President Brendan Shanahan briefly addressed the media after the firing of Mike Babcock and the announcement of Sheldon Keefe as the team’s new head coach.
Shanahan: I’d like to start off by saying that I have a tremendous amount of gratitude to Mike Babcock for coming here and laying the foundation for what we wanted to accomplish. He did a fantastic job. As I said in our release, his work ethic, and his commitment was fantastic, so I really appreciated him coming here.
It was unfortunate for us to have the conversation we did today. I’m speaking here now because Kyle is talking to the players. Kyle has handled the rest of the staff and basically the communication through the rest of the organization, and now with the players. It wasn’t an easy conversation to have. It wasn’t pleasant. Days like today are not. It was what we felt was important for the club. Once you realize it’s something you should do and have to do, it’s best to act on it.
How did you reach that decision?
Shanahan: I think it is something that you’ve been watching and monitoring for a while. Kyle and I are in constant communication. I think that it really just came down to the last couple of weeks and it got to the point where we spoke in the last 48 hours. I just felt it was something that needed to be done and Kyle felt the same way. Seeing as I had been the one who hired Mike, I thought it was very important for me to get on a plane this morning and fly here and face Mike and be with Kyle to tell him myself that we had made a decision together that we thought was in the best interest of the club.
What was missing for the team to take that next step?
Shanahan: I think that is the magic question. I think we feel that we haven’t played up to our expectations this year. I think that there are key elements to our game and some attention to detail that has been missing often this year. The players know that whenever a situation like this occurs, it does have an impact on the players.
But our game is not really meeting our expectations. We’re mistake-prone on defense. The attention to details isn’t there. Even the explosive offense that our team was known for has been missing for a while now. There is a lot of work for Sheldon to do. There is a lot of work for the players to do, and they understand that. But we really believe in them. We believe in the players we have here. We believe in Sheldon, obviously in making this decision. We are still optimistic that we are going to get this back on track.
Why Sheldon Keefe?
Shanahan: I think Sheldon has earned it. I think if you look at Sheldon’s track record, the number of players that play on the Toronto Maple Leafs that have played for Sheldon with the Marlies, the job he has done in developing players for us that were some early draft picks and some very late-round draft picks, and then just his success. He’s had success basically everywhere he has coached since he started coaching. I think if you look around at lots of options and all the different options that are there, and you look at someone who has been in our organization for quite some time now and had a lot of success and won a championship and knows these players very, very well — it’s a situation where he has earned it.
How important might a different message be for this team at this time?
Shanahan: Well, we know how competitive the league is. We know how difficult it is each and every night. Like I said, when you feel that there is a right decision… When you think that you know what the right decision is, you have to act on it. I think that waiting at this point would’ve just been the wrong thing. That’s why I flew in today and we had the conversation with Mike.
How do you feel Mike and Kyle’s relationship factored into this?
Shanahan: I don’t know what you mean.
There was a perceived difference in the way they’d want the team to play or be built.
Shanahan: I mean, perceived… I think there are a lot of things that get perceived. We made a change today, but I think that Mike and Kyle have had a good working relationship. I know that there were changes made in the offseason and changes made to the coaching staff. The commitment that management had and the coaching staff had to start the season and have success was 100% pure and honest. It just didn’t work out that way.