Brad Treliving, Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs

After Tough Offseason, Keefe Still Maple Leafs Coach

In November 2019, before the world changed with the onslaught of a global pandemic, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a significant coaching change. They parted ways with head coach Mike Babcock following a disappointing start to the season.

To no one’s surprise who knew the link between then Maple Leafs general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe, the organization hired Keefe as Babcock’s successor. He took over the reins and things immediately changed. The team went on a flyer and began to win – a lot. They made the postseason that season, as they’ve made it in every other season since.

Related: Ex-Maple Leafs Mike Babcock Teaches All Coaches a Valuable Lesson

During Babcock’s five seasons with the organization, he earned 173 wins. However, his team faced challenges in the playoffs: they couldn’t get past the first round. Keefe’s impressive record with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Toronto Marlies and his history as an NHL player seemed to give him a resume that would allow him to lead the team forward.

Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, Head Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During the regular seasons since, Keefe has not disappointed. Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan’s decision has looked good – as I note, at least during the regular season. Keefe helped to maximize the potential of his young star players, like Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, and he guided the Maple Leafs to regular-season success.

Flash Forward Almost Four Years

Four years later, despite their regular-season success, there’s a sense of frustration. For all his success as a coach over his four seasons with the team – pandemic and all, Keefe has coached his team past the first round only once – last season.

Related: Longest Stanley Cup Droughts

In some ways, that euphoric first-round success then followed by a second-round collapse, made life in the organization even more frustrating. After a tempestuous 2023 offseason, Keefe’s long-time friend and boss, Dubas’ contract was not renewed, and he moved to the Pittsburgh Penguins as president of hockey operations (and GM). That move separated the two long-time hockey partners. Keefe stayed behind in Toronto.

The Question About Keefe’s Contract Extension

Dubas was replaced by former Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving, and he had (among other pressing issues) a coaching decision to make. Should he offer Keefe a contract extension? Last week, after taking care of what he deemed as his most pressing business – signing Matthews to an extension – Treliving negotiated a contract extension with Keefe.

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And, that’s where we stand today with Keefe and Treliving. In the remainder of this post, I’ll share why Treliving believed Keefe remained the right coach for a team that has frustrated its fans for so long.

Four Reasons Why Treliving Extended Keefe’s Contract

While some hockey decisions are influenced by various external factors, when it came to Treliving’s decision to extend Keefe’s contract, the new Maple Leafs GM made it clear that this move was rooted in one simple belief: Keefe is an exceptional coach.

Related: Ex-Maple Leafs Goalie Michael Hutchinson: Where’s He Now?

Last week, Keefe signed a two-year deal that will keep him as the team’s head coach until at least 2025. In Treliving’s words, Keefe’s leadership skills made the new deal make sense.

In the video above, Treliving gives four reasons why he stands behind Keefe.

Reason 1: Keefe Brings Coaching Excellence

At the core of Treliving’s endorsement is his belief in Keefe’s coaching excellence. By engaging in careful observations and meaningful discussions with his head coach, Treliving recognized Keefe as someone who goes above the call of duty.

Related: Assessing Keefe’s Tenure as Maple Leafs’ Head Coach

Treliving pointed to three characteristics that Keefe brings to his job: (1) an unwavering commitment to the team, (2) an astute hockey intelligence, and (3) an ability to connect with his players. These all contribute to his status as an exceptional coach.

Reason 2: Keefe’s Focus on Team Development 

Treliving acknowledges Keefe’s pivotal role in nurturing the Maple Leafs’ roster. He noted that one of Keefe’s standout qualities is his dedication to guiding the team’s growth and development. Under his leadership, players have consistently progressed and improved. Keefe’s commitment to long-term success aligns perfectly with Treliving’s vision for how a coach should conduct business.

Reason 3: Keefe Has Effective Communication Skills

Effective communication is a hallmark of successful coaching, and Treliving believes Keefe excels in this regard. He commended Keefe’s ability to convey strategies and motivate players effectively. Keefe’s capacity to connect with his team and establish open lines of communication is a key reason why Treliving sees him as an asset to the organization.

Reason 4: Keefe Has Put Up an Impressive Record

Treliving highlighted Keefe’s impressive track record in the regular season. Keefe has a 166-71-30 record with the Maple Leafs. In far fewer games, he’s almost hit Babcock’s number of wins.

Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, Head Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

These coaching accomplishments have propelled him into the company of esteemed coaches, both past and present. The record is a testament to Keefe’s remarkable ability to drive the team’s success.

Why Keefe’s Contract Was Extended

The decision to extend Keefe’s contract was not merely a response to external distractions but (according to Treliving) a calculated move based on his coaching merits. The bottom line is that Treliving has a strong belief in Keefe’s coaching skills, his contributions to player development, his effective communication, and his remarkable regular-season record. All these factored into this decision.

Related: The NHL’s Best Farm Systems Ranked – 2023-24 Preseason Update

As Treliving put it in the video, he’s committed to maintaining a strong coaching presence within the organization. That aligns perfectly with the confidence he’s gained in Keefe’s ability to lead the Maple Leafs to future success.

Now it’s time to make success happen, not just in the regular season but in the postseason as well.

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