“Lock the door, throw out the Keefe!”- P.K. Subban is done with the Maple Leafs coach

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
8 months ago
You can only prematurely exit the playoffs so many times. Combine four years of not getting it done in the post season with a slow start to the regular season and people will quickly move on from strong regular season win totals and good Corsi. That’s apparently where P.K. Subban is:
First off, Toronto really missed out by never bringing Subban home. For all the talk about how GTA players want to win in Toronto, Subban is demonstrating here as he seems to genuinely care about the outcome for his hometown team.
Next let’s take a look at his concerns:
  • Ice time. The first concern is that Sheldon Keefe is overplaying his stars and burning them out. Oddly enough this is probably the opposite of what a lot of concerns were at playoff time as Keefe seemed to purposely take his stars out of the game, but Subban has lived the life and knows that burning out stars is going to be an issue come playoff time if it doesn’t get them in the regular season.
    Subban’s calls for rolling four lines also implicate Brad Treliving a little as I’m not sure you can make a strong case for giving Ryan Reaves a regular shift but there are plenty of opportunities to find an extra shift for others like Robertson, Domi, or Jarnkrok, or perhaps adjusting away from the penalty killing approach that leans on Marner and Matthews to some degree.
  • Defensive Structure. There’s a lot that goes into this one and I agree with PK that this could be the biggest miss of the Keefe era. He has struggled to get buy-in from his players on defence or “winning hockey” as Subban puts it. Keefe hasn’t made defensive play a priority in practices and in their systems and much like team toughness, team defence is best achieved by committee rather than hoping for one key acquisition to come in and fix it.
I’m sure Subban’s reasoning goes beyond what he covered in an under two minute social media video and I’m sure he could go on, but the buy-in to winning hockey concern is one that particularly seems like it has been shared repeatedly about the Leafs, often in the form of saying that it is a disconnected locker room or that the team lacks an identity. It seems like leadership team among the players has taken a lot of heat for this but rarely have these concerns been focused on Toronto’s coach.
There has been an increase of “Fire Keefe” talk on social media already this season and while nothing specifically has been directed at Keefe at Scotiabank Arena, the team has been boo-ed more this season. Keefe’s name is more frequently showing up in “coaches on the hot seat” articles and while none of this means that a Keefe firing is imminent, it is a hard thing to come back from once people have committed to questioning his abilities.
Keefe isn’t likely to find much support from his bosses either. This season is even more of a make or break season for Brendan Shanahan than it is for Keefe and moving on from Sheldon is one of the last bullets he has left in his gun. The other is that in order for Brad Treliving to give Sheldon Keefe a vote of confidence and put trust in him to lead the Leafs out of their funk, he’d be admitting to getting things wrong with who he brought in as free agents over the summer. Of course, he did also extend Sheldon Keefe, so Treliving can’t seem to get it right no matter what and his best chance at a long tenure in Toronto is that Brendan Shanahan makes it out of the season with his job intact.
So while there is no reason to believe anything is imminent when it comes to the Leafs coaching situation, P.K. Subban’s comments have merit and not feelings limited to him.
Subban also floats a few potential coaching replacement names and we’ll start by immediately discarding Joel Quenneville from that list as reinstatement shouldn’t and won’t happen anytime soon. And if you are looking for a reason to take Subban’s opinions with a grain of salt, perhaps recommending Quenneville is the reason to.
He also suggest John Hynes and Gerard Gallant and while I don’t think John Hynes is the answer to any question that isn’t obscure Nashville Predators trivia, I won’t dismiss the potential of someone like Gerard Gallant attempting to whip the Leafs into shape. The one trend that seems to be coming from P.K.’s suggestions is that the Leafs also seem to need a coach that can kick their ass a little. That fits with his favourable Vegas comparisons and what worked with Bruce Cassidy.
Perhaps the issue with Keefe is that a few years into his time in Toronto and we’re just now having to determine what his coaching identity is beyond “Kyle’s guy.” He is not a hard ass like Cassidy, he is not a tactician like Cooper, and he’s not defence first guy like Trotz. Keefe has been great at letting players play to their strengths and in that sense he’s been a players coach, but he also needs to be more than that and while his regular season success doesn’t point to him being a bad coach, that isn’t really the question. The question P.K. is asking and answering is if Sheldon Keefe is the right coach for the Leafs best competitive window and Subban’s answer is no. It remains to be seen what answer MLSE will come up with.

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