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Maple Leafs fire head coach Keefe after latest first-round exit


The Toronto Maple Leafs fired head coach Sheldon Keefe on Thursday after his fifth playoff run with the team ended in a fourth opening-round exit.

The team said it "will immediately begin the search for a new head coach, and decisions regarding the remainder of the coaching staff will follow."

The Maple Leafs' season ended on Saturday with a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. Toronto went 46-26-10 in the regular season, finishing third in the Atlantic Division.

“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," general manager Brad Treliving said. "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.”

Keefe's tenure in Toronto ends before his new contract even starts. The Maple Leafs signed their head coach to a two-year contract extension on Aug. 30, with his previous deal set to expire after this season.

The 43-year-old posted a video on X Thursday addressing his dismissal, thanking the organization and wishing them the best in the future. He added he is "forever grateful" to have been given the chance to coach the Maple Leafs, stating that the fans deserve a Stanley Cup. 

"I don't know what comes next, but I know I'll be ready for it," Keefe said in closing. 

The Maple Leafs are tied for the longest active playoff streak in the NHL at eight seasons. However, Toronto won its first playoff series since 2004 last spring, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games before falling to the Florida Panthers in five games in the second round. This season marked their seventh opening-round exit in eight years. 

Keefe took responsibility for Toronto's latest early exit in final media availability Monday, though he added he remained confident in his own and the team's ability to win moving forward. 

"We are in the results business here," Keefe told reporters. "We didn't get results. We haven't met expectations. As head coach, I take responsibility for that ... My job as a head coach is to find solutions and chart a path ahead for the group to come through and succeed at the most important time of year. We haven't done that."

Keefe leaves the club with a 212-97-40 record as head coach. Keefe's 212 wins are fifth most in club history, behind Dick Irvin (216). 

In his first three playoffs, the Leafs were 0-6 in potential series-winning games. That began with a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2020 play-in round and was followed by blowing a 3-1 lead to the Montreal Canadiens in 2021 and a 3-2 lead against the Lightning in 2022. The Maple Leafs rallied from 3-1 down against the Bruins this year before losing in Game 7. 

"Now more than ever, I believe in myself and our team," he said Monday. "That I will win and our team will win."

Keefe was first promoted to the role of head coach from the AHL's Toronto Marlies in 2019 under then-general manager Kyle Dubas after the firing of Mike Babcock. Keefe has been tied to Dubas throughout his career, serving as head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds under Dubas before following him to the Leafs organization with the Marlies.

The Maple Leafs parted ways with Dubas last May, with team president Brendan Shanahan stating the team had been interested in bringing him back before talks fell through that same week. Treliving was hired as general manager a short time later.

The team announced Monday that Shanahan, Treliving and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Keith Pelley will speak to the media at an end-of-season press conference on Friday, after initially stating team management would speak Thursday.