Is Sheldon Keefe’s job on the line vs Seattle Kraken?

Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Shane Seney
5 months ago
Surely, a general manager doesn’t assess performance on his head coach based on one game’s outcome, but of late, it must be hard for Brad Treliving to like what he’s seeing out of Sheldon Keefe and the Maple Leafs. With just one win in their last six games, if the Leafs lose to the Seattle Kraken tonight, is this the end for Keefe in Toronto?
Personally, I really hope not. Keefe’s done the best with the cards he’s been dealt so far this season and frankly, to be heading into Sunday’s action, 44 games into this season and in a playoff spot, this should be applauded. The Leafs have been hammered with adversity and injuries throughout the entire season and those types of things are out of the coach’s control and he just needs to be adjusting to produce outcomes. Unfortunately for Keefe, the outcomes are nowhere to be found at the moment.

Samsonov Expected to Start

It’s kind of ironic that Keefe’s job could very well be on the line and he has to play Ilya Samsonov on the back end of a back-to-back. The same goalie Keefe showed absolutely no confidence in throughout most of this season and the same one he’s called out for saves in the media. Sure, the Leafs coach praised what he saw after last game, Samsonov’s first since his ‘reset’, but now there’s a ton on the line.
The goaltending situation in Toronto has certainly had it’s moments this season and Keefe has handled it well. He’s rode Martin Jones as long as he could but we can all see of late, it seems like the veteran netminder is coming back down to earth. A few stinkers lately and Jones doesn’t look nearly as sharp. Keefe and the rest of the Maple Leafs can’t wait for Joseph Woll to return from his ankle injury. Hopefully the head coach is still around for when his number one goalie returns.

The Case to Keep Keefe

Keefe hasn’t lost the Maple Leafs dressing room. The players haven’t lost trust in their bench boss and there isn’t any secret riffs that are going on in the room. From all accounts the players love playing for him and that needs to be taken into consideration.
Keefe’s numbers as a head coach are borderline legendary. The only big thing, of course, is just one Stanley Cup Playoff series win. Right now the Maple Leafs are having a hard enough time winning regular season games in January, but again, the best of a bad situation.
Toronto’s been playing their #3 netminder for way too long, and organizationally, they decided to not play top prospect Dennis Hildeby recently to give Jones a break. One that he needed and is now lost his sharpness because of. Again, not solely Keefe’s decision.
This season’s Maple Leafs team is much weakier defensively. They are much slower as a group and it has nothing to do with Keefe and everything to do with Treliving. He signed Ryan Reaves for THREE seasons, bust. John Klingberg was supposed to be the rover the team always needed, and he fit in like a square peg in a round hole and showed off just how bad defensively he could be in just 14 games. Injury, LTIR, Maple Leafs career likely over. Tyler Bertuzzi was supposed to be the top-line left winger and bring some snot, piss and vinegar to the lineup. Same could be said for Max Domi. While it hasn’t been all bad through 44 games, Bertuzzi and Domi have both underperformed this season and Keefe’s done whatever he could to move them around the lineup and put them in positions to succeed. 10 goals between them in 88 games and at $8.5 million combined, not good enough boys.
As far as the d-core goes, it’s been the Morgan Rielly show with some big hits sprinkled in from Simon Benoit and Jake McCabe. Then there’s a major drop off to TJ Brodie, Mark Giordano and Timothy Liljegren. Brodie and Giordano have both lost any footspeed they may have once possessed and both are becoming tough to watch on a nightly basis. Liljegren can’t play hard on a puck and continues to make some of the worst reads possible on the ice. He’s not physical enough, he doesn’t jump into the rush at the right moments and I’ve never seen a player fan on a pass like Lilly’s able to do almost every game. Treliving said it was an area he was concerned about when hired and he’s done nothing in-season to help Keefe out. Instead, he traded Sam Lafferty to the Vancouver Canucks so he could keep Reaves on the NHL roster and this coming after the Edmonton Oilers wouldn’t give up towering defenseman Vincent Desharnais in a deal. How’s that worked out, Brad?
Treliving waited to give Keefe an extension after being on the job for a couple of months and he called Keefe one of the top coach’s in the NHL. He spoke about how the players trust him and everyone could see he’s not just ‘Kyle’s guy’. He’s become a great coach of the Maple Leafs and one the team loves playing for. Let’s hope, if they don’t beat the Kraken, he’s given the chance to work out of this recent mess.

The Case for Change

This is a bit tough because I don’t want to see Keefe handed his papers, but there’s been some decisions that haven’t gone unnoticed. At no point should Pontus Holmberg be on the first line. For a period, sure, but starting games with Holmberg situated like so, it’s a bad look and I get he’d been playing good of late, but not that good. Holmberg needs to be groomed for a third-line defensive role. He has all the intangibles to be elite at the assignment. Sure, Matthew Knies hasn’t scored in 12 games but Holmberg isn’t the answer.
Consistently inconsistent has been the Maple Leafs motto this season. And some of that does fall on the coach’s shoulders. Preparation is obviously very important and so is chemistry and does Keefe tinker with the lines too much to not allow chemistry to form? There could be an argument made, no doubt. He loves to move around the lines and see if he can spark some offense, or create a shut-down trio. But at some point, it catches up to the team and everyone is out of shambles. 44 games in, the lines should be set already shouldn’t they?
Last season was the same thing. The players show up to playoff games and they wouldn’t know exactly who they were playing with. Wild to think after 82 games together, the lineup wouldn’t be set for a two-month run. The Vegas Golden Knights won the Cup because of their defensive play and a ton of that had to do with line chemistry and knowing your assignment and role on the team. Right now, not many Leafs have roles. Keefe’s came out recently and admitted he doesn’t know who he can trust or rely on. It was a cry for help if you ask me. A cry to his GM that this mix isn’t working. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to fire the coach then move 15 players out before the trade deadline.
To wrap this up, I look at it from this lens. The Maple Leafs are currently in a playoff spot, their number one goalie hasn’t played for almost two months, their blueline has only three D playing well and the likes of John Tavares, Knies, Bertuzzi, Domi, David Kampf, Bobby McMann, Noah Gregor and Calle Jarnkrok are in a serious offensive drought. Coach’s fault? We’ll find out what Treliving is thinking if the Keefe-led Maple Leafs can’t swim passed the Kraken.

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