All you need to know about new Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe

After the Toronto Maple Leafs shocked many by firing head coach Mike Babcock and replacing him with Sheldon Keefe on Wednesday afternoon, the hockey world flipped upside down for about an hour.

Once the reality set in that Babcock would no longer be at the team’s helm, many were asking the same question: What do we need to know about this Keefe guy?

The 39-year-old becomes the 31st head coach in franchise history after four-and-a-half seasons with the Toronto Marlies — the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate.

He has no previous experience as a head coach in the NHL.

Sheldon Keefe has plenty of reasons to smile after being named the newest head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, right? (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Sheldon Keefe has plenty to smile about after being named the new head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, right? (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Since joining the Marlies at the start of the 2015-16 season — the same time Babcock became head coach of the Leafs — Keefe has shone. He departs the AHL boasting a regular season record of 199-89-31. This record equates to a points percentage of .672, “the highest in AHL history among head coaches with at least 200 games coached,” according to the league’s press release.

In his four complete campaigns with the squad, he guided the Marlies to a pair of Eastern Conference Finals appearances (in 2016 and 2019) and a Calder Cup championship in 2018.

That title-winning team included seven players that have been regular contributors for the Maple Leafs this season: Travis Dermott, Andreas Johnsson, Justin Holl, Martin Marincin, Dmytro Timashov, Trevor Moore and Frederik Gauther. Recent call-up Pierre Engvall supplements that list as well. Keefe’s relationship with these individuals — and the many others on the Leafs’ roster that he coached in the AHL — will only help ease his transition to a team that has been spinning its tires of late.

The Maple Leafs, who are 0-5-1 in their last six games and 9-10-4 overall, will play 11 of their next 13 contests on the road. While that’s a peculiar situation for any coach to encounter off the hop, the time away from the direct spotlight in Toronto may be a blessing in disguise for Keefe as he gets his feet under him.

Journeyman Rich Clune joined the Marlies at the same time as Keefe back in 2015 and has remained with the club since. Over that span, a strong relationship blossomed between the two.

“I’d go through the end boards for him,” said Clune about Keefe, according to a December 2018 article by Hailey Salvian of The Athletic. “He’s a competitive person much like myself, and his attention to each and every player he coaches individually is very endearing... He puts them in the positions that are going to make them better hockey players.”

Before his time with the Marlies, Keefe was the head coach of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for three seasons and earned Canadian Hockey League Coach of the Year honours in 2014-15. His first two campaigns overlapped with Kyle Dubas’ final two as the Greyhounds general manager.

Prior to Keefe’s stint in Sault Ste. Marie, he won five straight league titles and the 2011 RBC Cup with the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Central Canada Hockey League. He served as both the head coach and general manager for the Junior A team.

Keefe played 125 regular-season games in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning between 2000 and 2003 after being selected in the second round of the 1999 draft by the organization.

An offensive dynamo during his playing days in the OHL, Keefe scored 48 goals and 121 points in 66 regular-season games during his final campaign with the Barrie Colts.

At the time of his NHL promotion, the Marlies sit atop the AHL’s North Division with a record of 10-2-3.

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