Maple Leafs Fragility Exposed in Keefe’s Clarification

The Toronto Maple Leafs started the season by losing to the Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes in their first four games. Toronto had more points than Montreal and Arizona combined last season, yet the Blue and White looked like the cellar dwellers. Rightfully, head coach Sheldon Keefe was not pleased with his team after the latest embarrassing performance.

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That should’ve changed the narrative to a tough coach puts players on notice. Instead, two days after the comments, Keefe publicly stated that he was wrong. Never has it been more obvious who is running the team and just how fragile the core is on this underperforming squad.

Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

The coach and players spoke in sombre tones to the media. Keefe, who appeared less self-assured than usual, said, “I used some of the wrong words to describe what I was trying to describe. The difference in the game was that we weren’t able to produce… by no means was I meaning anything beyond that, which is what I wanted them to be sure of.”

Are Maple Leafs Delicate Flowers?

Rosie Dimanno from the Toronto Star must’ve also been surprised by Keefe’s demeanour. The reporter followed up the coaches backtracking comments with one of the most potent questions he’s faced in a long time. Dimanno asked, “You have played in the NHL under John Tortorella. You have seen coaches that maybe don’t watch their language. Are we really at the point where they are such delicate flowers that you have to watch the words you use?’

Did she really say delicate flowers? Yes, and the observation was spot on. But, not surprisingly, Keefe disagreed with the assessment, “I don’t think so. It is a passionate sport. There is a lot of emotion in it. I don’t think we are at that point. I think we should always be cognizant of the words we are using and how we are communicating.”

Keefe Criticism was Well-Deserved

Let’s recap these “emotional and passionate” words that caused such a fuss. After Monday’s loss to Arizona, Keefe said, “is there an area to improve? There are a lot of areas to improve. We are only four games in. The guys haven’t found their rhythm. Our best people have not found their rhythm. When you really look at it, the difference between us and Arizona is that we have elite players. Our elite players didn’t play like elite players today.”

Related: 3 Takeaways from Maple Leafs Opening Night Loss

You may want to read that again. Is there anything there that is not the truth? Or anything that a professional athlete making millions of dollars to perform on a team that is once again Stanley Cup favourites should be offended by? According to Keefe, the players were unaware of the comments before talking to the coach. Mitch Marner said that no one asked for the meeting, “he (Keefe) called us in, and we had a talk. It’s all good… I don’t think anyone was hurt by the comments or anything like that.”

Confusing Statements Raise Questions

These statements and actions raise a lot of questions. Keefe thought it was essential to address the players about comments they didn’t know about and, quite frankly, didn’t seem to care about. Was Keefe directed by someone – Kyle Dubas, Brendan Shanahan – to retract or clarify the comments? Was Keefe concerned that the players wouldn’t like being called out and would turn on him? Or is this what it is like to coach millennials/Gen Z players?

On the other hand, why didn’t the players know? Sure, they are blocking out a lot of the noise, but you would think they would listen to what the coach says about their performance. Also, why did they not respond by taking responsibility for not playing up to the expected standard?

It’s no secret the players turned on the coach before Keefe – Mike Babcock. Now Keefe has shown that the players hold that same threatening power over him. He was so concerned about his stars turning on him that he backtracked the comments behind closed doors and in the media, for the world to see. The players should’ve taken the criticism as a reason to play better and stop being arrogant on the ice. Instead, Keefe’s “clarification” removes the reprimand and gives all the power to the players. Has anyone checked on Barry Trotz?

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