Arguably the best coach in the NHL is a free agent. Justin Cuthbert and Julian McKenzie discuss if Barry Trotz could help the Maple Leafs get over the hump.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: If you give up on Sheldon Keefe and you bring in Barry Trotz, does that at least make it better? Because in my view, if you're not going to make a change to the core, you look at coaching. At the same time, the only other person I could think of who, if you're the Leafs, you should consider getting rid of Sheldon Keefe for is Barry Trotz. If you're not bringing in Barry Trotz, I don't see anyone else really out there who should be able to take over that job and help bring the Leafs past the first round.
I mean, maybe there is a guy, but I don't know. But Sheldon Keefe might be the easiest piece to move if you feel-- if ownership or Brendan Shanahan is looking at Kyle Dubas and saying, OK, you have to do something.
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah, we demand something.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah, we demand something. You can do your little tinkers here and there, but you need a big change, and maybe the core, maybe the players in that locker room respond to that change. They have to realize that all the failures they've had to this point, people can have the faith in them, but something has to change, that mindset has to change. Something has to change in that locker room, something has to move forward, move from that core in order to help them get to that next step.
And I know teams, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but the Leafs-- the idea of them running it back again, there's a part of me that understands, but there's another part of me that just feels it's still fills that definition of insanity, which is just doing things over and over and over again. And this court has failed in the first round before, they have failed. I'll say this though, I don't know if that opportunity has passed yet.
I think with the way the division could look, yes, there are teams that are trying to get better that are below them. I don't think they're at a point where they can get better than the Leafs. And right now, Tampa, they're looking really good now. Are they going to stay at that level next year? The Florida Panthers, I have to assume they're going to get better next year as well. I don't know if the Leafs are going to match the same heights they did this year, but I could still see them as a legitimate team in the playoffs when it comes time next year.
As long as they don't run into Tampa or Florida in the first round, they should, in theory, win their first round series next year, but who knows? We haven't even accounted for injuries, or any other circumstances, or massive drop-offs from any other player. So I want to say that their opportunity, their window has not passed them, but if things go bad next year, man, I don't know. You know what? I don't even want to let my mind go there because that is a very dark thing.
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Well, if they do stand Pat and this is the same thing next year, it's complete chaos. It's a scorched Earth style retooling, at least from a coaching and managerial perspective. But personally, I think it would be incredibly shortsighted to give up on Sheldon Keefe because when I look at how this team performed over the course of the regular season and in the playoffs, I cannot really pinpoint a single thing that he did poorly or brought a negative effect. I mean, even looking at the series, despite Tampa winning the last two games, I thought over the balance of it, the balance of the run of play, Toronto was taking more and more hold of the series as it went on.
I thought Matthews and Marner were as dominant as they were at the start at the end. John Tavares in the second line clearly was better as the series went on. The David Kampf line, maybe not as good because they just started out so great, but the fourth line too was getting more and more of it as it went on, and I think that has to do with coaching. It's not like they just snapped their fingers and were better than the opposition, or that Tampa was taxed or whatever.
Sheldon Keefe was finding a way to optimize things and get the best out of his group. And I think honestly, that's all he's done in his tenure here is get the best of his group overall. Clearly didn't work out versus Columbus in the bubble, the Leafs didn't have the roster for it. They let it slip away against Montreal. I don't know how you put that on coaching, that was the players not getting it done. Sheldon Keefe has always wanted to install a checking line underneath his scoring units.
He finally got that this year, and we saw why he wanted it all along because it works so well and so seamlessly with David Kampf being in that third line. I think Sheldon Keefe is the perfect coach for this situation. I think he's very, very talented. I think he's got the head for it as well. And to move on from him, yeah, I understand Barry Trotz's resume, I get it, but there's a thing about compatibility, right? This team is built to attack.
It's not built to be the New York Islanders who are just trying to do what Tampa did in the third period of game 7 all year long. That's not what the Toronto Maple Leafs were going for, and I think Sheldon Keefe is the coach that is compatible with both team and general manager. And for that reason, I wouldn't be moving on even with Barry Trotz who is probably a superior coach, probably the best coach in the NHL right there as a free agent. But it's possible that is the right move, I'm just not ready to give up on Sheldon Keefe.
I don't think that's the right move right now.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: OK. Well, I think of Barry Trotz's experience with offensive players and the pedigree and the winning that he has, but you do bring up a good point. If he's not directly compatible with that Leafs organization, they could risk taking a step back.
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: And you can't do that because next year is the most important year, obviously.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: Absolutely.
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: You can't have a step back because you're just feeling out the process here. You need to be at your best next year or it's curtains for the entire operation.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah. The next coach who'd succeed Sheldon Keefe, if they let themselves get to that point, has to put the team in a position to win rounds and make runs to the Stanley Cup Final as far as I'm concerned.