Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Experiment With New Strategies?

The structure of a professional hockey line-up hasn’t changed in 100 years, but is it time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to get creative and try something new?

In an article with The Toronto Star earlier week, Jack Han brought up an interesting idea that would see the Toronto Maple Leafs playing two forwards and three defenseman.

The traditional system is three forwards and two defenseman, but is that necessarily the best plan of attack? This wouldn’t be the first time a team has tried something new. Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 system still included three forwards and two defenseman, but it created a defensive trap that shocked the hockey world.

Boucher made the decision that trapping the neutral zone would be a perfect plan to stop the opposition. And, it actually worked. It may have been the most boring hockey in the history of the sport, but they were actually pretty successful at it. The NHL wouldn’t want to use it as their marketing campaign, but Boucher’s team got a few wins that way.

Although the idea of playing two forwards and three defenseman sounds outlandish when you hear it, a part of me really wants to see it. When you look at how the Toronto Maple Leafs team is constructed, two of their forwards can create as much offense as a typical trio would on another team. The team has been one of the worst in goals against over the past few seasons, so maybe a 2F-3D system could work.

The person behind this logic is Jack Han, who previously worked for the Toronto Marlies as an assistant coach. Although Han hasn’t talked to Sheldon Keefe about this system, he mentioned that he “may be be inclined to try such a strategy in the coming season.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs have more than enough mobile defensemen that rolling out three defensemen wouldn’t actually hurt them, in fact there are many younger hockey people who feel that the traditional positional set ups of a hockey team are outdated.

What Is the Point of This Strategy?

In the article, Han says that “…progressive coaches came to realize they were better off putting more players in the middle and the back of the attack to control play.”  The strategy is building off the idea that puck possession and transition are foundational elements to successful hockey.

The concept is fairly simple: with players hanging back, it allows you more options for quick, short passes for breakouts, and protects you when you rush the puck.  The idea is that, in a traditional structure, the third forward is a little bit superfluous in many situations anyways and that their may be more utility to having him positioned at the back end.

Han notes that most teams can’t pull this off because they don’t have enough “mobile, skilled, imaginative defensemen” available.   The Leafs have a bunch of them, and if they wanted to use such a system, there is nothing to stop them from using forwards who fit that bill on the back end either.  If you’re going to alter the structure of the game, why be held back by traditional positional allocations?

Ideas like this are very popular right now on the periphery of the NHL, and eventually they will bleed into the pro game.  The Leafs have a young coach and GM who are very progressive in a traditionally conservative game. It wouldn’t be a shock to see something like this implemented, at least occasionally.

Overall, I wouldn’t be opposed to the team trying this out to see if it works. If it turns out that it does, then I’m all for it.  The offense is going to score no matter how many forwards are on the ice, so I’m game to see anything that makes the team better, even if it sounds crazy.