Photo by: Brenden Cowan
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been experimenting with a unique lineup in recent games, playing with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. While this may seem like a creative strategy by head coach Sheldon Keefe, there are several reasons why this experiment may not be the best option for the Leafs moving forward.
First and foremost, playing with only 11 forwards limits the team’s offensive capabilities. The Leafs are known for their high-powered offence with players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares leading the way. However, with one less forward on the bench, it becomes more difficult to get accustomed to linemates, thus leading to fewer scoring chances.
Playing with only 11 forwards means that players will have to take on more ice time, which could lead to fatigue and an eventual injury — the last thing that the Leafs need heading into playoffs.
On the defensive side of the ice, having seven defensemen can create a logjam and disrupt the team’s defensive system. While it may seem like having an extra defenseman would benefit the team, the Maple Leafs’ top 6 defensemen are not that of four to five years ago.
With the likes of Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Jake McCabe, Timothy Liljegren, Mark Giordano and Luke Schenn taking up the top six, there is no reason for mediocre defensemen like Justin Holl, Fillip Gustafson or Connor Timmins to be in the lineup –especially come playoff time.
The success of other teams, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have won two Stanley Cups in the past three seasons, may be the main reason that head coach Sheldon Keefe is trying to implement the 11 and 7 lineup.
Though the success of a strategy on one team should not be the reason to use it on another. It all depends on the talent you are putting out on the ice, and in the Maple Leafs case, their twelfth and thirteenth forwards are bound to have a bigger impact than their seventh or eighth defenceman.
To top it all off, the Maple Leafs are currently 2-7-2 in the 11 games that they have used the strategy this season, begging the question: what does Sheldon Keefe see that we don’t?