Kris Versteeg speaks with the media in Calgary
Photo credit: NHL

Ex-Leaf says there's only one way to fix this team and it involves getting rid of one person

Published January 17, 2024 at 12:45

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in trouble. Not only did they close out 2023 on a 3-game losing skid, they are barely over 2 weeks into the new year and have already amassed a 4-game losing streak, blowing multi-goal leads along the way. So what's the answer? Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that coaching may have become a bigger issue in Toronto this season than it has been in recent years.

Whether it's a case of Sheldon Keefe losing the room, or just not sending his players the right messages, Keefe appears very uncomfortable right now. So far this season, he has led a team very similar to the one that finished 4th overall last year to a 12th overall rank at the midway point of the season. The team doesn't look nearly as sharp or as detail oriented and now the losses are starting to pile up and rather than coasting into the playoffs in a weak Atlantic Division, the Leafs are going to be fighting for their playoff lives in the second half.

There are a lot of people in Toronto who believe that a coaching change is necessary, despite the previous regular season success, but it's not just those in Toronto who can see it. Others can see it as well, such as former Leaf and current analyst Kris Versteeg.

Versteeg was on the JD Bunkis Podcast this morning and had plenty to say about the poor job that Sheldon Keefe and his staff have been doing this season. Not only does Versteeg think that the Leafs should replace Keefe, but he thinks they're lucky to even be in the playoff picture at all with how poorly they've played since the very start of the year.

"Look at the start of the year - all of the lucky wins or comebacks. This is just basically a levelling off of where you've been playing this entire season. Everyone's like 'ah they're not winning'... Yeah, well they shouldn't have been winning at the start of the season. They just have superstars that can win you games outright, and you need superstars to win games, but - you know, I listen to the media, 'yeah, that's not the coaching...' it IS the coaching. It IS the coaching and it IS the players - it's both. But when the coaching is the same year after year after year, this is what you get. The numbers will eventually lead you to where you're going.

What did I say when [the Oilers] needed a coaching change. They need a coaching change. Yes, the numbers, at some point, were going to turn for them eventually, but to get to where they're going now, they would not be here if Woodcroft was still their coach. Zero chance. Zero chance. So again, structurally, [the Leafs] need a change. Details, they need a change. But the numbers now, these 4 losses are just accumulating because of where they should have been at the start of the year. They should have never been in the playoff race, to be honest, with the way they were playing. It's just Willy was playing out of his mind, Matthews was scoring big goals and they're here because of those guys. Now, they've relied on them way too much and other guys on their team don't even know which way is up anymore.

Back to Keefe, as a coach - he's a great coach, he's done good things, but when you can't get past letting a guy like - I was at the game against the Avalanche... Domi was the best player on the ice. I'm not saying Domi is the end-all, be-all either... but he was the best player on the ice and he finished with 10 minutes - 10 and a half minutes. If you don't like the player, even when he's playing good, you damn well better play him to win a game. You better get past your pride and whatever ego it is to play that player to get you a W in a win league when you're in the biggest market in hockey.

He can't get past it... he can't inflate other guys to excel the hockey club and it's a problem. The details have sucked. The details are horrendous... this is hockey fundamentals at the end of the day. Get the puck out, 2 minutes left, I don't care. Block a shot with your face. It doesn't matter. These guys don't even understand hockey fundamentals at the biggest times of games, like 'what do we need to do at this time of the game?'... guys don't know where they're going. Yeah, they're not the best blueline, but guys don't know where they're going, and especially when you-know-what hits the fan, you better have a structure in place that helps you in those moments.

How many more years do these guys have in their prime?... They can't go out and trade all their assets and keep Keefe. Even if you trade assets to bring a guy in, you can't even trust that he's going to play the guy."

Can a new coach come in and make a difference? Versteeg believes that a new coach can do just that. He did caution that a coaching change likely comes with the knowledge that this year is a write-off and that it then becomes a preparation for next season, but Versteeg does think that a coaching change can help set the team up for better success in the next 82-game campaign.

Whether the Leafs part ways with Keefe or not, something needs to change in Toronto - and soon. The Leafs have to stop the bleeding and whether that means making a trade or replacing their coach is open for interpretation, but the one thing that is for certain is that this team cannot continue on the same path and hope to find success using the same questionable methods.

January 17   |   2461 answers
Ex-Leaf says there's only one way to fix this team and it involves getting rid of one person

Would firing Sheldon Keefe make the Leafs better?

Yes157163.8 %
No34213.9 %
It depends on his replacement54822.3 %
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