Toronto Maple Leafs: Sheldon Keefe Extension Should Have Waited

Head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sheldon Keefe, walks across the ice after (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sheldon Keefe, walks across the ice after (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

The first major decision new Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving made was to retain Sheldon Keefe as head coach. Now, Treliving has decided to extend his contract.

Just before the NHL draft, Treliving confirmed that Keefe would return to the Toronto Maple Leafs bench. That temporarily ended speculation that the new GM might want to bring in his own coach.

Keefe has guided the Leafs through their most successful regular season era in franchise history. Yet, despite holding the highest points percentage of all Leafs coaches, he lacks playoff success.

Like his players, Keefe has been unable to solve the postseason bugaboo, winning only one playoff round in his four appearances, covering five series.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Keefe Extension Should Have Waited

It is baffling that Treliving decided to extend Keefe, especially for two years. One year or not at all, would have been a better choice. The Leafs have now committed themselves to their coach through the end of the 2025-2026 season.

Keefe earned the right for another chance based on the team’s steady, albeit slow, defensive and postseason improvements. He deserved one more opportunity with the team, but his situation should have been reassessed at the end of the 2023-2024 season.

There is a misguided belief that a coach should not be running the show during the last year of their contract. The thought is that without job security the players will tune out the coach. The coach becomes a “lame duck” that can easily be fired.

In the Leafs case, Treliving should have delayed the extension talk until after the upcoming year. Instead, he committed to Keefe based on a few months of conversations.

Treliving has yet to see his coach in action. His devotion to Keefe is hard to comprehend and justify when the GM has not seen his coach do his job. Keefe coaching for his job would have been preferable.

Treliving is lacking foresight or ignoring the implications of an underachieving season.

What happens if the Leafs struggle to start next season? Firing his coach is now an unlikely option, despite having a contingency plan in NHL-proven assistant Guy Boucher.

It also appears that Treliving is underestimating the pressure of another playoff failure. Much of the fanbase was screaming for change after last year’s second-round exit to the Florida Panthers.

Fast forward to next April and imagine a Leafs first or second-round playoff exit. The calls will be louder for upheaval within the organization, and Keefe will be at the top of the list for those looking for a scapegoat.

It will likely take a Conference Final appearance to keep the fans at bay. More postseason failure added to Keefe’s 13-17 playoff record will not be tolerated.

Evaluating Keefe throughout the upcoming year and pushing his contract extension until after the season would have been the prudent thing to do.

If the Leafs have a great year, then extend Keefe. Keefe choosing to leave next offseason or costing a little more money is of minimal concern to the Leafs.

Keefe was unlikely to go anywhere next offseason. If so, the Leafs, with star players and one of the premiere markets in the NHL, would be a preferred destination for many coaching candidates. The list of available coaches also increases during the offseason.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and GM Treliving did not need to rush Keefe’s extension. By doing so, they’ve limited themselves.

Next. 2 x Power Forwards Give Leafs a Whole New Look. dark

The Leafs have paid past coaches not to coach. Should things go sour during the next calendar year, they might be doing it again.