Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe

After the 2022 NHL Draft, head coach Sheldon Keefe met with the media to discuss the change at the goalie coach position with the hiring of Curtis Sanford, working with Jason Spezza in his new front-office role, the promotion of Hayley Wickenheiser, and whether defenseman Rasmus Sandin might move to the right side with the team’s veteran depth on the left.

It has been two months since the loss to the Lightning. Looking back at that series, what do you take from it, and how do you push forward?

Keefe: Not a lot has changed necessarily since the disappointment and the emotion of the loss. You still feel that, and yet you still have the belief in your team that you had at that point.

We have gone through a few different things, but the focus for me in this last little bit, frankly, has been filling the goaltending coach position. I put a lot of my time there. Now that our coaching staff is solidified, we will get through this phase of the offseason here and move more towards really pulling together some of the projects we have been working on and start to build towards next season.

There is the belief we have in our group and how close we felt we were to beating a very, very good team, and yet the motivation we have because we failed to get it done once again. All of those things combined have us working hard through this offseason.

I have been in the practice facility most days all the way through with lots of meetings, lots of discussions, and lots of things going on. That will continue here, certainly, in the next few weeks. Once we get through that phase, we will move on to preparing for camp and getting things rolling there.

Did you watch much of the remainder of the playoffs?

Keefe: My kids had me really busy following them around, so I missed some for sure shortly after we lost. I picked up quite a bit through the Conference Finals and the Finals. I watched every game in the Finals. You are trying to take what you can from that, but we will look at those kinds of things even closer as the summer goes along.

For a few weeks there, I was in the facility most of the day. Once we get into the evening, I was chasing my kids around to different lacrosse fields or rinks, hockey rinks, football, and all of that.

A lot of the other teams, coaches, and managers mentioned how fast Colorado is. It is something that they stressed. Is that something you take into account?

Keefe: They have been for years. That has been the case. That has been their foundation. A lot of their elite players have elite speed. They skate, think, and play really fast. All of those things combine. They have it from all positions.

That can be a lot to handle, as we have seen in the league for a number of years. They have been knocking on the door for a while. It seemed like it was going to be a matter of time that it came through for them — not unlike Tampa and their situation when they found their way through. It was a great final series for sure.

Why was it necessary to make a change at the goalie coach position?

Keefe: We took our time. I looked at it. Steve Briere has done a lot of really good things in his role over seven seasons. He had a lot of success during that time. We just look at the position and the fact that it hadn’t been changed.

We took some time, first of all, to really analyze it. Ultimately, we just decided that getting a new voice and fresh perspective in that position could serve us well.

I really enjoyed that process. I ended up meeting with about 10 different candidates and narrowed it down from there. I am thrilled that we were able to find Curtis Sanford and fill that position. I am really excited to work with him.

In the short time that he has been with us, I have really enjoyed that. I am excited to work with him.

What does Curtis Sanford bring to the role?

Keefe: There are a number of different things. First and foremost, he knows the position extremely well. I really liked his ability to communicate what his expectations are and what he is trying to accomplish with the goaltenders in a really clear and concise way. He simplifies things with an ability to reinforce the fundamentals that are required to play that position.

Also, with the experience that he has had in the Vancouver organization, he has coached Thatcher Demko on his path through the AHL up to the NHL. He did a tremendous job in Abbotsford this season. You saw the development of a goalie like Spencer Martin. Curtis was a contributor to his development.

You have those pieces, and then the one thing that is unique to him is the playing experience as well. He has played in a Canadian market. He spent two years in Vancouver as a backup to a Hall-of-Famer like Roberto Luongo.

All of those things add up, and then there is the personality piece. I think he has been a really good fit for our coaching staff and organization.

Was there any temptation to wait to hire a goalie coach until you knew the player that was going to be starting at the position, or were you worried about losing people?

Keefe: There was a little bit of both on that. We didn’t feel like we could be too patient because there are a number of other teams that are still looking. Curtis was talking to a number of other teams as well, as were some of the other candidates I was dealing with.

We met with people with various experiences — guys who have worked in the NHL for a long time, guys who had never worked in the NHL, guys that were in Europe, and all of those kinds of things. I tried to speak with as many candidates with different backgrounds as I could. Because there was some competition in the league for goalie coaches, we felt it was important.

That is another trait that I think naturally comes with coming from the AHL. You have to adjust and adapt to who you get and how the goaltending shakes out. That is a good attribute to have. It is a reality of really any level if you are coaching. Our job is to coach and make the players better. Management makes the decisions on who fills those positions.

There were reports that Spencer Carbery may have interviewed for a head coaching job or two. How concerned were you that you might lose someone from within your system?

Keefe: When you are building a staff, you want to try to have some continuity for sure. I am not going to comment on what may or may not have occurred with any of our guys, but we like to think we have a really good staff and good people. As a result, there is always the possibility that other teams are going to come calling for them.

We are all about providing opportunities for people, and yet, at the same time, there has been significant but continuous change from the time I have taken over. I have had to replace one or more people every offseason. We had the goalie coach this time around, but to have our bench staff remain intact, I am excited about it.

Last season, we really came together well as a staff. It is the best I have felt about our staff and how we came together while adding the additional assistant coach. I really liked how that worked out for us. To be able to continue forward with that, I am really excited about it.

What has it been like working with Jason Spezza in his new role so far?

Keefe: It has been terrific having his perspective. I am not telling you anything you don’t know in that he is a brilliant hockey mind and he loves it. It has been no surprise, but it’s impressive at the same time with the amount of time and how quickly he has dove into this.

He has put in long days in all departments. He has been a part of everything. I was sitting real close to him on the draft floor here. He knows the players very well. He has been studying them. From that end of it, it has been really helpful and fun to see.

You can see the passion that he still has and the fire that is burning to be competitive and be involved in it. He is [really] connected and plugged into our team, of course, but even around the league, with the number of relationships that he has… He is a great asset.

What have you learned about the recently-promoted Hayley Wickenheiser during her time with the organization?

Keefe: I spoke a lot about it at the time that she was initially hired in her player development role. The acknowledgment of the Assistant General Manager title is well deserved, but I think her duties and impact on the team are going to remain pretty similar to what she has been doing.

It is a very significant role that she has. It is a very important one to work with the players at all levels, whether it is prospects or pros playing at the minor-league level. She is involved in working with the NHL staff, the AHL staff, and then, of course, her own player development staff to monitor, maintain, or build the development plans of each of the players.

It is a significant role. She is on top of things. As we know, she is a very busy person. She has a lot to offer the world. She seems like she is everywhere and does everything. She is extremely impressive. She is another terrific asset for us.

Much like Spezz, she’s an elite player with an elite brain and mind for the game. To be able to ask her questions or get her perspective on things is another great asset for myself and our organization.

Is there a particular type of player you would like to see added to the lineup this offseason?

Keefe: Good ones. That is really it. It is not an easy process to go through, but I have full trust and faith in Kyle and his staff. It is a complex situation any time you are going into an offseason in today’s NHL with a flat cap and all of these kinds of things.

If you look at the work they were able to accomplish last season, I have all of the faith in the world that they will give us the tools that we need to add or replace what we had last season. Obviously, the core of our group will remain, by and large, the same. We’ll get back to work.

How curious are you to find out who your goalies are going to be?

Keefe: We are at the draft here, aren’t we? [laughs] Obviously, it is an exciting and anxious time. Any time you are going through the offseason and you have some positions to fill or some things to solidify. It is not just in the goaltending but all the way through. As a coach, you want to get through this phase of the offseason and really get to work from there.

With Mark Giordano coming back, do you see Rasmus Sandin maybe moving to the right next year?

Keefe: I haven’t thought a whole lot about how that will work out. What I like is having additional depth. We all know how important it is. Our young defensemen, whether it’s Rasmus Sandin or Timothy Liljegren, are two young players we have prioritized for a long time and tried to give them opportunities.

We know we have to continue to develop them and continue to give them opportunities to grow and help our team. Last season, they were both very good for us. We are looking for to that continuing.