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If there's an extension coming for Keefe with Maple Leafs, get it done

May 04, 2023May 04, 2023

As former Maple Leafs coaches continue to find work, there remains no official word from the Leafs regarding the future of coach Sheldon Keefe.

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Greg Cronin became the coach of the Anaheim Ducks when he was hired on Monday, some nine years after he finished a three-season run as an assistant with the Leafs.

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Mike Babcock's return to the National Hockey League will reportedly come as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets once his eight-year contract with Toronto expires and the end of June.

And Spencer Carbery, most recently an assistant under Keefe, is less than a week into his new post as coach of the Washington Capitals.

While there is speculation that an extension could be on the way for Keefe — who otherwise would head into the 2023-24 season in the last year of his two-year deal — general manager Brad Treliving, just days on the job, remains in the getting-to-know-you phase with Keefe.

When Treliving eventually makes his decision, if that results in an extension for Keefe, by all means, do it. Get it signed, check it off the to-do list, let Keefe get back to his downtime during the summer (after hiring an assistant coach to replace Carbery) before concrete preparations begin for training camp.

Keeping Keefe on the payroll but sending him into the dressing room without an extension wouldn't add up to a vote of confidence in the eyes of the players.

It can't be compared to the situation that Kyle Dubas was in last season when he managed through the last year on his deal without an extension. Players interact with their coach on close to a daily basis, whether it's at practice or on game days. He has more impact on what they do each time they step on the ice. There isn't the same kind of relationship with the general manager.

Keefe has a .678 points percentage in three-plus seasons as coach of the Leafs. Three of those seasons were directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He has won 166 times in 267 games in the NHL. Only 100 coaches have won more games in the NHL. And none of those 100 have coached in as few games as Keefe.

A bad coach doesn't have that kind of record.

Keefe won with the Toronto Marlies in 2018, guiding the team to the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League. Before that, he had a couple of good runs in the playoffs as coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League. Previously, he turned the Junior A Pembroke Lumber Kings into the class of the Central Canada Hockey League, winning five consecutive championships.

Keefe has not turned his successful past, nor his regular-season record in the NHL, into success in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Still, he is in the infancy stage of his pro coaching career. Keefe will turn 43 in September; as of today, the only NHL head coach who is younger is Carbery, who will be 41 when he coaches his first game with the Capitals in October.

Keefe's best coaching days, presumably, haven't happened. Yet, he has been at the helm of a team that has taken significant steps on the defensive side of the game.

Giving up on Keefe after a relatively short run as Leafs coach wouldn't make a lot of sense. He was Dubas’ guy, yes, but Dubas isn't the single reason that Keefe is a good coach.

Treliving didn't commit to Keefe right away last week, but listed Keefe's attributes and stressed that he wanted to get to know his inherited coach better. That's happening now.

The Leafs won't necessarily have their hands tied if Keefe signs an extension and then stumbles early next season to the point that he needs to be replaced. That Keefe would have to be paid to not coach the Leafs wouldn't put much of a dent in MLSE's bottom line. Given the regular-season success Keefe has had, a string of performances that would lead to his firing can't be anticipated.

There is a healthy list of capable coaches without a job, but would any represent a significant upgrade over Keefe or could guarantee greater playoff success?

There are two coaching vacancies in the NHL, in Calgary and with the New York Rangers. No one would raise an eyebrow if the Flames promoted Mitch Love, named the AHL's outstanding coach the past two seasons, from their farm club.

In New York, the front-runners to coach the Rangers reportedly are John Hynes and Peter Laviolette.

Others such as Gerard Gallant, Joel Quenneville (provided he gets the green light from the NHL to return), Bruce Boudreau and Claude Julien would remain available.

Treliving has some bigger issues, the contract status of Auston Matthews chief among them, to take care of.

Retaining Keefe with an extension would clear one item off his plate and wouldn't represent a step back.

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