With the Round 2 loss to the Florida Panthers, Sheldon Keefe’s tenure as the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been a subject of intense conversation. That’s especially true following yet another disappointing playoff exit.

As all Maple Leafs’ fans know, Keefe has achieved remarkable success during the regular season. However, supporters and critics know that there are both positives and negatives to his coaching style and decision-making.

In this post, I want to take a look at Keefe as a coach. I will highlight three things I believe he did well as well as three areas where he fell short.

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Three Things Coach Keefe Did Well

Success One: Implementing a New Playing Style

When Keefe took over as head coach in November 2019, he brought a fresh perspective and a different playing style. It was immediately obvious when his team was compared to his predecessor, Mike Babcock, that Keefe had the players on board.

He emphasized a free-flowing and possession-based offensive approach, which seemed to suit the team’s skilled roster. This change in playing style led to an immediate turnaround in the team’s play and record. It helped reignite a sense of optimism among both players and fans. It also moved the team from its so-so record before he came to a far improved won/loss record when he got there.

Success Two: Keefe Has Helped Develop Young Talent in the Team’s Core

Under Keefe’s guidance, several (then) young players on the Maple Leafs’ roster, such as Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, began to thrive. Both showed significant growth in their game.

Over the seasons he’s been the coach, Keefe has been able to further maximize their potential by giving them key roles and chances to showcase their skills. He’s effectively managed their ice time and helped them evolve into key contributors to the team.

Success Three: Keefe Has Had Regular Season Success

Keefe has been a great regular-season coach. In fact, he has put up the best regular season winning percentage in Maple Leafs’ history. That’s a testament to his ability to get the team performing at a high level during the 82-game grind of the regular season.

Keefe has also implemented effective systems and strategies that have translated into consistent success during the regular season. His emphasis on offensive creativity has resulted in the Maple Leafs becoming one of the top-scoring teams in the league. He is surrounded with good assistant coaches, and he works well with them.

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Three Areas Where Coach Keefe Fell Short

Lack of Success One: Playoff Performance

The biggest criticism of Keefe’s tenure as head coach revolves around the team’s playoff performances. Despite their regular season success, the Maple Leafs have failed to make a deep playoff run. The team has struggled to elevate its intensity and overcome adversity when facing tougher opponents in the postseason.

Over the postseasons, Keefe has been unable to make the necessary adjustments or to inspire his team during crucial playoff moments. This lack of success has raised concerns about his coaching abilities.

Lack of Success Two: Questionable In-Game Decisions

At times, Keefe has faced criticism for his in-game decision-making. This includes lineup choices and player usage. Obviously, fans and hockey pundits have different preferences. Some believe Keefe should juggle his lines more, but some believe he should stick with a more set lineup.

However, both fans and pundits have questioned Keefe’s ability to make quick tactical decisions and adjust the team’s play during games. There have been instances where his decisions, such as line combinations or defensive pairings, have been pointed to as having impacted the team’s performance in a negative way on the ice.

Keefe also seems to have players he trusts more than others. Two of these players – Alex Kerfoot and Justin Holl – are not always many fans’ favorites.

Lack of Success Three: Keefe Has Been Out-Coached in Crucial Moments

A final area of concern for Keefe is his performance in crucial moments against opposing coaches. In several playoff series, Keefe has seemed to be out-coached by his counterparts. This has been pointed to as a reason for the disappointing results the Maple Leafs have recorded.

Critics argue that Keefe has struggled to adapt and find solutions when facing strategic challenges posed by opposing teams. This has led to a belief that he’s not able to match wits with other coaches. His critics wonder if he can lead this team to playoff success.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that, while coach Keefe has brought positive changes and achieved regular-season success during his tenure as the Maple Leafs’ head coach, his shortcomings in guiding the team to playoff success cannot be ignored.

Keefe has been unable to make significant adjustments during the postseason. He’s also made questionable in-game decisions. Finally, there is a belief that he’s been out-coached in crucial moments. These points have raised doubts about his ability to lead the team to a Stanley Cup victory.

Whether that’s true or not is a matter of who’s making the judgment. That said, Keefe’s future with the Maple Leafs will likely depend on whether the organization believes he can address these issues or if a coaching change is necessary to reach its ultimate goal.

We will soon see what the organization thinks. Right now, it would seem, Keefe waits in limbo as his higher-ups decide his fate.

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