as much as the Toronto Maple Leafs do.

Now, let me acknowledge that I could be experiencing confirmation bias here. I didn’t track how much the Leafs used this play, and so maybe they used it less or were more successful than I think they were.

But it seemed in game seven that they tried it a lot. As it did for most of the season.

Last night, the two occasions in which it sort of worked, the Leafs went offside.

The problem with this play is that if it doesn’t work, you either turn the puck over or ice it.  Both are bad. Either way, you’ve blown a chance at having puck possession.

And that happens over, and over, and over.

Making it twice as frustrating – at least – is the fact that the Leafs are filled with fast skating, slick forwards, and puck moving defenseman.  There is no reason that they can’t (or couldn’t, as the case may now be) adjust their breakouts so that they utilize the skating ability of their team.

Skate the puck out or make some short passes, and then carry it though the neutral zone and skate it in.

There is no one size fits all breakout or breakin move – but a combination of short passes and carrying the puck is optimum.

The Leafs go for too many long passes.  They dump the puck in too much.  Given their talent level, it is bad strategy.  There is no need for the Leafs to be playing a high-risk, high-reward strategy when they are the best skating team in almost all their games.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a team that is run by a guy known for, among other things, giving talks at analytics conferences.  It is almost a certainty that Kyle Dubas would prefer his team break the puck out in a way that is proven to be successful.

The Toronto Maple Leafs Top 10 Prospects. dark. Next

Why the coach of his team isn’t on this page is a mystery, and it’s partly why the Leafs lost last night.  I think Babcock brings some good to go with the bad, and I think that if he and Dubas can get on the same page that the Leafs should keep him.

But the stretch passes gotta go.