At the 2023 NHL Draft, Sheldon Keefe discussed the recent news that he will be returning as the Maple Leafs’ head coach, his process of getting to know new GM Brad Treliving, and the re-signing of David Kampf to a four-year contract.
What was the process like for a while there not knowing about whether you will be back?
Keefe: I am thrilled to be back. It has been great to work with Brad — and Shane Doan, for that matter. It has been a process but a good process and a thorough one. At times, it’s uncertain and uncomfortable, but it’s a good process and a necessary one, understanding the position that Brad and the organization are in.
I am thrilled to continue on.
How did you approach the series of meetings you had with Brad Treliving when things were maybe still up in the air?
Keefe: I really just approached it as though I was starting new in a lot of ways. It is a new relationship with nothing pre-existing with Brad.
First of all, of course, I am grateful and feeling good about the confidence Brendan Shanahan has shown in me to give me the opportunity to sit down with Brad.
That interaction with Brad, to me, was over the course of a number of days. It was very thorough. It is a mix of my beliefs and my philosophy, going through that process as you would if you were interviewing for any job.
Also, part of it is just [about] where we have been and what we have been through, how we have handled different situations, and where I think the team is at.
There was some time there where there was some uncertainty. Brad was sorting through a number of different things. He was spending lots of time, as you would expect, with a number of people in the organization.
I was thrilled when I got the call that we were going to work together. It has been terrific since. Brad has come in with a real good perspective. He has a great personality. He is good to be around, but he still has great experience, lots of connections, and a fresh perspective that, I think, is healthy for our group.
What was the week like between Kyle Dubas’ last media availability and then when Kyle moved on? Was it a strange set of circumstances for you?
Keefe: For me, I am on the sidelines, right? It is out of my control. There are a lot of things playing out there. I gave Kyle his distance and let that process play out. When it was my turn, I knew that I would get some sort of communication on all of that.
I worked with Kyle for a really long time, obviously. He has been a massive part of my career. I have grown tremendously working with him. He has done a terrific job to put our organization in a good spot.
I have also worked without him at different times along the way and have enjoyed those as well, whether it is Kyle Raftis in Sault Ste. Marie when [Dubas] left the Soo, or when [Dubas] went to the Leafs and I worked with Laurence Gilman on the Marlies. I have enjoyed those times as well. I reflect positively on the work that we did in those years, too.
With how things have played out here, I am happy Kyle has landed on his feet in a good spot. He seems happy. For us, as I say, fresh perspective and working with new people thus far has been really good for me. I am excited about it.
What stands out about Brad Treliving’s philosophy compared to Kyle Dubas’?
Keefe: His personality is very similar — easygoing, good to talk to, fun to be around, treats people very well, and very respectful of people, their circumstances, and their situation. He is well-respected in the league through anybody that I talk to in the league. He is similar to Kyle in that sense.
He has more experience working in different organizations with different people. With that comes some change. I will leave it to Brad to speak specifically to what he believes in and all of those sorts of things, but as I say, any time you get a new position… I look at it as a new position in a sense, and there is some newness to this in that your boss is different and comes from a different place with both he and Shane Doan, who I have been very impressed with.
All of the things you would expect from Shane Doan, he has delivered on, but also, his connections and experience are far more vast than I had thought just as an outsider in terms of how engaged he has been in the league and all of the experience he has had in international competitions. All of those experiences and perspectives, I have enjoyed being around, and I think they are going to benefit our team.
Brad Treliving said you spent 17 hours in the chair across from one another. What was the process like for you, with it being that thorough and you getting to know each other a little bit?
Keefe: I respected that he took the time and was that thorough. It showed me that he was serious about it. It was all of the things you would expect. It was an important decision for him. I was available for whatever he needed.
I did enjoy it. While uncomfortable at times in terms of some of the questions and the uncertainty from myself, he was easy to talk to and made it comfortable that way. The more time you spend together, you get more excited about working with him.
I am thrilled with how it has worked out. I understand the challenges that are ahead here for myself and the group. That certainly doesn’t change. In terms of the relationship and how things have developed with Brad, I am excited about it.
How much did your philosophies align with Brad Treliving, and how much do you have to meet in the middle on moving forward?
Keefe: I don’t know about meeting in the middle, but right away, where we matched is that he had great respect for how our team has defended and how our team has evolved in that sense. The effort and commitment our best players have shown to the defensive side of the puck and how that has developed over the years — that is something that he believes is the foundation of any team, particularly when it is led by your best people.
I think he has seen the growth in our players and how they have done that over my tenure as coach. That is something that, right from the start, he had great respect and acknowledgment of.
In terms of the other pieces, I think we matched up pretty well in terms of where I think the team needs to go and where we need to improve. I will leave Brad to speak to the specifics of that if he deems it necessary, but the fact that he would like me to continue shows that we matched up in lots of different ways.
He was very thorough — not just with me but in speaking and getting to know various members of the organization. He took his time with it, which again was uncomfortable for me, but I understood why and respected his process.
How important is it for you to get a contract extension done before training camp?
Keefe: We will see. That will play itself out. When Brad informed me I would be back, he said we would talk about an extension. There are a lot of things on his list right now. I understand that. When the timing is right, we will spend some time talking about it and see what works for both the organization and myself and go from there.
Right now, my focus is on the process of continuing to get to know Brad and work with him to the extent that he needs me to help put our team together here. Also, of course, we are trying to get our staff finalized here as well. That is where my focus lies. We will get the rest sorted out.
Aside from some family time and downtime, how do you approach your priorities this summer ahead of training camp?
Keefe: This is an important time right now here, obviously — even more so now with Brad and Shane coming in as we try to bridge that gap between them coming, what is what, and who is who in the organization.
Ultimately, we’ll be making some decisions with the team and lineup, and my role in that is as needed. Brad, of course, is leading the way.
We have to round out our coaching staff. Brad, after working through my process, has been wanting to spend time with the rest of our coaching staff, which he hasn’t been able to do here yet. We are waiting for that process to play out as well.
Spencer Carbery going to Washington creates a void for us there in and of itself. I have been working through that. Once we get through that, we will take some time to get away. It hasn’t been a typical offseason here to this point.
Because we have some new people coming in on staff — certainly with Spencer’s absence — we will get to work a little bit earlier than normal in terms of getting our staff familiar and comfortable with how we want to play.
What gives you confidence still in the core group of players that you have in Toronto?
Keefe: I think Brad has put it really well. It is really hard to get good players in the league. Brad is going to continue to go through his process and do everything possible to give us the best possible team on the ice, but the whole hockey community comes together in Nashville. Everybody you talk to talks about how great our players are. The number of people that want to work as part of our coaching staff — that’s the first thing they point to, the opportunity to work with elite talent.
That is a big part of it. With those guys, as much as we haven’t gotten to where we want to get to, it is hard not to acknowledge the fact that there has been progress along the way. Of course, we still live in the reality of just how difficult it is to get all the way through it.
How much were you pushing to get David Kampf re-signed? Do you see him as a suitable 3C, or in a perfect world, would you rather him be the fourth-line center?
Keefe: He has shown over his time with us that he can do both. We have been a very successful team in his time playing in the three-hole in that role. If you add extra depth as you did this year, it pushes him down and makes the team that much better, but he has shown that he can take on big minutes and play against anybody.
That is an important guy to have. The more depth you can have at center, as a coach, you are thrilled about that.