Maple Leafs caught replicating the Lightning’s blueprint

What? They are the defending Stanley Cup champions after all…


The Toronto Maple Leafs intend to mimic the Tampa Bay Lightning’s blueprint for the upcoming season, using their strategic and intermittent use of seven defensemen and 11 forwards.

And general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe aren’t even ashamed of revealing they are using Lightning head coach Jon Cooper’s strategy, stating how much they admire his approach. Dubas revealed that much while speaking to attendees at a virtual Coaches Open House in late November, and the Leafs intent to see if they can use that same 7-11 split to wear down opponents with an enhanced offensive attack.

“I think it does a couple things,” Dubas said of deploying seven defensemen to TSN’s Kristen Shilton. “Number one, it creates a real difficult matchup up front, because you’re either going to be really running your top three lines a lot or when your fourth line comes back again, you’re going to have a member of the first line back on that fourth line, so it’s going to make it a little more potent. In our case, that’s [adding] Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander [back in]. We think the depth of our D really lends itself to this [as well], and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us use it from time to time during the season.”

Dubas and Keefe have been thinking about using Cooper’s approach for a while, after speaking with the then-head coach for the Norfolk Admirals about a 7-11 look came ahead of the Marlies’ Eastern Conference Final in 2016 appearance against Hershey.

With the latest moves on the Leafs’ back end, adding free agents T.J. Brodie (four years, $20 million) from Calgary and Zach Bogosian (one year, $1 million) from the Lightning to his roster, Dubas is more than focused on shifting his team’s strategy to become a top contender. The strategy was used a few times last season, off an on, here and there, but could become the ultimate approach for 2020-21. 

We will see if it will be as successful for the Maple Leafs as it has been for the defending Stanley Cup champions.