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Paul McFarland leaving the Leafs to become head coach of the Kingston Frontenacs

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He will remain with the team for the rest of this season, if there is a rest of this season.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The Maple Leafs today announced the departure of assistant coach Paul McFarland. Because of the not-really an offseason we’re all stuck in, it seems he isn’t actually going anywhere, however.

“Paul has been a great member of our staff and I look forward to continuing our work together through to the conclusion of the 2019-20 season,” said Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “Normally this type of move would be done during the off-season, but given that these are far from normal circumstances, we are in full support of Paul’s desire to pursue this position in Kingston and gain more experience as a head coach.”

McFarland joined the Leafs almost one year ago, and our story on May 23, 2019 when he was hired raised some concerns about his work coaching the Florida Panther’s power play.

At the time, the success % of the Leafs power play in the 2018-2019 season had led everyone to be sick of Jim Hiller, but there was a real concern that the new coach had ridden to glory in Florida on the back of Mike Hoffman’s shot.

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.

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.

I don’t think many of us who watched McFarland’s work think he managed to do much with the second unit, and I personally joined in with the fans that fateful night in the SBA when we all booed the first unit. Sometimes a group formed of Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Auston Matthews and William Nylander was just drastically horrible.

The Maple Leafs hit sixth in success percentage this season to date, however. The are behind percentage-driven teams like Vancouver, as well as teams with good power plays like Edmonton, Boston and Tampa, but a deeper look shows this year’s Leafs power play was actually worse than last year, if not as bad as it looked at times.

HockeyViz’s model had the 2018-2019 power play at +51% in effectiveness, a massive number, and visually it looked like this sea of, uh, butterscotch syrup:

The man pouring out a lot of that ice cream sauce was Nazem Kadri, so it’s not fair to blame McFarland for all of the decline, but there was decline:

The power play became all about Mitch Marner’s pass and Auston Matthews’ shot, and that is a lot like the Florida plan. Trouble was, the shooting percentages didn’t spike enough to cover up how much less effective that all was than the glory years with Kadri as the best bumper player to ever bump on the Leafs.

In returning to Kingston, McFarland is returning to the job he held before he moved up to the NHL coaching ranks. He gets a lot less travel, and a more settled life, and maybe that’s exactly what he wants. The Leafs now get to do a very awkward dance where they retain a coach who is leaving, while they look for a replacement they likely can’t give a start date to, all at a time when other teams will be extending their own staff beyond the usual June 30 contract end date.

The Toronto Marlies were not very exciting in the special teams department this season, so it’s not very likely we’ll see a promotion from there. And the other thing we don’t know is if Dave Hakstol is going to stick around. New coaches like to hire their own assistants, so this might be Sheldon Keefe’s chance to get the voices he wants behind the bench with him.

We’ll check back a year or so from now and see how we all feel about the power play that features one of the NHL’s best shooters in Matthews, but doesn’t seem to be as good as it should be. Maybe that will have changed.