Is Sheldon Keefe to Blame For the Leafs Failures, or Is He a Scapegoat?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Colorado Avalanche
Toronto Maple Leafs v Colorado Avalanche / Jack Dempsey/GettyImages

The Toronto Maple Leafs announced Thursday that they have relieved head coach Sheldon Keefe of his duties. This move comes after yet another first round exit at the hands of the Boston Bruins last week. It also comes nearly two months before his two-year contract extension kicks in that he signed in August 2023.

Prior to Keefe being named the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was the coach of their AHL-affiliate the Toronto Marlies.

There, the team held a 199-89-22-9 record as well as capturing the regular season champions trophy twice and the Calder Cup once, in 2018.

He was also very successful in his two other coaching stops in Junior hockey with the Pembroke Lumber Kings and Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds. 

Is Sheldon Keefe to Blame For the Leafs Failures, or Is He a Scapegoat?

Since being hired in November 2019, Keefe has been behind the bench for the Maple Leafs for five seasons. Over that time he amassed a 212-97-40 record, good for fifth all-time in Leafs coaching wins.

He also currently stands as the leader in regular season win% of all Leafs coaches. He has been the coach for three of the five best seasons in franchise history including both the first and second best. However, of all eight Leafs coaches who have coached 20 or more playoff games, he sits third last in win% and only one playoff series win.

Sheldon Keefe's tenure as Toronto Maple Leafs head coach perfectly encapsulates the highs and lows of Leafs hockey, he has been the bench boss for some of the greatest seasons the franchise has ever seen, followed by playoff failure after failure.

In a results based league, winning is what matters and the success in the regular season never translated to the playoffs. Ultimately, this is what got Keefe fired. But, it’s a little deeper than that.

Ultimately, I believe there are two main on-ice reasons for the Leafs failures; An inability to create offense and score goals, and inconsistent goaltending.

Despite his incredible record, the Leafs goaltending has been shaky at best over his tenure both in the regular season and playoffs. In the four full seasons that he coached, the Leafs sat 16th in the league in terms of save percentage (SV%) and it has been a carousel between the pipes. This comes despite consistently finishing in the top-10 in terms of xGA/60 and FA/60. 

Moving out from the crease, the Leafs have scored more than two goals once in their last 14 playoff games. That’s simply not good enough and has been proven to be a poor recipe for success. The team never seemed to lean into their offensive abilities and always tried to do a 180 with their playstyle when the playoff came around. All Stats Via

Then, there is the case of the Leafs’ special teams. For much of this year's series, the Bruins had a PP success rate of 50% while the Leafs ultimately scored once on the PP in seven games.


It is hard to know exactly what part of the blame is on tactical (coach) or personnel (GM) decisions but it’s probably safe to bet that there is a mix of the two. After GM Kyle Dubas took the blame last year, it is now Keefe’s turn to take the blame. We will see if Treliving’s coach can turn the Leafs fortunes as we enter year ten of the Brendan Shanahan “Shanaplan” era in Toronto.