Friday Mashup: The Swarm & Coaching Duties

Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

In our interview with Steve Spott yesterday, we found out what the individual assignments of the new assistants on the coaching staff will be — Spott will be running the powerplay, Peter Horachek the penalty kill and defence pairings.

Steve Spott is unlikely to change anything drastic on the powerplay in terms of system (1-3-1) or personnel — Kessel on the half wall, JvR in front, Bozak roving the slot on PP1 — but it will be interesting to see if Cody Franson and Dion Phaneuf remain paired together or if the Leafs accompany each of those shooters with puck rushers and handlers in Rielly and Gardiner, who can provide a strong skating and puck carrying presence to help gain the zone effectively — despite its sixth overall finish in terms of overall conversion efficiency, the late season struggles did not exclude the powerplay, which slowed down and began conceding an alarming number of scoring chances against. There’s also a question of who plays with Kadri and Lupul on unit two, where there are some options, but the coaching staff will probably — understandably – give Clarkson every chance to get his ‘rebound’ season started on the right foot with some PP time as the net presence on that unit.

Horachek has the two most interesting assignments going into the year, running the Leafs’ moribund penalty kill as well as deciding on what will likely be three all new pairings come opening night, with an emphasis on having the Leaf defencemen play their natural side of the ice.  While in Nashville, Horachek ran the defence; you could argue Nashville’s ability to draft and develop defencemen with success was the backbone of their team during his years there. Horacheck would have worked with Dan Hamhuis, Marek Zidlicky,  Ryan Suter, Shea Weber,  Cody Franson, Kevin Klein, more recently Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis in their path to becoming full time NHL professionals.  Seems logical he’d take on that assignment here.

The penalty kill is obviously going to be crucial if the Leafs are to shore up their goal against next season — there’s a whole new set of personnel available between Winnick (led the 13th-ranked Ducks in SHTOI/game with 2:31), Komarov, Robidas and Polak, along with a new coach in charge and what will likely be a systems alteration from what the Leafs were using last season. Other options here will be Tyler Bozak, James Van Riemsdyk, and newcomer Mike Santorelli, who played around 1:28 for the Canucks on the penalty kill last season. Implementing a neutral zone system that helps prevent such easy zone entries and set ups is going to be crucial here.

We also learned the defensive zone swarm is staying, with some modifications. The thing with the swarm is that it is so easily turned into a chicken-with-its-head-cut-off exercise once one thing goes wrong. Hopefully the modifications Spott is speaking of include not reflexively collapsing so low in the defensive zone down by the goalline. If teams are putting pucks behind and testing the Leafs defence — as they made a point of last season — and the Leafs aren’t coming out on the right end of those battles often enough, the opposition works the puck low to high and creates the shooting gallery while the Leafs scramble around the defensive zone. The elimination of so many point shots was something Spott explicitly mentioned in yesterday’s interview. We’ll know pretty quick if the modifications are working for the better, as we became all too familiar with the frustrating sights of what the swarm looks like when battles are being lost and the swarm is not being executed at the right times in the right areas of the dzone — it ain’t pretty.


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Alec Brownscombe is the founder of, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-13 Maple Leafs Annual magazines. You can contact him at [email protected]