Sheldon Keefe resigns as Maple Leafs head coach

The Canadian Press

Published Thursday, May 9, 2024 10:14 amEDT

Last updated Thursday, May 9, 2024 10:20 amEDT

TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs have fired head coach Sheldon Keefe.

General manager Brad Treliving made the announcement Thursday after the Original Six franchise. lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Keefe had a record of 212-97-40 in parts of five seasons in Toronto, but was just 16-21 in the postseason, including a 1-5 series record.

Even though the organization finally overcame a painful hurdle in the playoffs last spring when the Leafs advanced for the first time in nearly two decades, Keefe couldn’t maintain that momentum.

Toronto bowed out in five tepid games to the Florida Panthers in the 2023 second round before Kyle Dubas was fired as general manager less than two weeks later.

That firing raised questions about Keefe’s future, but Treliving decided to keep the Dubas loyalist after taking the reins, and then signed with Brampton, Ont., to a contract extension through 2025-26.

Treliving called the decision to move forward “difficult.”

“Sheldon is an excellent coach and a great man,” he said in a statement. “However, we determined that a new voice is needed to help the team move forward and achieve our ultimate goal.

“We thank Sheldon for his hard work and dedication to the organization over the past nine years, and we wish him and his family all the best.”

The organization added that “the search for a new coach will immediately begin and then decisions will be made on the rest of the coaching staff.”

Keefe guided the Leafs to third place in the Atlantic this season as sharpshooter Auston Matthews chased the league’s first 70-goal campaign since 1992-93 before falling just one shy of finishing with a total of 69 to secure his third Trophy Maurice (Rocket) Richard. .

But Toronto’s series against Boston followed a familiar Leafs playoff script with shoddy special teams (the power play was an atrocious 1-for-21) and goaltending that ultimately ruined the team.

The Leafs came back from 3-1 in the series with a pair of close 2-1 wins, including one in overtime, before falling to the Bruins by the same score in overtime of Game 7.

A migraine that affected winger William Nylander’s vision and kept him out of the lineup for the first three games certainly didn’t help the cause, while Matthews battled illness and injury after a monster Game 2. He missed the Games 5 and 6 before returning. for the end of life or death to much less than 100 percent.

Keefe spoke to reporters as the players parted ways on Monday (May 6), taking responsibility for not meeting expectations but also optimistic about the future.

“Now more than ever I believe in myself and our team,” he said. “That I will win and our team will win.”

Keefe actually won in Toronto, but not enough in the playoffs.

He led the team to franchise highs in points (115) and wins (54) in 2021-22, while Matthews secured his first Hart Trophy as NHL MVP after scoring 60 before the Leafs lost a tough series of seven games against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Toronto took a slight step back in 2022-23, but still finished second in the Atlantic with the same core of high-paid forwards led by Matthews, Nylander, Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

Keefe then led the Leafs to the franchise’s first series win since 2004, when Tavares scored in overtime of Game 6 against Tampa, but they were no match for the Panthers, a gritty group that previously beat the Bruins , winners of the Presidents Trophy, before reaching the Cup final.

Keefe, 43, who replaced Mike Babcock in November 2019, has seen his team score two goals or fewer in 13 of his last 14 playoff games in charge, which is not good enough for the so-called “Core Four.” ” of Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares, who represent approximately half of the club’s salary cap.

Previously benched in early 2022-2023 after a shaky start for the Leafs, Keefe’s other postseason setbacks came in the pandemic-necessitated five-game qualifying round against the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2020 and a disastrous blown lead in the series 3-1. in 2021 against the Montreal Canadiens.

Keefe, who led the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies to a Calder Cup title in 2018 with Dubas after the pair also worked side by side in juniors, appeared to be in trouble in May 2022 when Toronto lost to Tampa in that first round. series after leading 3-2 with two shots to advance.

Treliving also held his own last spring, but was ultimately forced to pull the trigger for an organization with a Cup drought that now stands at 57 years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2024.

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