Toronto Maple Leafs: Sheldon Keefe Should Have Done This

Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs (Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports) /

It’s been a long time since people considered the Toronto Maple Leafs a powerhouse. Their ’20-’21 roster has got to be one of their best in the team’s history.

General manager Kyle Dubas added countless pieces to make the Toronto Maple Leafs flexible while somehow remaining cap compliant.

Despite having the arsenal to score, defend, hit, and play any style of hockey, the team fell embarrassingly short of their Stanley Cup aspirations. That brings attention to the players and the head coach.

Toronto’s Sheldon Keefe is known for being open to change and adapt. That’s what made him successful with the Marlies and the go-to option to replace the legendary Mike Babcock. In the playoffs, it seems as if the Brampton native took a page from his predecessor.

There’s no doubt that the Leafs were a top-heavy team. Allocating as much ice-time as possible to the team’s stars was something Babcock failed to do, and Keefe took notice. You would think playing them as much as possible would maximize their opportunities.

In theory, yes, that is what giving them extra ice-time would do. Unfortunately, the Leafs could not get themselves out of a ditch. Rather than splitting up the  Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, duo, the head coach opted to play them together.

At all times.

A turn for the worse for the Toronto Maple Leafs

You can debate how much the Canadiens were able to shut the Leafs top players down.. A line consisting of Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, and Artturi Lehkonen played a prominent role, but the Toronto Maple Leafs top line had 54% puck-possession, 60% of the shots and outscored them 3-1, while getting the same amount of scoring chances per minute they got in the regular season.

Maybe Matthews wrist injury re-occured, maybe it was Carey Price – whatever it was, the goals were not going in, and by game seven the coach should have made adjustments.

Sheldon Keefe decided to stick to what worked during the regular season despite not finishing chances in four of the first six games in Round 1. That allowed the Canadiens to continue frustrating the forwards in blue.

Losing star center John Tavares did play a role in the loss, and likely one reason Keefe opted to keep the stars together. That doesn’t dismiss his failure to do what he does best, adapt.

I’m not saying that splitting up the stars would have a complete turnaround, but I’m saying it was at least worth a shot. Dominique Ducharme did so, which resulted in three straight wins to rally back from a 3-1 series deficit. (stats from

Yes, Matthews and Marner should have played better. (Then again, statistically they played fine. Players don’t really have control of their shooting percentage).  Yes, defenseman Jake Muzzin and Tavares could have and would have helped the team win if healthy. That doesn’t mean Sheldon Keefe was perfect.  Unfair or not, bad results tend to fall on the coach.  Part of what is supposed to make a coach valuable is his ability to notice trends and react accordingly. Keefe didn’t do that in the Montreal series.

Next. Leafs Must Extend Morgan Rielly. dark

I’ve heard a couple of calls for his job, and I don’t think that is warranted. Hopefully, he learns from this season and turns things around come the ’21-’22 season. The Leafs still have most of their impact players signed for next season, so the window to compete is still there.