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

Ahead of Monday’s game against the Islanders, Sheldon Keefe discussed John Tavares closing in on 1,000 points, his experience bringing his father Brian on the dads trip, and the contributions of William Lagesson and Ryan Reaves.

Morning Skate Lines – Dec. 11

How impressive is the consistency and longevity it requires to reach 1,000 points in the NHL?

Keefe: It is quite an accomplishment. 1,000 games is impressive in and of itself. 1,000 points speaks to consistency.

John has a lot of game in him left here. It just speaks to how consistent he has been throughout his career.

It is tremendous that he is on the cusp of that.

When you look at the work John Tavares puts in, how much does that lead to the consistency in his game?

Keefe: It is directly correlated. You can’t have one without the other. If you want to be consistent in your play, you have to be consistent in your habits and approach.

You also need to adjust and adapt as the league is adjusting and opponents are adjusting to you. That is what has John done really well. Whether it is in season or in the offseason, he is able to step back, really assess where he is at, make adjustments, and get to work.

That is what I have observed in my time coaching him. I don’t think it has been any different at any time in his career, but as he’s gotten older, I think he really knows his body and what he needs to do to try to stay productive.

How much do you sense these trips back to Long Island mean to Tavares?

Keefe: Honestly, I don’t get any sense. John is as steady as they come. I don’t know that he would say or change anything. Again, it speaks to the consistency. It doesn’t matter who we are playing or what the circumstances are. He is very steady in his approach.

I am constantly reminded when we come here of how much he means to the people here. They make it very clear the fact that it is still top of mind for them.

Any time you spend a significant amount of time here knowing someone like John as well as I believe I do now, you see how entrenched he becomes in an organization and community as we have come to know in Toronto. It is no different here.

To that end, with his history, every time he comes back, I am sure it is special. I think the fans make it known he is disappointed he is no longer with them. To me, I look at it as nothing more than a credit to the player and what he meant to the organization.

John has moved on, the organization has moved on, and all of that kind of stuff. He’ll be ready to play a good game tonight against a team that is playing very well.

What has the team gotten up to with the dads so far?

Keefe: We had a travel day yesterday, and we just had a nice dinner last night. A nice chance to interact with each other and share a good meal. Here we are.

You mentioned that your dad, Brian, is on the trip as well. Whose idea was that to include the staff?

Keefe: It is not just the coaching staff but all of the support staff, and everybody behind the scenes has been able to have the opportunity to bring a guest — dad or otherwise.

For me, it is a tremendous opportunity to have him. As I tell the players and their dads, our fathers are so important to our journey to have an opportunity to first play the game as kids and then ultimately to become NHL players, or in my case, an NHL coach.

They are all a part of that journey. They are our biggest fans and biggest supporters. To give them a look at what it is like on the inside and on the road is a tremendous opportunity. I am enjoying every second of it.

Did your dad ever coach you?

Keefe: He did when I was young. As I got older, not so much, but he coached in hockey and soccer. He just hung up his whistle a couple of years ago. He was still coaching in Brampton as of a couple of years ago. He loves the game and loves giving back to it.

What was his style of coaching, and did any of it rub off on you and your style of coaching?

Keefe: He yelled a lot [laughs]. He was very loud and very aggressive. No nonsense.

With William Lagesson set to return, what does he bring to the lineup?

Keefe: He has done a really good job. In particular, against the Islanders, they have some really big, strong guys who go to the net with really good sticks around there. Having another guy like him [helps].

I think he has defended our net very well. He and Benoit have really defended well. I think Lajoie came in and gave us really good minutes as well; offensively, he gave us some stuff as well on that side of the red line.

Certainly, I have come to appreciate what Lagesson brings. It is a simplistic approach, but he’s really competitive and has really good instincts with a good stick defensively. That helps us.

We have missed him while he has been away.

What have you made of Ryan Reaves’ game of late?

Keefe: I think it has really come [along].

His game the other night was probably the best for our whole team, but he and that line — in terms of how the three of them were working off of each other, how connected they were, the pace, the physicality, and the pressure on the puck — were really tremendous.

That is really what we are looking for from our entire team, but Reavo was right there in the thick of it. It was really good to see.