Maple Leafs: Keefe knows his fate is no longer in his hands

Maple Leafs: Keefe knows his fate is no longer in his hands
Maple Leafs: Keefe knows his fate is no longer in his hands

“I believe in myself and in our team, and I am convinced that our team will win,” he insisted.

Since replacing Mike Babcock behind the bench on November 19, 2019, Keefe has led Toronto to a 212-97-40 regular season record. He is fifth in Maple Leafs history in victories, behind Punch Imlach (370), Pat Quinn (300), Hap Day (259) and Dick Irvin (216).

But the difficulties encountered by Toronto in the playoffs under Keefe’s leadership have many wondering if the team’s management will keep him on the job or explore other options. The answer to this question could be known on Friday, when Maple Leafs leaders meet with the media.

When Brad Treliving replaced Kyle Dubas as general manager last summer, one of his first decisions was to offer Keefe a two-year contract extension, effective through the end of the 2025-26 season. . But plans may have changed after another early elimination in the playoffs. Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment president Keith Pelley is expected to carefully evaluate the work of each member of hockey operations, including Keefe, Treliving and president Brendan Shanahan.

No matter what conclusions are drawn, Keefe must get credit for taking responsibility. At the very least, he took the blame for the fact that the Maple Leafs won only one of the six series they played under his watch. During that stretch, the Maple Leafs went 16-21 in the playoffs and reached the second round only once.

With talented players like forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares, and defenseman Morgan Rielly on the roster, the 43-year-old coach believes the Maple Leafs have set the bar high and that he has not yet been able to help the team overcome it.

“This team has expectations and goals in mind, and when you don’t achieve them, it’s not fun,” Keefe said. My job as a coach is to find solutions and come up with a plan to move this group forward. They need to be successful at the most important time of the season, and we didn’t do that. »

Keefe said he was encouraged by the way the Maple Leafs bounced back after falling behind 3-1 in the series against the Bruins, forcing a final game.

“I like the resilience we showed in this series – especially in Games 5 and 6 – to give us the chance to play a Game 7,” he said. Obviously, it’s not enough, and that’s my responsibility. »

Perhaps the most difficult aspect to understand about the Maple Leafs’ recent playoff failures is the lack of offensive production. This is a difficult situation to accept, considering that almost half of the salary cap is devoted to four players who are counted on to find the back of the net: Matthews (average annual salary of $11.6 million), Tavares ($11 million), Marner ($10.9 million) and Nylander ($6.9 million). Matthews’ salary will increase to $13.25 million next season, and Nylander’s to $11.5 million.

In recent years in the playoffs, these four forwards have not produced, just like the rest of their teammates.

The Maple Leafs have scored two goals or less in 13 of their last 14 playoff games. Part of those woes came from an anemic power play, which went 1-for-21 against the Bruins.

History shows that coaches are often the scapegoats when teams fail to meet expectations. Since he has only been on the job for a year as Toronto’s GM, Treliving will likely have more time to leave his mark on an organization that has only won one series in 20 years.

But what about Keefe? The person concerned knows too well that his fate is not in his hands.

“I’m in the coaching world, and you don’t make the decisions on your position,” he said. It’s out of my control.

“I understand that owners and management make these decisions. As I said, I take my share of responsibility for these failures.

“But I believe a lot in myself. And I love managing the Toronto Maple Leafs. »

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