So ends the five-season coaching tenure of Sheldon Keefe, who leaves the Maple Leafs as the winningest regular-season coach in franchise history by points percentage (.665 PTS%, 212-97-40) but with just one playoff-round win and a 16-21 postseason record to his name.

Keefe stabilized the team he inherited from Mike Babcock back in November 2019, and, in all but 2019-20, his Leafs teams coasted into the playoffs each season, which can’t be taken totally for granted.

It does have to be kept in mind he inherited something of a turnkey operation in terms of the high-end offensive skill on the roster — Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly were all in the lineup from the beginning of Keefe’s reign. But in addition to the team generally scoring more than enough in the regular season, the progress the group made defensively over Keefe’s tenure — specifically the 200-foot buy-in from the team’s top offensive players — was generally commendable. The Leafs were, broadly speaking, a structured team at five-on-five under Keefe, and the players enjoyed playing for him/never showed any visible signs of quitting on their coach.

However, consider the following playoff statistics on top of the damning 16-21 postseason record:

  • The Leafs won Game 1 just once in five playoff series under Keefe.
  • The Leafs fell behind first in 20 out of 37 playoff games.
  • The power play clicked at 15% or worse in all but one playoff run and bottomed out at a stunning 4.8% in 2024 (1 for 21).
  • The Leafs were outscored 102-97 in the postseason and scored just 2.62 goals per game compared to a regular-season average of 3.52. Toronto ended the 2024 playoffs scoring two or fewer goals in 13 of its last 14 postseason games. They played a winner-take-all Game 7 (or Game 5 in 2020) in all but one playoff run and scored just three goals in those four games.

On a club with Cup aspirations, even one as patient about playoff success as the Leafs have been under Brendan Shanahan, a sixth year behind the bench with those postseason results was simply a bridge too far, even with the two-year contract extension in place that will see Keefe collect fat MLSE paycheques until 2026.

Keefe was arguably out-coached in all but one of his six playoff series behind the bench (and that is generous — the Leafs were mostly outplayed in their one series win over Tampa). He wasn’t a definitive second-best to Jim Montgomery in 2024, but the 1-for-21 power play was completely inexcusable with the scoring talent on the Leafs’ roster, health situations aside. After an early inability to finish on opportunities, it devolved into a unit that lacked any cohesion or purpose in the zone to go along with a stubborn refusal to adjust on the entries. While assistant coach Guy Boucher ran the unit, it ultimately fell on Keefe to interject and ensure this was resolved before it sunk the season, but it only got worse, if anything, as the series wore on.

Last spring, Alec wrote an in-depth piece advocating for Keefe’s dismissal while detailing concerns about the team’s pace of play, the lack of defensive involvement in the offense, and ice-time allocation with his stars. Much of it still applies one year later, although Keefe did show some willingness to establish more of a three-line attack this season once his eyes were opened by injury situations. The regular-season experimentation and different looks came in especially handy when the Leafs went down 3-1 in the series and lost Auston Matthews to injury. Still, it took too many seasons for Keefe to take seriously the idea of deploying his big four to build more than two credible lines.

Partly in Keefe’s defense, he takes the fall for the lack of playoff success, but the big four he often shielded in the media and loaded up with minutes and opportunities on the ice never rewarded the faith he showed in them at playoff time. Most coaches in his position—blessed with a collection of elite offensive players—would have benefitted from big-time playoff production at some point from his stars, but his core group often under-delivered, particularly when the chips were down late in series.

Regarding the old adage, “Show me a good coach, and I’ll show you a good goalie,” Keefe also only once benefitted from a superior goaltending performance than the opposition in his six playoff series, and that was the one playoff series the team won under his watch against Tampa in 2023 (the only other series where the goaltending battle was close was Carey Price vs. Jack Campbell in 2021; otherwise, Joonas Korpisalo & Elvis Merzlikins outdueled Frederik Andersen in 2020, Andrei Vasilevskiy outdueled Jack Campbell in 2022, and Jeremy Swayman outdueled Ilya Samsonov in 2024).

So begins the search for the 41st head coach in Maple Leafs history. Brad Treliving and Brendan Shanahan will be pursuing a replacement — very likely one with a winning playoff pedigree in the NHL — who can bring the best out of the team’s best players at playoff time and continue the progress the team has shown in the physical and defensive elements of the game, all while wringing more offense out of a lineup that should score a lot more than it has in the playoffs.

Sheldon Keefe’s statement

Leafs Nation, the time has come to say goodbye. Writing a note and sending it out didn’t seem like enough, and I do plan on taking a little break from media. Here I am.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a dream come true for a boy from Brampton.

I want to thank Kyle Dubas, Lou Lamoriello, Brad Treliving, Brandon Pridham, Brendan Shanahan, Larry Tanenbaum, and the MLSE board for giving me this opportunity to work with the Marlies and Leafs.

I didn’t get it done in the playoffs. I didn’t help push our team over the line and deliver. I accept responsibility for that. No excuses. That is the job, and I didn’t get it done. That is the reality of the business, and I accept it.

To the players, I appreciate all of your efforts. Your talents and work ethic made me look good on a lot of nights. Anyone who suited up for the blue and white, I appreciate you.

To the support staff of the Maple Leafs, you are a tremendous people and you are elite at what you do. The players and support staff will drive the team to success. I believe it will win.

To Leafs Nation, you deserve the Stanley Cup. Your passion at home and on the road is unmatched. It is an incredible honour to coach the Maple Leafs and to try to deliver for you.

To the media, I had to deal with you every single day, sometimes twice or three times a day. I appreciate your process.I respected the fact that you were honest, fair, and had a job to do. I hope you appreciate the fact that I helped you do it.

I don’t know what comes next, but I know I will be ready for it. In the meantime, I will enjoy giving my family the time they deserve.

I love you all. Be well.

Brad Treliving’s Statement

Today’s decision was difficult. Sheldon is an excellent coach and a great man; however, we determined a new voice is needed to help the team push through to reach our ultimate goal. We thank Sheldon for his hard work and dedication to the organization over the last nine years, and wish him and his family all the very best.