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Keefe on lessons learned with Leafs: 'Every detail matters'

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The New Jersey Devils introduced new head coach Sheldon Keefe in a press conference on Tuesday morning after signing him to a four-year deal last week.

Keefe spent six seasons behind the bench for the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was fired following the team's first-round elimination at the hands of the Boston Bruins.

After struggling to find playoff success in Toronto, Keefe says he's learned from the postseason disappointments.

“Everything matters, every detail matters and that’s why you have to focus on managing each day in front of you so that when those tough moments come you are ready," Keefe said at his introductory press conference on Tuesday. "After five years and six playoff rounds, I'm a far better coach than when I arrived in the NHL. The vision is to win the Stanley Cup. That's very clear. However, it's also very clear to me, in order to do so you have to maximize every day.

"At every level I've been at before the NHL, I've coached very deep into the playoffs, won championships, and had expectations to have a short summer every summer. When that doesn't happen, the way it hasn't in Toronto, that drives me."

Keefe led on of the most exciting young cores in hockey in Toronto, consisting of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Keefe will have a a similarly young, exciting core in New Jersey with Jack and Luke Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jasper Bratt. He said he learned plenty of lessons in Toronto about managing a young, star core that he will bring to the Devils.

"These are hockey players. These are guys that want to be guided, they want information. They want to know you can make them better and how you're going to do that," said Keefe. "They want to be pushed, they want to be challenged and they want to be great. The bigger thing is to develop those [star] players but also develop a team concept and a value throughout the lineup and a continuity that allows us to grow as a group."

The 43-year-old said he had a restless sleep prior to being fired from the Leafs and explained that the goodbye video he posted on X brought some closure to his time in Toronto.

"I had a pretty good sense that that day I was going to wake up and be called in for a meeting," Keefe said during his press conference. “Right away I was quickly able to bring some closure to Toronto. I was going to be excited for whatever comes next.

"This is a fresh start and a great opportunity ahead. It's completely unique and different."

Keefe will take over behind the Devils' bench from interim coach Travis Green, who replaced the fired Lindy Ruff in March. The Brampton, Ont., native compiled a 212-97-40 record with Toronto, winning a single playoff series in 2023 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Devils' general manager Tom Fitzgerald spoke glowingly about the team's new bench boss and is sure Keefe is the right man to lead the Devils back to the playoffs after a disappointing year where they finished 38-39-5 for 81 points, a 31-point drop from 2022-23.

"The person. His beliefs. His passion. His love of his family. He's a family guy that happens to love hockey," Fitzgerald said Tuesday. "Someone I can partner with and someone that can challenge me. We don't believe in groupthink here."