The Leafs made a hire I liked. Crazy, I know!


I wasn’t able to get to it on the weekend, but I’d like to expand on a few tweets I made after the Leafs hired Peter Horachek as an assistant coach. I really like the hire. Horachek was a coach who got certain results in Florida (huh? you might ask) that I don’t think a lot of coaches would.

I don’t know too much about Horachek’s system, or what have you. I could really care less about what a coach does with certain players. One of my biggest gripes with Carlyle is that he won’t let Jake Gardiner be Jake Gardiner or Nazem Kadri be Nazem Kadri. He’s intent on making every line but his first line play like his Samuel Pahlsson line from the Stanley Cup year. Good coaches adapt to the roster they have and can succeed a number of different ways, rather than take a game plan and tailor the roster to the game plan, they start with the players and build around that.

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But you don’t need to overcoach (I selected the above image because the funniest scene in Space Jam is where Bill Murray shows up with some grand play design to help the Toon Squad win, but his plan essentially comes down to ‘get Michael Jordan the ball’. Jordan reminds Murray that the team is on defence, so Jordan’s alternate plan is essentially ‘get me the ball’). Coaching can be important. Coaches dictate matchups and the odd set play, but ultimately I think a lot of coaches would improve overnight if they removed themselves from the game and let the players be themselves. Give the Chicago Blackhawks Carlyle and they’d still win close to 50 games—give the Leafs Joel Quenneville and the Leafs would still win closer to 40.

That said, I think Toronto would be a playoff team with Horachek, simply because he did things that helped Florida drive the play forward this past year. In the shortened 2013 season and the first few games of 2013-14, the Panthers lingered below 50% Corsi Close. Under Horachek, the Panthers shot up within a month and closed the year in plus territory.

I’m curious as to what the reaction will be in the comments. It’s a bit of a simplistic look at hockey, yes, but what prevented the Panthers from being a good team that won a lot of games this season was that their goaltending was a complete mess and their powerplay was terrible. They’re like the anti-Toronto in that respect. The powerplay, though, can be out of the hands of the coaches if you have a bunch of top six gunslingers like the Leafs.

The Panthers had a 5.4% shooting percentage on the powerplay with Horachek behind the bench. I find it tough to believe that this was his doing. In all likelihood, there was luck involved. Give him the Leafs powerplay shooting percentage of 13.4% and you have 32 extra goals. That’s already close to 12 points in the standings. Give him the Leafs’ save percentage of .914 and you have close to 30 fewer goals against. That’s (again) somewhere between 10 and 12 points. Keep in mind that that’s just over the final 65 games of the season Horachek was coaching.

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Obviously not everything is going to go perfect for one coach in any given year and it’s difficult to be sure that a coach who has a good possession team with one roster is going to be great when they carry it over to the next, but you look at that in context with this and you begin to figure that you just want anybody at this point who has shown to help a team move the puck in the right direction.

So yes, that’s the expansion of the original thought. Maybe I shouldn’t be hasty enough to call the Leafs a “playoff team” under Horachek. Certainly, there would be a big improvement vis-a-vis Carlyle (and it’s not like he took over for a slouch in Florida) that it would be noticeable in the standings, but more importantly I think it’s fantastic the Leafs are finally beginning to look outside the organization to make hires. It would be easy enough to promote Steve Spott to head coach once they’ve finally had enough of Randy, which is what makes it sort of frustrating. I’m interested to see what Horachek can do with an honest to God top tier forward on his team, however. All those years in Nashville and they had a few cups of coffee with Alexander Radulov. In Florida, the best forward might have been Sean Bergenheim.

Stats via ExtraSkater

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  • “One of my biggest gripes with Carlyle is that he won’t let Jake Gardiner be Jake Gardiner or Nazem Kadri be Nazem Kadri”

    Or what we in the business refer to as “coaching”. You’re right about coaches having to adapt but in the case of those two young players it’s Randy’s job to try and mold them a certain way.

    Not really saying I’m a fan of how he’s handled Gardiner, but I enjoy the way he treats Kadri. He seems to bring Nazem back down to earth when he’s trying to do too much, and I think we’ve seen some good results from that. Kadri has the skills to be a star but he needs a coach to tell him when to take risks and when not to. I think there are few ways better to do so than Carlyle’s beet red face after a turnover. Kadri just seems to be taking the smarter route these days, perhaps dumping the puck in instead of trying to deke out 3 guys.

    But for heavens sakes, free Jake Gardiner.

        • If you’re trying to be a one man show, it means there are four teammates behind you, probably none of them too close to the play. A turnover means the worst case scenario is the other team has the puck and has to rush against four guys.

          I weigh the chance of success against actually beating the man and getting a glorious scoring chance versus literally giving the other team the puck.

          The Leafs sucked this year because they willfully gave the puck away via dumping the puck in and out. How is that smart at all?

          • Haha Cam you are adorable when you try to talk hockey. Majority of the time when a player dumps in the puck it’s because his teammates are changing ( Jay Mcclement excluded). This means that if the rushing player fails to beat five NHL players on his own… Which is pretty likely to happen,the other team gets a fast break. Do you need me to explain to you why that’s not smart?

            And the Leaf sucked last year for a number of reasons. I sincerely doubt you can convince me that dumping the puck in on a line change instead of losing the puck at the red line is the main one.

          • TGT23

            You are very condescending for being so emphatically wrong.

            The math clearly shows that dumping the puck in is the worst play as it is literally giving the puck away. Maintaining possession, even when that includes circling back to buy time for the change and regrouping, will almost always lead to better results.

            Carrying in the puck into the offensive zone leads to over double the amount of shots per entry than dumping the puck in does.

            Which means, when you are someone like Nazem Kadri who has good puck skills, the best play is not in fact to give up possession with a dump but to either regroup and attempt entry into the zone or to attempt to get into the zone while the change occurs. The odds are that by the time Kadri is dispossessed of the puck the line change will be near complete.

            Though Kadri might rarely give the puck up at the red line, the potential benefits of Kadri carrying the puck outweighs the potential risks.

          • TGT23

            It’s funny, I find possession stats very intriguing but they’ve brought with them this whole new type of hockey fan that always refers to the math.

            Let’s actually talk hockey for a sec chum.

            It’s tough enough to beat one NHL defender, and nearly impossible to beat five on your own. The only thing you would accomplish is giving the pick away while your team is on a line change. I could care less if you think that math denotes losing the puck to give the other team a breakaway is a smart play. Maybe In some fantasy world Naz world be able to dance through everyone or swing back as you say and not lose possession…. But in what we call reality, he’s been doing that just for the past few seasons and losing the puck 9/10 times. And doing anything but the safe play, will result in a prime scoring opportunity for the opposing team. Hockey is one of the fastest sports in the world, catching another team on a line change is a gift horse, especially if your own player would be brain-dead enough to try and one man show it all the way back to his own zone before losing the puck. Not only would the entire team be caught out of position, but the entire opposing team would already be set up.

            I know it makes you feel intelligent to refer to “the math” to make your point, but if what you’re saying is blatantly wrong it gives off quite the opposing message. No child , willingly giving the puck away because you’re trying to be a hot shot kid is never the smart play. Reliance on numbers fails when you’re logically wrong.

            Dump the puck in on a line change, get it deep. This is the kinda stuff they teach you at the peewee levels folks …

  • I love the Horachek hire as well. Judging from Shanahan’s comments on essentially forcing Carlyle to change systems, I am guessing that Horachek is going to have a pretty large impact on the tactics employed (at least I hope so).

    I am starting to think that Shanonis views Carlyle as the “motivator” type of coach – like how Buffalo hired Ted Nolan because they thought they needed his motivational style for younger players, instead of a “tactician”. I am thinking it is the same here. Horachek and Spott take over the tactics, while Carlyle still stays the motivator.

    That said, I don’t know how much motivation “try harder” is, but whatever.

  • STAN


    Celebrate ‘dump and chase’ all you like. Firstly, it’s boring. Secondly, it rarely pays off, especially when good teams do their homework and are bound to implore the stretch pass three or four times a game to catch the changing team off guard.

    Thirdly, teams like Detroit and Chicago routinely change lines WHILE MAINTAINING THE PUCK. I know, that is absolutely impossible in Randy Carlyle’s world, but it can be done with actual thought, analysis and coaching, crafts and skills that I’m convinced left poor Carlyle a long time ago.

    It’s the akin to Carlyle’s preaching that the best way to play defense is for his defensemen NOT try to gain possession of the puck in their zone, but to whip it around the boards as hard as they can, with no subtlety and no surprise to the opponents.

    But all this just makes fort a fun debate. We shall see how it unfolds this year. Maybe SHANONIS™ is dead on – it was those three assistants, Kulemin, Bolland, Ranger, Gleason and Reimer, et al, who simply under performed.

    • STAN

      Stan, you’re an idiot. I can tell by your pseudo-intellectual writing style that you think the opposite… so let me tell you why you are most certainly a dunce.

      Something being boring doesn’t matter if it’s effective. Believe it or not, it’s not the players jobs to entertain you at every given moment.

      Secondly, pays off? Define paying off, because you don’t score when you do it? The entire point of that play is to buy a few seconds to get a line change out. The only time someone would do so is if their line-mates are completely gassed and need the extra 2 or 3 seconds to change and get the fresh players in position. If you do this correctly, there will be no stretch pass available and any attempt would result in a turnover.

      THIRDLY, teams like Detroit and Chicago do it all the time. Can you change lines while holding the puck? Yep, Toronto does that all the time too. In fact, every single team in the world will dump the puck when it’s a smart option. It’s one of the most basic plays in hockey used strictly to buy time. Not to try and rush in on your own and lose it, not to try and skate back in your zone so the opposing team can collapse on you. No, stupid stupid Stan, it is to get fresh legs out on the ice to continue the fast-paced chess game known as hockey.

      Lots of people under performed last season, we shouldn’t have been where we were… But if Kessel had kept his scoring pace up and hit 50 would we have made the playoffs? Maybe he under performed. What about Bernier getting injured? What a knob, right Stan?

      I see you on here all the time blaming Carlyle, or Nonis, or Gleason, or Reimer, or Dion. Here’s the thing that you fail to understand, hockey is a team sport. EVERYONE f*cked up last year, and if someone other than Carlyle were to coach this year it by NO means guarantee’s a playoff berth. Maybe the idea is to try and stick with a system instead of firing the coach every 2 years and wondering what the hell went wrong. It’s fans like you that scream for Kadri’s head after a 4 game goal-less drought or Phaneuf’s after a bad pinch that gives the TML fans such a bad name.

      In conclusion, stop with the knee jerk reactions, shut up, and don’t ever try to act like you know a damn thing about hockey ever again.

      Seacrest out.

  • STAN

    Interesting perspective. My main concern is how much influence Horachek can have as an assistant. I would be surprised to see and significant changes to the leafs system whilst Carlyle is still head coach. Carlyle is as stubborn as they come and to this day refuses to take any responsibility for last season still saying it was issues of “compete” aka the players fault.

  • I love the hire as well. The key to Horachek’s possession success in Florida was having a big-minute defenseman who chewed clock and owned the puck as well (Brian Campbell). Hopefully with Horachek on board Gardiner can become that type of player and the entire team will benefit.

    p.s. unlike Cam, I have Horachek as the early odds-on favorite to replace Randy when he’s fired in November at 3:2. Spott is at 4:1.

  • I was hoping that Kevin Dineen would be hired but Horachek is a definite upgrade as well. Steve Spott should fit in nicely and, all things considered, not a bad summer for Leaf fans.
    Now, just stay healthy, get good goaltending and add some Marlies to the mix and we’ll see how things go this year.
    Great to have you back, by the way, Cam. Always enjoy your work.