Ten games seems like as good a time as any to start evaluating a new coach, right? I’m sure by now he’s established deep and meaningful relationships with all of his players and they’ve 100% adapted to the style of hockey he wants them to play. We should assume everything that has happened so far will be exactly what continues to happen, no better, no worse, right?
Folks, that first paragraph might have a tad of sarcasm to it and I hope you caught it. I by no means think that it’s fair judge Keefe on these first 10 games, 8 of which have been on the road, but interestingly enough, by Mike Babcock’s own metric of picking up six points in every five games, Sheldon Keefe has delivered on what the Leafs were expected to do this year. He just hasn’t moved them beyond that yet, and that’s part that is worrisome for anyone wanting the playoff experience this season.
Is it possible the Leafs are still in playoff contention? Well, MoneyPuck puts them at 38.3% odds to make it, and that’s largely based on how bad the Atlantic division has been this year. The Leafs are only given a 7.3% chance of climbing into a Wildcard spot, which both seem to be earmarked for the Metropolitan Division this season.
Playoffs might be an unreasonable bar to set for Keefe as the Leafs would need to have a 63% point percentage the rest of the way through the year. It’s not impossible when Keefe has already hit 60% in his first 10 games, and he’s having to dig up from Babcock’s 48% record.
Let’s look at some graphs…
I think it’s safe to say things are going a little better under Keefe. He’s helped by that public shaming of the Detroit Redwings, but it’s not like Babcock didn’t have his share of throwaway opponents this season as well.
Interestingly enough the story is slightly different when we look at the shot attempt differential. Babcock was in a much better place when he was canned than where Keefe is today, and Keefe has been on a downward trajectory over his time with the Leafs. Perhaps the combined story between the two graphs is that the Leafs are being more selective, and that approach is working. Keefe has had a 6-4-0 record, while Babcock finished out his time with the Leafs with a 3-5-2 record, punctuated by the six game losing streak that ending his time in Toronto.
Is there a reason to be optimistic?
Yeah, definitely, assuming your optimism is about the Leafs being an improved team and not necessarily landing in the playoffs. As much as the Leafs are improved under Sheldon Keefe, there seems to be accumulating evidence that the problems go beyond the coach and decisions will need to be made about what players fit with the future direction of the team and is this philosophy about how the team is built completely sound.
The Leafs will get help from Montreal, Buffalo, and Florida, in that all of them might simply collapse at some point and the Leafs could be gifted the final playoff spot in the Atlantic, but that’s a bonus not an expectation either.
It seems like the remainder of the season will be an exercise in Sheldon Keefe finding his footing in the NHL and the Leafs determining what personnel will be moving forward with the team next year, all of this is more than what anyone could have hoped for if we were still riding out the Babcock era.