Toronto Maple Leafs President and Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan announced today that Mike Babcock has been relieved of his coaching duties and Sheldon Keefe has been named the Club’s new head coach. #LeafsForever
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) November 20, 2019
The Leafs have made the termination of Mike Babcock as Head Coach official, and with it the promotion of Sheldon Keefe to the Leafs Head Coach.
At present time it’s worth noting we do not see an interim tag on Keefe’s job, and do not know what is happening with the Leafs Assistant Coaches or who will be coaching the Marlies.
Okay, so this is the biggest part of the story, obviously.
First, it’s worth noting how important Mike Babcock was to turning around a very bad Leafs team a couple of years ago. He put systems in place, added structure to the organization, and helped turn players like Auston Matthews, Willie Nylander, and Mitch Marner is elite pro talents. His name carried a lot of weight in attracting free agents like John Tavares, and it is unfortunate that he didn’t get to stick around for the best of times, but he can take comfort in the $23M he is owed by the Leafs.
It wouldn’t have been any surprise to see Babcock let go after a couple of first round exits, but with the expectations at the beginning of this season that the Leafs would be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and instead seem to be unlikely to make the playoffs made this an easier decision than it probably should have been for the organization.
Sheldon Keefe has a long history as Kyle Dubas’ coach both with the Soo Greyhounds and with the Toronto Marlies, both times winning championships. It doesn’t seem like now that Dubas has the opportunity to pick his coach, he’s going with his guy, and while there are plenty of very good questions about Keefe that will need to be addressed, there is no doubt that having the coach and GM on the same page is a selling point and a positive to take away from this situation.
Players and Front Office still not off the hook
The Leafs firing Mike Babcock was the logical first step. The GM deserves a chance to find a coach who wants to coach the roster he’s built and despite the very real concerns that people may have about how Dubas has built his team, it will be exciting to see the team played the way he would likely want it played. Additionally that opens him up to possibly pursue other opportunities in personnel that he had previously made concessions on due to the way Mike Babcock wanted to play the team.
As for the players, this is a clean slate, but the renewed higher expectations. The Leafs will get a chance to play as a skill team, assuming that’s what Keefe wants, and I’m sure it will benefit some while others might find themselves on the outside looking in.
I’m sure this won’t be the last you’ll hear from us on this topic, but for now, that’s what we know.