Thee Leafs already had one of their assistant coaching spots filled before D.J. Smith had really left:
The @MapleLeafs announced today that the hockey club has hired Paul McFarland as an assistant coach.— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) May 23, 2019
The Maple Leafs also announced assistant coach Jim Hiller has been granted permission to explore opportunities outside the organization.
Paul McFarland, formerly of the Florida Panthers joins the Leafs staff, but he seems like he’s there to replace the yet to depart Jim Hiller, not the already gone Smith.
McFarland is 33, and has been in Florida for two seasons working with Bob Boughner. Boughner, a former OHL team owner and coach, was hired after the whole ownership/management/Gerard Gallant debacle that unfolded in Florida over several years. Boghner was supposed to be a new direction for the team. That direction didn’t include any playoff games, so he and McFarland were fired this summer, and Joel Quenneville is the new coach of the Panthers.
In McFarland, Boughner was hiring someone he knew well, as they both come from the OHL — he’s also someone Kyle Dubas knows well.
McFarland played four seasons in the OHL in Kitchener and Windsor where he was team captain and where Boughner was president and team owner (D.J. Smith was an assistant coach on that team). After the OHL, he played for four years at Acadia University serving as team captain there for three of those years.
He last played hockey in 2010, and by 2012, he was an assistant coach in the OHL for the Oshawa Generals where he worked for ... wait for it ... D.J. Smith. McFarland stayed in that job for two years before he became the head coach of the Kingston Frontenacs. He was there for 2014-2017, and he coached Leafs prospect Eemeli Räsänen.
In 2017, when Boughner became head coach in Florida, he hired McFarland to come with him.
McFarland, who ran the power play on the Panthers, comes to a Leafs team that had an excellent power play by shot metrics, but disappointed people when judged by success percentage. The Panthers power play was second to Tampa last year with a 27% success percentage, while the Leafs were at 22% in eighth place. Florida had 58 more power play opportunities over the Leafs as well.
However, a look at the shot maps for the two power plays raises a question about using that success percentage to judge from.
Over the last two years, the Florida power play got goals from Mike Hoffman — who scored 17 power play goals this season, and had a lot to do with that success percentage — and Aleksander Barkov. Both players have a shooting percentage of 19% on the power play under McFarland.
You can’t coach a shooting percentage, but you can put your best shooters in the spots they score best from.
The Hoffman circle is the main location that Florida shot from above league average, but the Leafs, who soaked the slot and net-front in shots, had a much different power play that got in tighter:
Auston Matthews had a 19% shooting percentage on the power play over the past two years, too, but Mitch Marner and John Tavares didn’t manage to match that. And therein lies the bulk of the difference in the success percentages on the two teams.
It’s not like the Panthers power play was just a shooting percentage fuelled monster, but Expected Goals flips the ranking order that success percentage gives, and puts the Leafs on top and the Panthers in 11th place this season. Both teams used a power play that effectively utilized the skills of their best players.
Now, if McFarland can do more with the second best players and come up with a second unit that works, that might be all the Leafs need to call this hiring a big success. Even if he is just another guy out of the OHL school of thought. He’s not a revolutionary choice, but he might fit in fine coaching the part of the team that isn’t broken, and doesn’t need much fixing.