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PPP Roundtable: Sheldon Keefe edition

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It seems like we just aired out our thoughts about a day ago. Here we are again.

Sheldon Keefe Named Head Coach of Toronto Marlies Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Arvind

I don’t know enough about Keefe to comment substantively on how he’ll change things, but the timing of this, in the middle of a road trip, is odd to me.

Why not fire him a game before? What was going to happen in the Vegas game that would potentially delay this, if they were already thinking about firing him. My general rule is that if you ever think “We’ll give the coach X games to right the ship”, you should fire them immediately, especially if X is a small number. If the Leafs win, do they delay this? What if Petan’s shot goes in, and the Leafs win in a shootout. How much time does that buy Babcock? The performance would be the same, but the result is different, and if that would change the decision on when to fire Babcock, that would be a problem for me, because that suggests the Leafs are more results-based than process-based.

Jonathan Species

So now we know why Marner is going down there tomorrow; for moral support.

AT Fulemin

I think one narrative has been proven. Sheldon Keefe is Kyle Dubas’ guy. This is the third straight organization where Dubas has hired Keefe as his head coach, and Dubas is more than smart enough to know this decision will have an awful lot to do with his own professional life expectancy. This is not to say he always disagreed with Babcock or that he always will agree with Keefe. He didn’t and won’t. But he has used the GM’s bullet here and this was his move, apparently without an interim tag. This is the Dubas team body and soul now.

Brian Stewart

How I think Keefe will change the team: I honestly have no idea. I know little about his systems or tactics as a coach. I know the Marlies were apparently supposed to be modeled after what the Leafs were doing in the NHL, and he apparently did well at it. I also know the Marlies had a huge advantage financially over other AHL teams. They had good prospects for a while with very high quality AHL veterans and “AAAA” guys. He had great AHL goaltending with Sparks. Does that inflate how good he looked? Fucked if I know. There are also a lot of former Marlies that he coached on the NHL team. Is that a mark in his favour? Depends on how you think those players are doing in the NHL now, and how much of that is due to his coaching/development. Basically, I have no idea about Keefe. But I’m mad that the Leafs replaced an all-time great NHL coach with a guy who has no NHL experience.

^ Caveat to that last part is I still don’t know if he’s interim or not?

AT Fulemin

Another point there: the Leafs should have a better record because their record should not have been this bad, if you ask me. I am still a little baffled at what was ailing them now and so it’s hard to know if Keefe will fix it. But there should be a dead cat bounce at minimum. To be a success we need more than that.

Katyaknappe

I’m with Arvind, shockingly, on the issue of dumb arbitrary hoops and then you’re gone. Further to that, if the organization was unsure about Babcock the time to act was in May, not now. I consider getting to this point an organizational failure with weight to be carried by everyone from Shanahan to Babcock himself, but particularly to the core players as well.

Jonathan Species

I am hoping for more from Dubas, but what I am expecting is that he will trot out the traditional lines about how it was an unacceptable start and the team needed something to shake them up and Babcock had lost the room, etc., which, as Katya said, that’s bullshit because nothing actually has changed from May.

Arvind

Agreed - I mean, I think one could even justifiably fire him a few games ago. But it’s unclear what the tipping point was to doing this now, as opposed to the logistical nightmare that is firing a coach in the middle of a road trip. With limited practice time, it’s also tough for Keefe to implement his system and any changes he wants to make right now.

Jonathan Species

I can imagine only that either there was ownership intervention on some level to stop Babcock from going after the Game 7 loss, or there was intervention to fire him now. The second one feels more likely. Yes, they went through all the classic warning signs of a coach firing, right down to the show of support from the GM, and even the “players only meeting,” but that usually plays out over weeks. This all came together in, like, 48 hours.

I would add that it is obvious now why Dubas didn’t go with the team to Vegas and came back to Toronto to watch the Marlies game on Sunday. He wasn’t there to see Pierre Engvall one last time before choosing to call him up.

Katyaknappe

As for Keefe. I’m unsure playing wise what to expect. So shall we begin with the facts? He won a Calder Cup with a hell of a team. Andreas Johnsson went back to do a victory lap in the playoffs when he was an NHLer. They had the best goalie the AHL has seen in ages: Garret Sparks. They ate up the opposition. And then the team has put up a year and a few weeks of bad 5on5 play buoyed up by goalies (Michael Hutchinson and then Kasimir Kaskisuo on an incredible hot streak) and special teams this year. He has repeatedly complained in post-game interviews about the team’s 5on5 performance and their missing players. The systems employed are largely Leafs-standard: balanced lines, rolling three or four, mobile defenders who join in offensively. It’s all familiar. And, unlike the Leafs, they get outshot all the time.

AT Fulemin

Re the tipping point thing--i think any decision in season will seem like this. Why not before? Why not after? Did you make sure you weren’t overreacting to a bad game? Did you miss a good window? I don’t know. I’m not in love with the decision, but I don’t think it was made on any one game and so I don’t worry about that as much. It’s the weight that breaks the camel’s back whatever the last straw is.

Arvind

Well, the timing issue here is that being on a road trip presents some logistical hurdles. As mentioned, very few team practices and lots of road games means there are fewer chances for a coach to do much to change things systemically.

It’s not a massive deal, but the Vegas game probably shouldn’t be the straw that broke the camel’s back. What in that game would have convinced someone of the decision, if they weren’t previously on board.

I’m not sure it sets up Keefe in an ideal way going forward.

nafio

So just a thought but the next game is Arizona and Matthews has been thought to not be Babs biggest fan. Is this an appease the star move?

Jonathan Species

There will be 1,000 takes on that in the media tomorrow, that’s for sure.

AT Fulemin

Maybe?...I guess we can’t rule it out. I guess if you want an emotional narrative Saturday was rock bottom and Vegas was proof they weren’t immediately resurfacing from that.

Arvind

But expecting them to go into Vegas and dominate one of the better teams in the league is silly. It’s fantasy land stuff to expect the team to rebound like a sports movie and suddenly play way better than what they showed. They played fine at 5v5, and their crap PK killed them. Which isn’t to say Babs didn’t deserve to be fired - I think you can make a great argument for it, and I think it’s fair to say that he has to wear the results of the team, which are unambiguously poor.

Kevin Papetti

I was in favour of the Babcock firing. I think this team will benefit from a new voice, and there had been too many questionable decisions this year for my liking. I want to see a new powerplay set-up, similar to the one that the Marlies deploy, where one-timers are not a focus. I want to see more offence on the fourth line, especially when Marner and Kerfoot are out, as this team needs all of the secondary scoring that they can right now. I want to see a change or two on the back-end, with Cody Ceci playing less minutes.

Will Keefe provide any of these things? Who knows, but the probability of seeing one of these changes increases. It’s difficult to evaluate AHL coaches, as they have to prioritize development over winning in some cases, but Keefe has always struck me as an intelligent person. I think he was the right person for the job, given his success at every level, and his relationship with Dubas.

I think this was the right time to make the move. I thought the Pittsburgh game was going to be the tipping point, but as someone who went to Las Vegas in May, I’m not sure that’s the right place for a coach’s first game.

Katyaknappe

I’m very in on all Kevin’s wants there.

Arvind

Yeah, Babcock has done enough to warrant dismissal in my eyes, and Kevin does a great job of elucidating the outstanding issues that he failed to resolve.

Kevin Papetti

As an aside, some people on Twitter act like Keefe is Superman. That will surely stop once he makes a few decisions that they disagree with. I do think that he had very strong rosters during most of his time with the Marlies, and that an average coach still would have won plenty of games with those teams. I don’t think anyone is a perfect coach, and I think it is foolish to act like Keefe is. That being said, I’m happy to see a change here.

Arvind

One thing I am curious about - my guess is that the Marlies had a payroll, both on and off-ice, that vastly outstripped most of their competitors. How is Keefe going to handle a roster that, as Kevin says, isn’t obviously a lot better than wide swaths of the league.

Katyaknappe

Even an iffy Marlies team as they were the year after Nylander left, is better than most AHL teams, and the gaps are wide. That’s a very legitimate question. Also the way you run ice time in the AHL is unlike the NHL.

Jonathan Species

I asked this in another earlier round table, how is Keefe going to deal with players like John Tavares? He’s not accustomed to having veteran players that will see themselves on par with the coach.

He’s accustomed only to veterans being the “team Dad.”

Hardev Lad

Getting in here at the end. I’ll just talk about Keefe personally for a second. He’s a really smart and thoughtful man. Respectful to everyone around him and he has that aura of wanting to do well in front of him. As a tactician, he’s very smart about what works and what doesn’t. He doesn’t get too high or low when the team is experiencing good or bad luck. He’s a great teacher and trusts his players when they work hard for him. You can see countless success stories from Keefe’s time in Toronto, helped by the exemplary coaching and development staff around him. Trevor Moore, Mason Marchment, Frederik Gauthier, Dmytro Timashov, Pierre Engvall, Adam Brooks, Justin Holl, Travis Dermott, Calle Rosen, Martin Marincin. If you can prove that you can work hard, he’ll put everything in you.

taaeeve

I think firing Babcock was the right move for this team, at this time, even if the exact timing is still more than a little strange to me (like Arvind said earlier, why do it in the middle of the road trip? What happened in Vegas that didn’t happen – and happen much, much worse – in Pittsburgh?). There are a couple of systems things that the Marlies do that I’m both excited about and nervous for, in seeing how and if they transition to the NHL with Keefe. I like the way the Marlies exit the zone a lot. While their powerplay last year (sometimes? always? I only remember the playoffs) ended up falling into the trap of only being run through one player in a very predictable way, they’ve had a lot more special teams success than the Leafs of late, and is something we could sorely use a boost in. All that said, it’s very hard to predict how that will translate to the NHL, both in terms of the new calibre of players Keefe will be working with, and in all of the external factors that the league itself brings to the table (style of play, quality of competition, etc.). I would say I’m more curious than optimistic to see how this impacts the Leafs moving forward, and the caution with rebooting my optimism for the season definitely comes on Keefe’s lack of experience at the NHL level. But hey, you never let someone try something new, you’ll never find out if they’re capable of doing it. And at the very least, he has coached a lot of current Leafs players before.

Katyaknappe

So. I am, like Kevin, looking to see a re-imagined lineup usage structure. But I have to really wonder if the situation we had with that dumb 4th line faceoff squad was because that was the personnel Dubas insisted on leaving in the NHL because he does have waiverphobia. Will Keefe be stuck with players who have no offence in Gauthier and Shore and who aren’t capable defensively in Gauthier and Timashov. If he is, that’s a tough thing to deal with for six weeks while we wait for everyone to come off of injuries.

And I can’t help but think of Jeremy Bracco right now. He’s got these gifts, this limited skillset, like a lot of Leafs do, and he’s... well, he’s not progressing. He’s not wowing anyone, and maybe he’s a bit down on himself, and it will sort itself out, but if Keefe needs a player to have a complete game, wow, is he coaching the wrong team. When Mitch Marner, who hasn’t been himself comes back...? I wish I felt more optimistic about this. We’ll all find out together!

If we want to know what Keefe’s job is, go listen to Brendan Shanahan talk about this team’s historical tendency to defensive errors. It’s easy to see the decline in offence because it equals a decline in fun, and it’s obvious the team needs Tavares to succeed, but if they can’t figure out some of the very basics of defensive execution, no amount of offensive quality will win them games.