As Damien Cox of the Toronto Star noted in his column yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe’s biggest failing is that he hasn’t yet won during the first round of the playoffs. (from “Fire Leafs’ coach Sheldon Keefe? After 10 games? Don’t be ridiculous,” Damien Cox, Toronto Star, 31/10/2022).
Cox goes on to add that talk of firing coach Keefe after 10 games into the season is ridiculous. It’s much too early, even though the record is a mighty poor and unexpected 4-4-2.
However, Cox rightly warned that, if things don’t improve (or, my gosh, even get worse) over the next 10 games, that might push Kyle Dubas into making a move he clearly doesn’t want to make.
There Are Good Reasons to Stick with Keefe Right Now
Sure the team has come off what should have been a relatively easy western road trip with a really poor performance. That said, isn’t this a not-so-instant replay of what happened with the Maple Leafs’ last season? That team woke up to set franchise records in wins and points.
Although, as noted earlier, the sin was Toronto not winning the Stanley Cup. In fact, I’m betting that, for Maple Leafs’ fans, only winning the Stanley Cup would have kept them off his back.
That said, last season Colorado Avalanche’s coach Jared Bednar started 4-4-0 and won the Stanley Cup in his sixth season. So there’s precedent.
Coach Keefe Is Obviously Feeling the Pressure
It really is early in the season, but the mood is also surly among the Toronto fans. As well, coach Keefe seems to have shown he feels the pressure.
A week ago, after a poor game against the downtrodden Arizona Coyotes, Keefe pointed out to the media that the difference between his team and the Coyotes was that the Maple Leafs had elite players. But, they didn’t play that way. He later seemed to walk that dog back home by explaining what he meant to the media.
Then, during the team’s most recent game against the Anaheim Ducks, Keefe absolutely wasted a time out yelling at his players. During what seemed like a hissy fit, he pointed toward Mitch Marner. (You have to think he publicly scolded him for his egregious errors.)
Untypically, Marner had made two turnovers that directly resulted in goals against his team. By the way, Marner accepted the blame publicly after the game. Still …
The Bruins Coaching Change? Looked What Happened
On the other hand, Maple Leafs’ fans might point to this season’s experience with the Boston Bruins’ off-season coaching change. Will that experience work against coach Keefe? Again, it’s early in the season, but the early results suggest that the Bruins did well by making that change.
Interestingly, the Maple Leafs will play the Bruins in this Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. It’s one of the most challenging games the team will play in the next week. It will also be interesting for two reasons.
First, the Maple Leafs and the Bruins have a history. Over recent seasons, the Maple Leafs kept getting to the playoffs. The Bruins kept sending them home. Thus, the Bruins represent a clear adversary, complete with the nasty memories they bring.
More importantly, the Bruins are a positive example of what happens when there’s a coaching change. For Maple Leafs’ fans, that might seem to represent the possibility that the grass is greener. During the offseason, successful head coach Bruce Cassidy was canned after what were rumoured to be revealing exit interviews with the players.
New Bruins’ Hiring Coach Montgomery Was a Surprise
That firing surprised me. However, I don’t keep my eyes on the Bruins’ news or rumours. Cassidy was fired in early June of 2022; in early July, former Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery was hired as the Bruins’ new head coach.
It isn’t a stretch to point out that Cassidy shares similarities to the current Maple Leafs’ head coach. First, the Bruins never missed the postseason during Cassidy’s tenure as the Bruins’ coach. At the same time, the Bruins had only one really successful season.
In 2019, they went to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost to a St. Louis Blues team led by (of all things) mid-season replacement coach Craig Berube. Interesting, right?
After that, Cassidy couldn’t move his team past the second round.
Keefe and Dubas Are Lucky Shanahan Isn’t Swayed by Fans
So here we are, the Bruins’ coaching change is paying immediate dividends. And the Maple Leafs have a struggling team and coach. What’s next?
Fortunately, for both coach Keefe and general manager Kyle Dubas, Maple Leafs’ President Brendan Shanahan won’t be swayed by the fans. Still, many fans will point to the fact that, if the Bruins can make such a radical change and do it successfully, why not the Maple Leafs?
No one would have thought the Bruins would have started their season with the best record in the NHL 8-1-0. They did. Was it the coaching change?
Oh my, are things getting interesting in Toronto?