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

Ahead of Wednesday’s game against Edmonton, Sheldon Keefe discussed the integration of the new players into the group, the vibe around the group with all of the changes, the elements the new additions can bring to the team, and all of his options to play with on defense.

What is your sense of the group? Are they energized? It has been a crazy couple of days. 

Keefe: I don’t know if energized is the right word, but everyone is gelling well. All of the guys we brought in are just tremendous guys and have great personalities. That has allowed the transition to happen a lot smoother.

Lafferty would be a little younger and less experienced, but the guys we brought in are veteran players who have been around the league a lot and have great personalities.

The energy of the group has been excellent away from the rink, too — not just in the building here, but you see it in the hotels and in some of the meals we have had. We have had some off days, and the guys are out having fun together.

I am seeing, frankly, more of that than what we have had in the past. I think that is a really good sign and shows the guys we have brought in have fit in well with the group. Our guys have embraced them.

Why do you think it didn’t work out for Rasmus Sandin here?

Keefe: I don’t know if it didn’t work out. He played a lot of hockey for us and a lot of good hockey for us. It is just a situation where we have added guys and he was going to be on the outside again this season. He is a young player that wants to play and has value in the league.

Obviously, Kyle was able to get a first-round pick, and we also bring in a player who has a very similar skill set but is further along in his path and is more experienced in the playoffs. It is just the nature of where we are at.

With so many defensemen at your disposal, what is your plan to figure it out in the next few days? You are going to have NHL-calibre players sitting every night as it is.

Keefe: It is no different from where we were at last season. Last season at the deadline, we added Giordano and Lybushkin shortly before that.

It is not entirely different for our group. There is a lot of competition and support for the group whether there are injuries or whatever the case might be.

There are lots of options for me. If you look at the guys we talked about yesterday that we added, they both have far different skill sets and can bring a lot to our group when we mix them in. It is a good problem for me to have.

Again, specifically with Schenn and Gustafsson, you have two guys who have been in this position before in terms of coming in and playing on really good teams, playing deep in the playoffs, and moving in and out of the lineup — those kinds of things.

It is a good problem for me to have. We will find ways to get everybody involved.

Is running 11 forwards and seven defensemen possible? Do you like the idea of 11 and seven if you have the right guys?

Keefe: I don’t love it, but it is an option for sure. It is not option A, but we won’t rule anything out. Whatever the games call for and whatever the situation may be, we have a lot of different skill sets on the backend, especially.

Gustafsson is a bit of a power-play specialist. You have that. There are definitely options there. Gustafsson and McCabe can both play the right side as well as the left in addition to Brodie. We have lots of flexibility there.

How much do you anticipate experimenting with different combinations and players in different spots up front?

Keefe: I don’t know if there will be that much outside of O’Reilly. He is a guy who can really move from the top six to playing on the third line. There are different things that he can do there. He can also play center and wing, and Tavares is now showing the ability to play wing in addition to his tenure at center throughout his career.

With Acciari and Lafferty, those are guys who are going to play lower in the lineup and all of that, but we can still try some different things with them. They can play multiple positions at the same time — as can Kerfoot and Jarnkrok.

There are lots of options, but I don’t see the bottom six being too much of a mix. We will just see. We will get through the trade deadline and see what the final group looks like, but certainly, the guys that we have added bring lots to our team.

Lots of character, lots of grit, lots of experience, and lots of versatility. We might’ve doubled the number of children we are bringing into the family rooms at home games. That speaks to the experience that you are bringing in.

How does Pierre Engvall’s departure change the mix in the bottom six and how you’re going to move things around?

Keefe: Kerfoot will go into that spot. Aston-Reese will go back in with Acciari. We will look at that.

Obviously, Pierre is a guy who played good hockey for us. There are some things he does for us that we will miss. But we have added some guys — Lafferty, in particular — who will help us in the speed department, which we lose with Pierre.

When you are making the moves that we have, you are able to add a lot without losing roster players, but between adding others and managing the salary cap, the reality is that you are going to have to move some guys. But I am certainly thrilled with the guys we have brought in.

Kyle Dubas mentioned it is the most fun time of the year for him as a GM. Are you enjoying it as a coach?

Keefe: I am enjoying it. It is a lot more fun when you are coaching a team that is receiving players and adding to your team, in particular with the types of players we have added as I was saying with the personalities they have.

Just watching them interact with our guys, you can see they are bringing a lot to the character and energy of the group. That comes through in their personal character and personalities as well as the experience. It goes a long way.

When you are experienced, you are generally really confident in who you are and what you have accomplished. It allows you to step right in and feel good about yourself.

I think our group has also welcomed the guys. That makes it easier and more fun for me. I haven’t been overly involved in any of the transactions or anything like that. Kyle is keeping me abreast on a need-to-know basis kind of thing. We have enough going on to prepare the team for our games.

When things come down and you are aware of it, or you are asked a question, you get excited about it and do a little bit of work on it. Generally speaking, I am reacting to what is being done and I am welcoming the new guys.

How big or small is the role of the head coach to bring everyone together when you have this much change? Is it more the players in the room, or how do you help with that?

Keefe: There is no doubt I have a role in leading that and trying to allow those things to happen in terms of how we manage our practices, our off-days, our scheduling, and those kinds of things. It is more so just trying not to get in the way or trying to facilitate some things that allow different things to happen.

Just the other day in Seattle, we wanted it to be an off-day mainly because we needed the rest. It was a long trip and all of these things, but you want the guys to spend time together.

Those kinds of things are important, but it is the players that are most important in terms of how they welcome guys. With the Springsteen concert the other night, the new guys didn’t have much choice. It was, “You’re coming to the concert.” I think everybody had a good time, and it was a perfect way to welcome the new guys.