Sheldon Keefe is the 31st coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has no NHL experience, and if you do not follow hockey closely like I do then there is a real chance you have no idea who this guy is. Is he qualified? Is he the right choice? What has he done? All of these are questions that some of Leafs Nation are asking. And it is justified. But Keefe has been around the hockey world for a while. He has experience coaching in the Leafs organization and has been groomed by Dubas since his days in the OHL.
Keefe played in the OHL for 3 seasons, 1 with the St. Michaels Majors and 2 with the Barrie colts. Getting 237 points over 132 games, Keefe was seen as a fantastic junior player. In 121 NHL games he had 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points, so he didn’t exactly pan out as thought. He started his coaching career in 2006 as the head coach of the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the CJHL. Boasting a record of 41-10-2-2 and winning the championship, he had a fantastic first year. In 2012/13 he became the head coach of the Soo Greyhounds halfway through the season, they made the playoffs but ultimately lost in the first round. Kyle Dubas was the general manager of the Greyhounds at the time, so Dubas and Keefe have a long working relationship. In his first full season behind the bench in the Soo, he went 44-17-7 and lost in the second round of the playoffs, but the teams on ice product had improved. 2014/15 was the last year he coached in the OHL, he boasted a record of 54-12-2, a fantastic improvement from when he was first brought in. In 2015 he was named the new coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies by Kyle Dubas, who had clearly been impressed with his coaching in the OHL. When this move was made, it was clear to many that Keefe was being groomed by the Leafs organization to be the next coach of the Leafs, but with Babcock behind the bench, it was unclear when he would get his chance. In 4 full seasons and 15 games this season, Keefe went 199-89-22-9. He won a Calder cup, made the conference finals twice and the second round once.
Keefe’s coaching record from HockeyDB
Keefe was loved by the players at the OHL and AHL level and was always cited as having an open door policy and encouraged creativity. He was known to try new things and not scared to mix things up to try and get the team going. The relationship he has with Dubas is a strong one. They both have the same vision of how a hockey team should look and they trust each other to get the job done. They both buy in to the same ideas, which is a big thing for Dubas. With the roster turn over after last season, it was clear that this was turning into a Dubas team. Babcocks toys were shipped out when Hainsey, Zaitsev, Marleau and Brown left town and in came Petan and Spezza, who are clearly more skilled role players. Mike Babcock needed to show change in able to keep his job, but he didn’t. The systems did not change, the power play and penalty kill look awful and his deployment of players was a joke. Yet he refused to change. When asked about his job security all he had to say was that “I’ve always bet on Mike Babcock and I’m going to continue to bet on him”. Allergic to switching things up and with so signs that he was going to change his systems, the trigger was pulled and he was fired. Enter Sheldon Keefe. Keefe is a different type of coach who will carry a different message.13 of the players in the room have already played for him, which will help with the buy in. Bringing in new ideas and new systems will be refreshing to the young players, who for the last 4 seasons have just been hearing the same message of “Grind it out and keep it close”. Keefe more than likely will allow this explosive offense to shine. Known to encourage creativity, he should be a good fit for this young team that has not quite hit their stride yet. The 39 year old Keefe has never failed to reach at least the first round of the playoffs and has never had a losing record when coaching. Keefe learnt that communication with players is key. “You can never assume players understand your message or understand what you’re thinking. You have to make them understand. Spend time with them. Explain your perspective. Learning how vital that is and having those relationships with players individually — that is the biggest challenge in coaching today, managing that day to day. I don’t do it perfectly, but it’s something I try to think about as often as I can.” This is the way Keefe approaches players. And that’s really encouraging.
Dubas with the Calder Cup-National Post
It is a new era in Toronto, Dubas finally has the coach he wants, but he has used his bullet. The spotlight is off of him for now, but if this doesn’t work. What’s next? Dubas and Keefe have been successful at both levels they have worked together in. Hopefully that can translate to the NHL, and that starts tonight.
Keefe and Dubas Celebrating – Sault Star