Toronto Maple Leafs: Sheldon Keefe, Analytics, Mistakes and Excuses

Feb 22, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe during the post game press conference after a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 22, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe during the post game press conference after a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Toronto Maple Leafs
Head coach Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The End Goal: Playoffs

When the ice gets smaller and the pressure gets higher, this Toronto Maple Leafs team gets squeezed into submission by teams that compete hard and don’t make many mistakes.

This team is good enough to perform well in the regular season.  It’s also, in my opinion, good enough to have a successful playoff run.  The problem is that everything must be perfect for them to do so.

The core 4 MUST score.  Campbell MUST make saves.  Special teams MUST be good.  The team MUST be healthy.  Any of these falter and the Leafs are no longer a team good enough to have the success that they so desperately need to have.

Why all the “MUST”?  Because they make too many mistakes to win otherwise.

82 games is a long, exhausting season, after which, you begin a second season that is even more exhausting.  Success in hockey becomes a blend of talent, health, and attrition.

People tend to forget that when the playoffs start, there are no more bad teams left standing.  The talent disparity that exists in the regular season goes away.  Teams that make mistakes become teams that have a serious uphill battle if they want to win playoff games.

When you take away the talent advantage that the Leafs have, what are you left with?  When I say take away the advantage, I’m referring to the fact that the Leafs have a significant edge in talent over most teams in the NHL during the regular season.

That advantage shrinks in the playoffs.  It can no longer carry them to success.  It requires other factors to become part of the equation to offset the difference.

Health.  The team MUST be healthy.  They just don’t have the depth to win otherwise because they make too many mistakes.  They need all their talent to play to have a chance at overcoming mistakes.

Attrition.  The mental toughness to push through adversity and grind out victories under difficult circumstances.  Do the Leafs have this?  If they do, they haven’t shown it yet.  Maybe they develop this and maybe they don’t.  What you can bet on, just like I stated with talent, is the fact that attrition won’t win them games either if they make too many mistakes.

No matter how talented they are, no matter how healthy they are, winning will eventually require a very simple change to the equation.  They need to make less mistakes.

Which brings me to the coach, Sheldon Keefe.  Is this on the coaching staff?  Maybe it is.  The fact that the Leafs start most of their games like the first 20 minutes is another problem, and the amount of mistakes this team makes may be symptoms of the same thing.

The focus just isn’t there.  When it is, it’s not consistent, because they lose that focus at crucial points in the game, which results in costly mistakes.