Toronto Maple Leafs: Can Sheldon Keefe save the Leafs season?

Head coach Sheldon Keefe (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)
Head coach Sheldon Keefe (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images) /

Mike Babcock had to go. However, is Sheldon Keefe the right guy to save the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Is this a dream? I feel like September is still around the corner and I am having conversations about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Wishful thinking I guess, but I assumed they were on the path to the Eastern Conference Finals. Instead, they were on the wrong path, a path that has led to the firing of Mike Babcock in the midst of a tire fire. Now, Sheldon Keefe, the heir apparent to the Leafs throne, takes over.

I had a feeling that was going to happen eventually once Lou Lamoriello left and Kyle Dubas took over as the general manager. It ultimately became Kyle’s team and he definitely has his fingerprints all over this roster, but that’s another discussion.

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It’s now on Dubas. He has “his guy” running the show behind the bench now. Dubas and Keefe have worked together in the past, building a championship team for the Toronto Marlies. Is this the right answer though?

Babcock has coached 1,301 NHL games and has 700 wins. Meanwhile, Keefe has coached in zero games. It’s a risk, let’s just start with that. Keefe has been behind the bench of the Toronto Marlies since the 2015-16 season. He has seen the likes of William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Travis Dermott, and Fredrick Gauthier go through his system. You could make the argument that he already has a foundation with these guys. It’s not a lot, but it could be an intangible that works in his favor.

I point to that because it just felt the players stopped listening to Babcock. Every great coach can be a bit stubborn and Babcock was no different. He is a great coach and always will be. You can put him in the Hall of Fame right now for his accomplishments in not only the NHL but for Hockey Canada too. It’s just time for a new voice, and it’s going to be an adjustment.

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The players will get that fresh voice and there’s no way to predict how it will turn out. Keefe is inexperienced and he is now walking into the room with the likes of superstars in John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner. It will be a lot for him to take in.

I’m not saying he couldn’t do it, but the players have to know that he’s there because they failed their team and Babcock. Their play has been sub-par to say the least. Can Keefe implement a new system for them? That’s already a hurdle for him to jump over.

Keefe is a young guy with presumably fresh ideas. Leafs fans were starting to get frustrated because they felt Babcock was making no changes to the lineups, pairings, and special teams. And it was pretty clear those weren’t working in their current state.

Now Keefe almost has to be creative by default to avoid that same noise. He has coached a winning system in the American Hockey League, but this is the National Hockey League. Another hurdle for Keefe to get over.

First impressions will be everything, how would Keefe go about doing that? I don’t have the answer but I could just imagine it being very difficult. The Leafs are very fragile right now. It’s like he will have to try and defuse a bomb one wire at a time. He will hopefully get an initial ‘bump’ in play from the players because of what just happened, so he has a small time frame to figure it out.  Not easy to do in the Toronto market.

Hopefully, the Toronto Maple Leafs will turn it around and only hope they can save their season. If the St. Louis Blues can do it, so can the Leafs. I am not saying they’re going on a heater from here on out and winning the Stanley Cup, but there is still lots of hockey to be played.

Keefe will bring in fresh ideas, new systems and only time will tell if they can translate to the NHL level. It’s a lot to ask of a coach with zero experience. Dubas is taking a risk, but now he has no more excuses.

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With that being said, Keefe is getting thrown in the deep end. There’s no telling if he’ll sink or swim. Do you think the Toronto Maple Leafs made the right decision? Leave a comment below and let me know! Or you hit me up on twitter @WriterGiovanni.