Yesterday’s contract extension of Sheldon Keefe as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs has raised some interesting questions for me. Particularly, while Keefe is hardly on his own this season, he’s without his former friend and perhaps his best supporter.
That person was Kyle Dubas, who was removed from the Maple Leafs job and quickly found his way to the Pittsburgh Penguins as both their President of Hockey Operations and their General Manager (GM).
Two Things About Keefe’s Contract Extension
There are two intriguing questions about Keefe’s coaching tenure, particularly because Dubas is no longer the team’s GM. First, while there’s no sense that Keefe will be fired at the first sign of trouble, Dubas isn’t there to have his back.
My guess is that Keefe’s assessment is tied to the team’s success down the Stanley Cup path. If they make a long run toward the Cup, all’s well and good. If they get dumped again in the first round or even in the second, not so good.
Treliving, in announcing the decision to extend Keefe, tied that caveat to Keefe’s wagon. The key comment the GM made was that he was impressed by Keefe taking responsibility for the team’s failures. Should they fail again, the guess what seems pretty clear.
Obviously, the Maple Leafs Want Keefe to Succeed
For sure, the Maple Leafs want to give Keefe every opportunity to succeed. The two-year extension reflects the organization’s commitment to that vision. Even as rich as the organization is, the decision is also a pragmatic one. Even rich and successful businesses don’t waste money easily. Should they fire Keefe, he’d be due a ton of cash in his severance costs.
Nope, everyone wants this to work.
The Plan with Keefe As Coach
As the plan stands, Keefe to remain coach for at least the next three years. There’s no question that, for me, the decision to extend his contract was a no-brainer. He was the “best available” option this summer.
First, he’s a good coach and has a great regular-season record. Second, the plan gives GM Treliving time to see if Keefe can win the Stanley Cup, or go on a long and successful run toward it.
However, we know from Treliving’s history that he can change a coach really quickly. He canned Geoff Ward and hired Duane Sutter on the same day in 2021. He will jump quickly if he feels he needs to.
How Will Keefe Do Without Dubas?
One of the most intriguing parts of this situation is watching Keefe navigate the situation without Dubas as the GM. It could be a perfect situation for the recently-extended head coach. The new dynamic gives him a chance to show that he can be his own person.
It will also give him a chance to show his coaching acumen in a new environment. Not all fans are optimistic about Keefe’s ability to win. I see their comments daily that show a lack of respect for his ability as a coach.
Still, these fans love their Maple Leafs and want to see them become successful. I can’t imagine they’d hope to see their team bite the dust just so they can watch Keefe leave town. True Maple Leafs’ fans want both Keefe and the team to experience success.
Keefe Should Have the Players’ Support
Keefe has shown an ability to connect with Maple Leafs players. They seem to like playing for him and he seems to have gained their trust. That bodes well for his coaching success.
Second, the fact that Treliving basically challenged the team to win the Stanley Cup for their coach also should be motivating. As I noted, he tied Keefe’s success to how well the team did in the postseason. That should further inspire players who want Keefe to stay to push even harder (if that’s possible) toward that end.
Keefe’s new contract is a calculated move that offers both stability and the chance for Keefe to show his coaching ability in this post-Dubas context. Whether we liked Dubas or not, he’s gone. Keefe remains.
This season promises to be an interesting journey for the team and its fans.