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Maple Leafs fire head coach Sheldon Keefe


Nice Guys Finish Last

The Toronto Maple Leafs have officially parted ways with their head coach, Sheldon Keefe. After 5 seasons at the helm, with each season seeing them reach the playoffs, the Leafs have decided to go in a new direction.

Brad Treliving commented, “Today’s decision was difficult. Sheldon is an excellent coach and a great man; however, we determined a new voice is needed to help the team push through to reach our ultimate goal. We thank Sheldon for his hard work and dedication to the organization over the last nine years and wish him and his family all the very best.”

Post Season Disappointment

While the team saw success in the regular season under Keefe, it was the postseason where they struggled. The Maple Leafs‘ ongoing issues in the first round have been well-documented, with the team advancing to the second round only once since 2004. However, three first-round exits, all in seven games, plus a qualifying round defeat against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs which included daily COVID tests, increased pressure on management to make a change. I also forget to mention in one of those playoffs losses this team saw, their captain John Tavares receive such a vicious hit from Corey Perry, he needed to be taken off the ice by a stretcher and even fans wondered if he’d ever feed himself again. So, let’s give him a little slack.

Most Years in The Playoffs

The Maple Leafs are tied for the NHL’s longest active playoff streak at eight seasons, but they’ve been eliminated in the first round in seven of those eight seasons. After being down 3-1 against the Bruins and forcing a Game 7, they fell 2-1 in overtime in the deciding game.

With another early-round loss, changes were inevitable, starting with the head coach.

The Coach Speaks

“We are in the results business here,Keefe said after Monday’s Game 7 loss to the Bruins. We didn’t get results. We haven’t met expectations. As head coach, I take responsibility for that. … My job as a head coach is to find solutions and chart a path ahead for the group to come through and succeed at the most important time of year. We haven’t done that.”

Having been fired just hours earlier, Keefe took to his X account during the noon hour to address Leafs Nation with grace and dignity.

Keefe Issues Classy Response on “X”

In a video lasting one minute and 53 seconds, Keefe said, “Leafs Nation, time has come to say goodbye. Writing down a note and sending it out didn’t seem like enough and I do plan on taking a little break from media, so here I am.”


Keefe expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs, calling it a dream come true. He thanked everyone he had worked with in Toronto, starting with his good friend and former general manager Kyle Dubas.

I want to thank Kyle Dubas, Lou Lamoriello, Brad Treliving, Brandon Pridham, Brendan Shanahan, Larry Tanenbaum, and the MLSE board for giving me this opportunity to work with the Marlies and Leafs,” Keefe said.

Just as he did during his final media availability at the Ford Performance Centre, Keefe shouldered the blame for the Leafs’ playoff shortcomings.

I didn’t get it done in the playoffs,” Keefe said. “I didn’t help push our team over the line and deliver. I accept responsibility for that. No excuses. That’s the job. I didn’t get it done. That’s the reality of the business and I accept it.”

Did Keefe Deserve to Be Fired?

Sure, in his five years of coaching the Leafs, he only won one playoff round. But if you look at how far this team came under Keefe, who inherited a less-than-stellar group from Mike Babcock, Keefe resembles a hockey genius of sorts. He turned a number one pick named Austin Matthews not only into a goal scorer, but one of the greatest goal scorers of all time. He convinced William Nylander that playing for more than just checks with lots of zeros was important, and he’s led the team in postseason scoring twice. He’s motivated the apparently uninterested Marner into three ninety-plus seasons. Under Keefe, Marner and Matthews can be mentioned in the same breath as other great teams like “Batman & Robin,” “Siegfried & Roy,” “Betty & Veronica,” “Montana & Rice,”, “Michael & Scotty” and many other duos that have thrived throughout history.


Additionally, Keefe changed the Leafs’ approach to how they play hockey. This team went from Babcock’s predictable “chip and chase” style to a team whose game was built around puck possession and regrouping. Clearly, defense wasn’t his first priority, but if you always have the puck, it doesn’t need to be. And perhaps this was Keefe’s greatest flaw as a strategist and architect of this iteration of the Leafs. Most of the time, he favoured puck-moving defensemen over defenders who could move bodies in front of his own net.

The Canadians Won 5 Cups with Skill & Talent

Moreover, he’s not the first to use this type of system and find success with it. You don’t need to look very hard to find teams like the Russian National Team, The Montreal Canadiens dynasty teams, The WHA Winnipeg Jets led by Bobby Hull, Ulf Neilsen and Anders Hedberg, The Edmonton Oilers, and the Colorado Avalanche who all won Cups and World Championships with an emphasis on an offense that controls the puck and doesn’t recklessly give up possession by chasing it into the other team’s corner.

Valeri Kharmalov

Given, this has become playoff style, where refs put away the whistle and defense win championships. Somewhere in Heaven hockey greats like Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Béliveau, and Walter Gretzky are shaking their heads in disgust. Keefe was provided with highly skilled players whose games weren’t built around dumping the puck in. Unfortunately, the more playoff losses Dubas endured, the more he shifted from his ideal team. Soon, the skill he wanted was replaced by the grit fans and Shanahan demanded. A combination which at the end of the day saw both him and Keefe fired.

Dump & Chase, or Puck Possession?

The question becomes what is the best way to play the game we all love? Possession or chase? Perhaps a great example was the Scotty Bowman-coached team, the Detroit Red Wings. One year they won close to 70 games in their regular season with exceptional talents like Larionov, Fedorov, and Kozlov. The rest of the team was built in a similar vein with speed and skills overriding toughness and grit. They lost in the first round of the playoffs.

I hope wherever Keefe lands, he stays true to his hockey vision and doesn’t have a general manager, ownership, and fan base who try to mix different styles and end up never making a deep playoff run.

Sheldon, in a league where coaches only last a couple of seasons at best, you really shined behind the Leafs bench. Best of luck in the future.

by Myles Shane

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