Toronto Maple Leafs: What is the Real Reason for Special Teams Struggles?

Shane HouseAnalyst IApril 17, 2011

TORONTO - SEPTEMBER 22:  Members of the Toronto Maple Leafs coaching staff look on during action against the Buffalo Sabres in a preseason NHL game at the Air Canada Centre September 22, 2008 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They are: (L-R) head coach Ron Wilson and  assistant coaches Tim Hunter, Keith Acton and Ro Zettler.  (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

So many theories have been made over the last several seasons as to why the Toronto Maple Leafs have had such terrible special teams.

Some have said that it is the players, some have said it is the goaltending, some have said it is coaching.

But coming back to this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs were ranked 22nd on the power play and 28th on the penalty kill. Something that has been a constant for the Maple Leafs in the past.

In a season ending news conference, Brian Burke stated that the Maple Leafs struggles on special teams was not the fault of coaching, but the fault of the players not executing the game plan drawn out for them by the coaching staff.

If this were a random occurrence, then I would believe that fact. But for 10 seasons? Come on Burkie, that is hard to believe.

So whose fault is it then? Ron Wilson's?

Although I am highly critical of the coach, I will not place the blame on him.

Yes he is the head coach, and yes he is the person who draws up the strategies for the power play, so for a small percentage, it is his fault.

But the real reason in my personal belief that the Maple Leafs' special teams have been as atrocious as they have for so long is the fault of Keith Acton.

He has had a position with the Maple Leafs since the 2001-2002 season as an assistant coach. I think you will find these statistics since his hiring to be pretty startling.

The penalty killing of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been terrible for the most part for the past decade, only being in the top third of the league once, reaching third place during the 2002-2003 season. Besides that one season, the penalty kill hasn't been in the top half of the league once and not above 24th once in the post-lockout era.

That is absolutely appalling, to say the least.

Then let's look at the power play.

I will give Keith this much: during his first five seasons as an assistant coach for the Leafs, the power play was clicking well. But during the last five seasons, the power play has not reached above 15th place one time and has been abysmal in the past two seasons.

I know people will say that Keith Acton doesn't just work on the power play or the penalty kill, but look at the statistics.

This team's special teams and overall play have been in a spiral ever since the lockout and the only thing remaining on this team since then is Keith Acton.

Even though the team showed promise this season, I think if they want to become a contender, a position change needs to be made. That position needs to be the position that Keith Acton is currently employing.

If not then I can see the Leafs special teams being stagnant for a very long time.