Sheldon Keefe Is Pushing The Right Buttons
New general manager Treliving would have been justified in waiting out the season before deciding on a contract for head coach Sheldon Keefe.
He was impressed by his initial interactions with Keefe and signed him to an extension before the season. It was a questionable commitment considering the Toronto Maple Leafs lack of postseason success.
So far, Keefe is proving Treliving’s faith in him.
Keefe’s constant line-juggling is always scrutinized, but credit must be given for many of his moves.
He has not been afraid to tinker with combinations to find ideal spots for his new players (still a work in progress) or go away from what is not working.
Projected first-line left winger Tyler Bertuzzi has been moved elsewhere. Matthew Knies and Max Domi were both scuffling until being put together against the Lightning and that sparked a comeback victory.
During the same game, he created a stacked forward unit of Nylander-Matthews-Marner that carried the play to also ignite the team.
Most critical to winning against the Lightning was Keefe’s decision to pull starter Ilya Samsonov and replace him with Joseph Woll. The team responded as Woll refused to be beaten.
Keefe didn’t hesitate to change the D pairings after the Leafs dreadful defensive start. While the defense will be a season-long concern, the moves provided some temporary relief.
Keefe also called out his star players for their lackluster effort in a loss against the Chicago Blackhawks. Unlike last year, he did not walk back his comments.
He made his expectations clear and put his players on notice that their effort was unacceptable.
Another vastly underrated aspect of Keefe? His video replay challenges. Credit must also go to the Leafs off-ice video crew, but Keefe has the final say on what plays to review.
His career challenge record is an eye-popping 81.5%. More difficult to judge is how it can change the momentum of a game.
A case in point was the Leafs recent game against the Washington Capitals. The Capitals thought they had scored the all-important first goal of the game, but were denied when Keefe challenged for goaltender interference.
With momentum shifted, the Toronto Maple Leafs scored the next four goals of the game.
For a Leafs team that will be judged come the playoffs, Keefe’s decision-making will be critical in motivating his players and managing the roster as they navigate the regular season.
Right now, he is making all the right decisions.