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Popular analyst reveals what the Leafs' biggest problem is this season and it's not Sheldon Keefe

Published January 19, 2024 at 12:43
BY MIKE ARMENTI

Those who have watched the Maple Leafs closely during the most recent years of the Core 4 era know first hand just how dominant this team can be offensively. During Kyle Dubas' tenure in Toronto, we saw the team put a real emphasis on trying to improve the blueline, while also committing a lot of time and effort to build good habits and take care of the puck, playing a strong possession game. This year, however, they're not taking care of the puck nearly as well, and it's been costing them valuable points in the standings as a result.

For much of the last few weeks, the fans and media have been very hard of Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, despite the fact that he wasn't the one who built this current Leafs roster. It was Brad Treliving who kicked the likes of Alex Kerfoot, Sam Lafferty, Justin Holl and others to the curb. It was Treliving who was unable to re-sign Ryan O'Reilly and Luke Schenn. It was Treliving who signed Ryan Reaves and John Klingberg. Still, Keefe has been taking most of the heat and his seat was looking pretty hot until last night's win in Calgary.

For all of the people piling on Keefe of late, one popular TSN analyst, Mike Johnson, came to Keefe's defense, stating that he doesn't believe that any of what's currently going on can be attributed to the job Keefe has been doing. It's all in how poorly the Leafs are executing and the fact that they aren't taking care of the puck anymore.

"I don't think for a second that it's [Sheldon Keefe's] responsibility or it's his fault or that he's the one to blame for a defensive team that's not quite as good. I think the biggest problem for Toronto is that they don't have the puck on their stick as much. Like, we know they're a good offensive team. You look at all of the metrics, they're one of the best offensive teams in the league, except for time of possession in the offensive zone.


In the previous 3 years, they were a top 10 time in time of possession. They're like 25th this year, so that tells you they make good plays, they make high-risk plays, but they don't play in the offensive zone enough, which makes them defend longer.

No team is going to be perfect. The more times you ask a team to defend, eventually somebody will make a mistake or whatever team will make a good play. Where the Leafs are getting themselves into a lot of trouble is that they're asking their team, which is not that great defensively to begin with, to [defend] more than they ever have. That, to me, I think is one of the root causes of what is going [wrong] all year long. The Leafs just don't have the puck in the offensive zone often enough, like they have in previous years, so now they have to defend more often and they're not as good at it. That's where you see the results sort of being middling through the course of the year as opposed to exceptional, like they have been the previous 3 years." - Mike Johnson on the Leafs' #1 problem right now


It's easy to point the finger at the coach. As a fan, you want the team to win and you also understand that you can't trade every single player. That's understandable. However, the coach can only do so much. Keefe appears to have a smart mind for hockey and seems to say all of the right things, but he can't go out there and execute on the ice. That's on the players. If the message is consistent - take care of the puck - and the Leafs aren't following suit, should that really fall on the coach? That's certainly up for debate, but we already know where Mike Johnson stands. As someone who played the game for a high level and for a long time, maybe we should trust what he's saying. Maybe he's onto something, and maybe Treliving can bring in a player or two who can help the Leafs take care of the puck a little better on a nightly basis and move out the guys who are costing the Leafs time in the offensive zone.
POLL
January 19   |   1065 answers
Popular analyst reveals what the Leafs' biggest problem is this season and it's not Sheldon Keefe

Do you think the Leafs should keep Sheldon Keefe behind the bench?

Yes, he's a good coach21219.9 %
No, if the team is losing, it's on the coach61357.6 %
We'll see how they do in the playoffs first24022.5 %
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