Former Leaf comes to the defense of Sheldon Keefe amid heavy criticism

Mike Armenti
March 22, 2023  (11:51)

For Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, his tenure in Toronto has certainly been rocky, but it has also been very successful - just not in the postseason, unfortunately. Keefe owns the best points percentage of any coach in Leafs history, but some of the decisions he's made this season, especially after the deadline, have earned him a lot of negative feedback among the fanbase and from the media.

Keefe has held firm to a steady amount of rotation with both the defense and the forward groups, which has arguably stunted his players' ability to build real, tangible chemistry. As a result, the Leafs have been caught in a bit of a yo-yo pattern of late, winning a couple of games, and losing a couple of games, which could have playoff implications - particularly, the potential loss of home ice in round 1.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are just 3 points back of the Leafs, with the Buds holding a pair of games in hand. The Buds also have one of the easiest remaining schedules of any NHL team, so home ice should be safe, but Keefe's apparent lack of willingness to put together his optimal lineup and run them consistently over the final stretch of games is not a popular decision among the fans, and the media is also on his case about the constant roster changes and rotations as well.
On Wednesday, during TSN1050's First Up, former Leafs defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo came to Sheldon Keefe's defense, explaining exactly why Keefe is doing what he's doing. More than anything else, Colaiacovo wanted people to know that what Keefe is doing is the right thing. He emphasized that Keefe is keeping the bigger picture in mind. If the goal is winning a Stanley Cup, Colaiacovo believes that Keefe is doing the due diligence that he needs to do to help his team achieve that goal - even if the decisions he's made in the short term aren't popular.
"They've decided to re-shape and rebuild their bottom six with the type of players that they brought in.. the competitive guys, the guys with playoff experience, the guys with size, the guys that bring more physicality. Because of all that - what Sheldon Keefe is doing, right now, he's learning about the players he has. Where is the best spot to play these guys? How do I get certain guys going? What is the best fit for certain guys when everybody's healthy and I have to provide a 12F/6D type of lineup? These are the questions he's trying to find answers to. In doing so, as he's trying to find those [answers], yeah, you're going to see some of these mishaps, you're going to see some of these flaws.. When you're asking a coach to coach a team, this is exactly what a coach should be doing. Some way, somehow, he's going to get the answers that he wants, and did he get some of those answers last night [in the 7-2 loss to the Islanders]? I think he did."

-Carlo Colaiacovo on Sheldon Keefe doing his job the right way, even if it means taking some heat in the short term

Honestly, I can see where Colaiacovo is coming from here. It's not an easy situation to manage when you have 13 or 14 forwards who are capable to playing in the NHL now and no less than 9 capable NHL defensemen who can do the same. Finding the optimal mix is more than just looking at numbers - it's also watching the guys play together and mixing and matching until you find the right recipe for success. Part of finding what works is finding out what doesn't work. Kudos to Keefe for using the regular season for that rather than trying to find out if his team will sink or swim in round 1 against Tampa. We've seen in the past that it doesn't work like that. Maybe Keefe is just taking the time he needs to make the best informed decision. If losing 7-2 to the Islanders on a random Tuesday in March means that the Leafs can ice an optimal lineup against Tampa in April and win the first of what will hopefully be 4 playoff series, then so be it.
22 MARS   |   866 ANSWERS
Former Leaf comes to the defense of Sheldon Keefe amid heavy criticism

Does Sheldon Keefe deserve all of the criticism he's getting right now in Toronto?

No, he's been a solid coach31836.7 %
Yes, he needs to prove himself by winning25129 %
All judgement should be postponed until round 129734.3 %
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