Maple Leafs Fire Babcock, Name Keefe Head Coach

The Toronto Maple Leafs have fired head coach Mike Babcock, naming the AHL’s Toronto Marlies coach, Sheldon Keefe, as the replacement.

Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan broke the news to the hockey world, announcing the coaching move in a press release.

“Mike’s commitment and tireless work ethic has put our organization in a better place and we are extremely grateful and appreciative of the foundation he has helped us build here.

“At this time, we collectively felt that it was best to make a change to Sheldon Keefe. Sheldon’s record with the Marlies in terms of development and on-ice success during his time in our organization has compelled us all to feel that he is the right person to take us to the next stage in our evolution.” 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Firing Babcock, Kaskisuo, Barrie, Sundin

Babcock has been the head coach since signing a massive eight-year, $50-million deal in May of 2015, with the plan of leading the rebuilding team back to the playoffs and with the ultimate goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to Toronto.

The Maple Leafs missed the playoffs that first season, but saw their fortunes change with the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft – selecting Auston Matthews. The ship seemed to be turning the right way, as the team made the playoffs in 2016-17, going 40-27-15 in the process. They faced the Washington Capitals in the first round, ultimately losing in six games.

The 2017-18 season saw the Maple Leafs with their best regular-season finish ever, with 105 points to go along with a 49-26-7 record. Once again though, they were bested in the opening round of the playoffs – this time to the Boston Bruins.

Last season, 2018-19, was eerily similar for Babcock and the Maple Leafs. They finished 46-28-8, and once again fell to the Bruins in seven games. With four years at the helm of the Maple Leafs, more was expected.

This season has been the final straw for Babcock. The team was seen as one of the top contenders coming into October but at the time of firing, the Maple Leafs aren’t even in a playoff spot and hold a 9-10-4 record. This comes after general manager Kyle Dubas locked down the team’s core of Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, as well as acquiring defensemen like Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie. All of the pieces were supposed to be in place.

Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock
Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Babcock finishes his tenure with the Maple Leafs with a 173-133-45 record and failed to move past the first round of the playoffs. Prior to joining Toronto, he was the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings for 10 seasons, winning a Stanley Cup. He also has two Olympic gold medals to his name, but just couldn’t find that success in Toronto.

Keefe Brings Winning Resume to Maple Leafs

As mentioned, the Maple Leafs announced that Keefe has been immediately named the new head coach in Toronto, the 31st in it’s history. For anyone following the NHL, they know of the success that Keefe has brought to the Marlies. Shanahan, Dubas, and the Maple Leafs hope that success can translate to the NHL.

Keefe was in his fifth season with the Marlies, collecting a 199-89-22-9 record over that period. In those five seasons, Keefe led the Toronto affiliate to two Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophies as the AHL’s top team and the franchise’s first Calder Cup in history in 2018.

Prior to the Marlies, he had a stint as the coach for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, helping the club reach the playoffs every season after the club didn’t make it the two seasons prior. He was also the general manager and head coach of the CCHL’s Pembroke Lumber Kings, leading them to five straight league championships.

He was also an NHL player, suiting up for 125 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning after being selected 47th overall in 1999. This came after being named the OHL Player of the Year in 1998-99 and just before he led the OHL in scoring in 1999-00.

No other coaching changes have been made at this time.