Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Is Sheldon Keefe still the best man for the job?
1 month ago
There have been 130 head coaches in NHL history, lucky, or skilled enough to coach in 300 games.
Sheldon Keefe hit the milestone yesterday, and ranks 1st among this select group in PTS%, despite yet another disappointing loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Still, regardless of the record, we’ve seen more and more talk among the Leafs’ fanbase calling for Keefe to be replaced.
The Leafs are better off with Keefe than with former Head Coach Mike Babcock, but is he still the best person to take this particular version of the team to the next level?
We have seen a lot of positives since the coaching change in 2019.
Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner have rounded into two of the most reliable two-way forces in the NHL. While not sacrificing any offence, both players have earned respect around the league for their play on defensive side of the puck. Marner finished last season third in Selke voting, and they’ve both been among the league leaders in takeaways since Keefe took over.
Under Keefe, the Leafs won their first playoff series since 2004. Though you could argue they were outplayed by the Tampa Bay Lightning, he was finally able to get his team to play Playoff Hockey. The constant crease-crashing and traffic created in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy is what gave Toronto the edge in that series.
A Canadian division banner, several 100+ point seasons, and 1 playoff series win.
We’ve also seen the negatives, however.
The lack of consistent effort night-in and night-out has been the biggest issue facing this team for what feels like forever. Not knowing which Leafs team is going to show up on any given night has to at least fall slightly on the shoulders of the coach. Are they tuning him out? Are the players also to blame? Whatever the case may be, he has been unable to motivate his team to play 60-minutes time and time again.
Though the regular season record is unmatched by anybody in NHL history, the playoff record has left a lot to be desired. A putrid 13-17 record in the postseason is not nearly good enough with a team of this calibre.
Stylistically, and strategically Keefe’s approach seems to change in game 83. While always willing tinker with the lineups to find the right mix in the regular season, he seems to get more rigid when the games get tight. The Matthews/Marner connection is evident, but the refusal to split the team’s two best players when they are clearly struggling through the rigours of the playoffs has hurt the team on multiple occasions.
One of the most glaring things with Keefe is his tendency to become reactive. Sheltering your Hart and Rocket Richard winning generational superstar to play David Kampf in 3 on 3 overtime is not the way to go. The constant line matching to start the third or fourth line against the other team’s best players is not the way to go.
We’ve also seen management handcuff Keefe in his ability to hold his players accountable. Apologizing to his players after criticizing them for a poor game is not something you want to see from a coach hoping to get the most out of his players.
With just 10 regulation wins approaching the halfway point of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have not performed to their expectations thus far.
Brendan Shanahan still strongly believes in this core, but to take the next step, it may finally be time to bring in someone who has the freedom, the respect, and the nerve to hold this team to a higher standard.
From Gerard Gallant, to Craig Berube, and Claude Julien, there are plenty of options available.
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