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Timeline of Keefe's tenure with the Maple Leafs

Sheldon Keefe Sheldon Keefe - The Canadian Press

Sheldon Keefe’s time as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs ended on Thursday morning when the Original Six franchise, which hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, announced it had fired the 43-year-old.

Keefe, the 40th coach in Maple Leafs' franchise history, leaves with a total regular season record of 212-97-40 over five seasons in Toronto. His 212 wins are fifth most in club history. Keefe went 16-21 in the playoffs, including 1-7 in series clinching games.

Let’s take a closer look at Keefe’s path to the Leafs bench and his up-and-down tenure with the Maple Leafs.


Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Sheldon Keefe

Keefe, who played in 125 career games in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the early 2000s, was named head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2012 by then-general manager Kyle Dubas.

Over his three seasons in the Soo, Keefe led the Greyhounds to playoff appearances each year, getting as far as the conference finals in 2015.


Toronto Marlies

Sheldon Keefe, coach of Maple Leafs' AHL affiliate

Keefe earned a promotion in the summer of 2015 when Dubas, who was now the Maple Leafs assistant general manager, hired him to serve as the head coach of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.

The Brampton, Ont., native quickly found more success in the AHL, leading the Marlies to the conference finals in his first season before helping capture the franchise’s first Calder Cup two seasons later in 2018.  


Keefe Replaces Mike Babcock

Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs

After a mediocre start to the 2019-20, Dubas, now the team’s GM, fired veteran coach Mike Babcock and replaced him with Keefe on Nov. 20, 2019.

Keefe signed a three-year contract after being hired.

Babcock, who was widely regarded as the best coach in the business when he was hired by Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello in 2015, was unable to get Toronto to the second round of the playoffs, dropping three straight opening-round series.

The Maple Leafs finished the pandemic-shortened season with a 27-15-5 record, but were stunned in five games by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the qualifying round of the playoffs.

“I’ll be thinking about this for a while,” Keefe told the media after a 3-0 loss in Game 5, the second time the Maple Leafs were shutout in the series.


2020-21 Season

Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs

Keefe’s first full season in 2020-21 was shortened due to COVID-19 restrictions.

With the help of newly named assistants in Paul McFarland and Andrew Brewer, Keefe found more regular season success, producing a 35-14-7 record over 56 games.

The Maple Leafs were heavy favourites against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. After taking a 3-1 series lead, they seemed destined to win their first playoff series since 2004 when Pat Quinn was behind the bench.  

However, Toronto would drop Games 5 and 6 in overtime before losing 3-1 in Game 7 to mark their fifth straight opening round defeat.

"You've got to give credit to Montreal for the job that they did," Keefe said. "Our guys were quite devastated after the game so I chose not to speak to the group after. Really hard to put it into words. We're obviously devastated, disappointed. Expected better of ourselves, and we think we're capable of a lot more, not just tonight but through the whole series."


2021-22 Season

Toronto Maple Leafs Sheldon Keefe, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews

Ahead of the season, Keefe signed a two year contract extension set to begin in 2022-23. 

Keefe coached a full 82 games for the first time in 2021-22 and led the Maple Leafs to their best regular season in franchise history with 54 wins and a .701 winning percentage.

Toronto’s previous highest win total was 49 in 2017-18.

With star forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares accounting for a large portion of the salary cap, the top-heavy Maple Leafs struggled with depth again in the playoffs, this time losing to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.

Keefe said they got more "respect" in the handshake line in this series compared to year's past. 

"We're not in the respect game, we're in the winning game. We've got to find a way to do that," he added. 

Leading 3-2 in the series, Toronto lost Game 6 in overtime on the road before falling in Game 7 on home ice by a score of 2-1.


2022-23 Season

Sheldon Keefe and Maple Leafs

Keefe’s fourth regular season with the Maple Leafs was more of the same, with 50 wins and 111 points. 

However, Keefe and the Maple Leafs finally saw some improvement in the postseason, beating the Lightning in six games to punch their ticket to the second round for the first time in nearly two decades.

Tavares scored the series winner in overtime of Game 6 from Tampa.

"Long time coming," Keefe said. "Long time coming for a lot of players in our room, long time coming for myself, even longer coming for Leafs Nation.

"It's a big night."

The good times in Toronto quickly faded as the Maple Leafs were dismantled in just five games by the Florida Panthers, leading to more questions regarding whether the team in its current form was good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup.

"We lost the series in the first three games," the coach remarked at the end of the series. "I believe we had a group good enough to win the Stanley Cup, and we didn't do that. This is a missed opportunity for our group."

A few days later, Dubas, Keefe’s long-time colleague dating back to their time with the Greyhounds in 2012, was fired as GM of the Maple Leafs and replaced by Brad Treliving.

"Kyle and I have a lot of history," Keefe said before the firing. "I believe in a lot of things he's done here to put us in a position to succeed.

"I have tremendous amount of respect for Kyle ... in terms of what happens from here, it's out of my control."

Entering the final year of his contract in 2023-24, Keefe inked a two-year extension in late August of 2023, a new deal was slated to begin in 2024-25. 


2023-24 Season

Despite Matthews having one of the best seasons in franchise history with 69 goals, hope was not high as the Maple Leafs prepared to take on the rival Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.

Toronto lost seven games series to the Bruins in 2018 and 2019 when Babcock was coach of the team.

Injuries to Matthews and Nylander alongside some uninspired play on home ice saw the Leafs trailing 3-1 in the series after four games.

The Maple Leafs won the next two, including Game 5 in overtime, to send the series back to Boston for Game 7.

Bruins star David Pastrnak scored the series winner in overtime, marking Toronto’s fourth Game 7 loss in Boston since 2013.

Keefe said his future with the franchise was out of his control during end-of-season media availabilities earlier this week.

"I believe in myself greatly. I love coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now more than ever, I believe I will win and our team will win," Keefe said.


Fired on May 9, 2024

The Maple Leafs fired Keefe on Thursday, a day before the management team, including Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Keith Pelley, president Shanahan and general manager Treliving, were expected to speak to the media.

“Today’s decision was difficult. Sheldon is an excellent coach and a great man; however, we determined a new voice is needed to help the team push through to reach our ultimate goal,” said Treliving in a statement. “We thank Sheldon for his hard work and dedication to the organization over the last nine years, and wish him and his family all the very best.”