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Keefe embraces Stanley Cup expectations with the Devils


NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Driving past the Prudential Center for a news conference at which he would be introduced at the New Jersey Devils coach, Sheldon Keefe noticed a statue of Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur in front of the building.

It was an instant reminder that the expectations of coaching the Devils in the New York City metropolitan area are no different than what was expected in Toronto for the Maple Leafs.

Winning a Stanley Cup is all that matters, and that's the goal Keefe will bring next season when he takes over another young and talented team that fell short of expectations this past season.

The Devils have won the Cup three times in 1995, 2000 and 2003, with Brodeur in goal all three times. They have only gotten back to the Cup Final once (2012) and since then have made the playoffs twice in 2018 and 2023.

“I know what the expectations are here and what the potential is,” said Keefe, who noted several times that he viewed this job as a fresh start. “To challenge for playoff position in the playoffs and also win the Stanley Cup. Those are the expectations. That’s why I’ve come.”

Keefe led the Auston Matthews-led Maple Leafs to the playoffs in all five of his seasons but only got past the first round once. This past season ended with a first-round loss to Boston in overtime of Game 7.

Keefe was fired less than a week later. After that announcement, Keefe filmed a video for the fans, giving closure for his time in Toronto.

The good news for him was Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald was waiting patiently in his coaching search and had Keefe in his sights if he became available.

After seeing Keefe's message, Fitzgerald called Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving to ask for permission to talk to his former coach.

It didn't take long and Fitzgerald and Keefe had a three-hour telephone conversation. Fitzgerald was convinced he had a coach who would hold his players accountable, be a good communicator and a teacher.

Keefe, who said this job was too good to pass over, will take over from interim coach Travis Green, who replaced the fired Lindy Ruff in March. The Brampton, Ontario, native was 212-97-40 with Toronto, winning a playoff series in 2023 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Fitzgerald said he interviewed 10 people for the job, although Green was not an option after taking the coaching job with the Ottawa Senators.

“I don’t sit here and say I have all the answers and I have all the information, frankly,” Keefe said at a 45-minute news conference. "But I am very excited to get to work. What I do know is the talent is there. The hunger is there and the commitment is there."

Keefe said he has spoken with returning players from last season and the common themes were they were all disappointed in missing the playoffs and they are ready to get back to work.

The Devils are loaded with fast, talented players led by Jack and Luke Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer and Timo Meier. The defence struggled after losing Dougie Hamilton to a pectoral injury early in the season and the goaltending has been an issue for a while.

Keefe said he hopes the Devils revert to their form from the 2022-23 season when they had a franchise-record 112 points. They skated fast, put pressure on the puck at both ends of the ice and showed off their skills.