Thursday, October 28

Opinion | The Leafs make sure there is one less thing for head coach Sheldon Keefe to worry about, extending his contract before the crucial season

The Maple Leafs want the waters around Sheldon Keefe to be as calm as possible during this high-stakes season.

By giving Keefe a two-year extension that puts him under contract to 2023-24, the Leafs eliminated the inevitable questions or speculation about their head coach’s future that would have accompanied any three-game losing streak.

Without the extension, Keefe could have been a lame duck, entering the final year of the deal he had been working on since he replaced Mike Babcock behind the team bench in November 2019.

News of the contract was first reported Thursday by colleague Pierre LeBrun on TSN’s Insider Trading. The agreement was signed over the summer, according to sources.

While the Leafs have failed to overcome the playoff hump since Keefe took over, dropping a qualifying round series to Columbus inside the NHL bubble before losing to Montreal in seven games in May, they have racked up. a .660 percentage point with him at the helm in the regular season.

That’s consistent with the success the 41-year-old enjoyed at previous levels throughout his coaching career.

It helped justify this show-me extension, especially being his 82-game first season with the Leafs. He took over a struggling Babcock team and immediately turned his luck around before guiding the Leafs to a top spot in the North Division during last year’s COVID-interrupted campaign.

There has been clear progress, particularly on the defensive side of the puck.

Keefe’s biggest challenge in the coming months will be helping his central players build an unshakable foundation after their repeated disappointments in the playoffs. He’s also working with a reimagined group of forwards that includes free-agent additions such as Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kaše and Michael Bunting.

This season has huge consequences for the organization as everyone from President Brendan Shanahan to General Manager Kyle Dubas and the top four $ 40 million (US): Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares They will likely face heavy scrutiny if the Leafs don’t step up.

Keefe recently told reporters that his own job safety was not something he spent any time worrying about.

“I recognize and accept the pressure and responsibility that comes with this position, I knew it when I walked in,” Keefe said at the start of training camp. “There has not been a day that I have thought about (my job security). Nor has there been a day where I did not recognize the responsibility I have towards our fans, our property and our management team. “

Keefe was the central figure in Amazon’s “All or Nothing” all-access series, shown pushing his players quite hard behind the scenes last season, even as victories were piling up. However, he has also earned a reputation for being a straight shooter who makes his position clear to everyone, and has proven to be far less stubborn than his predecessor when it comes to in-game management and lineup decisions.

He and Dubas have enjoyed tremendous success together since their time at Sault Ste. Marie, including a Calder Cup with the Toronto Marlies in 2018.

Keefe racked up more wins during his first 100 games as the Leafs head coach than anyone in history (61, down from Hap Day’s 58) and he’s in a great position to watch at least 200 games on the job now that he’s signed. this extension.

This was meant to provide some stability during a period where things could quickly get hectic if the Leafs do fight.

It is a sign that they are on the right track, but also a nod to the fact that nothing is guaranteed in the long term for this group without further progress. Keefe doesn’t seem like the kind of personality that would bother with that scenario: “I knew exactly what I was getting into,” he said earlier at camp, but he should keep things a little quieter on the periphery of the team as the season draws near. .

Amid high expectations and a growing list of skeptics, they are already facing enough noise.

Chris Johnston is a Toronto-based journalist with a new gaming company. His work will be seen on the new gaming company’s website and app, as well as the Toronto Star. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterchris

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