President Brendan Shanahan has announced the firing of head coach Mike Babcock and announced Sheldon Keefe as the 31st head coach in Toronto Maple Leafs history.

Four and a half years into his tenure as head coach — a tenure that saw the organization transform all the way from dead-last to back-to-back 100 point seasons inside five years — the change many in the market were speculating about since GM Kyle Dubas took over the job from Lou Lamoriello is now a reality.

Brendan Shanahan is now truly all in on Dubas’ vision for the team, firing the bench boss he courted and paid more than any coach in the game at the start of the rebuild in 2015 and replacing him with Dubas’ running mate since his OHL days in the Soo in Keefe.

The thinking that Dubas and Shanahan were discussing this — and were maybe even within a hair’s width of making this move — after the Game 7 loss last Spring would seem to have more validity now given they’ve pulled the trigger 23 games into the season and in the middle of a Western road swing. Clearly, after a six-game losing streak — the team’s worst since the 2015-16 tank season — the sense was the team was no longer buying into Babcock’s program and messaging.

The combination of Cup expectations, a sub .500 record, miserable defensive results, and inept special teams usually spell the end of any head coach, and Babcock clearly was no exception. As for the special teams, for now, the new assistants in Dave Hakstol and Paul McFarland will remain in place, but you’d imagine Keefe would have the right to assess over time and make his own calls there.

You can look at this a couple of ways: 1) Shanahan and Dubas still strongly believe this roster is capable of contending this season and needed a new voice and message from behind the bench as much as anything else; 2) Removing the head coach allows them to speed up the evaluation process for this player group and to properly assess just how deep the problems lie here.

This is somehow not surprising and yet totally stunning at the same time. Much more to come.

Mike Babcock’s Post-Firing Statement