Disappointing playoff appearances, an unacceptable mindset, and a lack of severe change are what has occurred throughout Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach, Sheldon Keefe’s tenure. After signing a two-year extension last August, Keefe is presumed to stay in the 6ix, however, recent results should convince the Leafs’ front office otherwise.
In the early days of their 2019–2020 season, Toronto fired head coach Mike Babcock after three first-round exits and a poor start to the season. This is when Sheldon Keefe was called to take over, in what was hoped to be a new era of, the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey. Since the start of Keefe’s head coaching career in Toronto, he has recorded 191 wins and won over 50 games in the regular season for the first time in franchise history. Not only the team in general, but specific players have improved under Keefe’s leadership. Toronto’s “core four” are having record-breaking seasons and improvements, as well as younger players like Nick Robertson and Matthew Knies, proving their high-caliber potential.
This team has all the characteristics to be successful, yet, it is not. As a lifelong Maple Leafs fan, I believe that it is time for Sheldon Keefe to go. A coach should take responsibility for the dynamic within the dressing room and if the mindset of their players declines, it is their job to improve it. They can inspire a team and create meaningful change to improve a season. If their mindset is facing the right direction, anything is possible for a team. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, this is exactly where the issue starts. They are a team that has constantly failed to capitalize when it matters. Sure, breaking team records and having an all-star roster looks good, but it is Sheldon Keefe’s job to make the most of what they have. For December and January, Toronto saw a disappointing section of their regular season. Losses to Columbus, Buffalo, and Ottawa are not acceptable for a team that has incredible talent. Toronto then went on a four-game winning streak against Californian teams which was met with praise and hopeful feelings as if the recent streak never happened. This streak quickly ended with three come-from-behind losses in a row.
Keefe’s response to several line changes shows that Toronto’s resolutions are in the wrong place. Do not take all this information from a disgruntled Leafs fan like myself. After a blown lead against the Edmonton Oilers, Mitch Marner after the game said, “We gotta ignore what everyone else says. We know we are a great hockey team. We show up every night. […] These last four games that we have had leads, we have played some awesome hockey.” This quote shows why the mindset of the Toronto Maple Leafs needs fixing. For Marner to look at the positives from games that Toronto should have won, is not the ideal mindset of a championship capable team. The Boston Bruins for example had the greatest record in NHL history last year only to be ousted in the first round by a team who should not have even made the playoffs. With the logic of the Maple Leafs, Boston should have treated it as business as usual and forgotten about it. Boston did not let this discourage them despite losing lots of their talent over the off-season. They are on track to clinch the best record again which does not happen with the same mindset during last year’s playoffs. Even though Toronto is a team of incredible talent, they will continue losing if Sheldon Keefe does not change his strategy by improving morale.
The mindset of a team is affected by a coach. While they are responsible for making strategic changes to a team, it means nothing if the mindset of a team is also playing a role in their faults. Sheldon Keefe should and has not been able to repair this damage that has caused these cup-contenders to be a write-off in the playoffs. Changes are necessary to advance this team and one of them is to fire Sheldon Keefe.