Head coach Mike Babcock has been fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs after a disappointing 9-10-4 start to the season, the team announced.
Sheldon Keefe has been named the Club’s new head coach.
Babcock signed an eight-year, $50 million contract on May 25, 2015 with the hope he could lead the Maple Leafs to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1967.
“Mike’s commitment and tireless work ethic has put our organization in a better place and we are extremely grateful and appreciative of the foundation he has helped us build here," Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a release. “At this time, we collectively felt that it was best to make a change to Sheldon Keefe. Sheldon’s record with the Marlies in terms of development and on-ice success during his time in our organization has compelled us all to feel that he is the right person to take us to the next stage in our evolution.”
TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie reports Shanahan flew to Arizona on Wednesday to deliver the news in person along with general manager Kyle Dubas.
McKenzie also reports the move to relieve Babcock is being billed as an organizational decision, something Dubas felt was important to any decision and that the message was not getting through. They decided a new voice is required.
TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun spoke with Babcock over the phone and provided the following statement:
``Larry Tanenbaum talked me into going to Toronto. I would have never gone until I met Larry. He’s one of the finest people I’ve ever met. Had an absolutely riot and met another friend for life in Lou Lamoriello. I thought we did an amazing job taking a franchise from where it was to where we had 100-point seasons, we set franchise records if I’m not mistaken, got into the playoffs. I’m disappointed, we didn’t have the start to the year we wanted and that’s on me.
"I want to thank the fans, I want to thank the media, I want to thank the city, it was spectacular, I loved every second of it. And I wish the new group nothing but success. Morgan Rielly has been here the whole time. I can’t thank him enough. And all the players I got an opportunity to coach. It’s been fantastic and I wish them nothing but success.’’
After missing the playoffs in his first season behind the bench, Toronto posted a 40-27-15 in 2016-17 to earn their first postseason appearance since 2013, thanks in large part to the arrivals of rookie forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander as well as goalie Frederik Andersen. The Leafs fell in the opening round to the Washington Capitals in six games, but there was hope in the organization and fan base that the team was moving in the right direction.
Babcock led the Leafs to 49 wins and a 105-point season in 2017-18, their best point total in franchise history. Their regular season success ended with playoff disappointment as the Leafs fell to the rival Boston Bruins in seven games in the first round.
Year four under Babcock saw the Maple Leafs put up 100 points during the regular season once again, but were met with a similar fate in the playoffs. Toronto’s season ended with a Game 7 opening round loss at TD Garden for the third time in seven years as the Blue and White were hammered by the Bruins, 5-1.
Babcock and the Maple Leafs entered this season with the most pressure on them in years after locking up Matthews, Marner and Nylander to long-term, big-money deals plus adding a handful of new players to the lineup.
Following this season, the 56-year-old Babcock still has three years and $18.75 million left on his contract.
Prior to joining the Maple Leafs, Babcock spent a decade with the Detroit Red Wings, winning a Stanley Cup in 2008. He spent his first two years as an NHL head coach with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in his rookie season in 2002-03.
The Saskatoon native has coached Canada to two Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014.