Sheldon Keefe reportedly afraid of what would happen if he benched Mitch Marner

Ryan Smitheram
June 13, 2024  (9:18)

Keefe having a conversation with Bunting and Marner
Photo credit: USA Today

A trusted NHL Insider has confirmed that Sheldon Keefe treated Mitch Marner differently than his teammates because he was afraid of how Marner would react to criticism and/or punishment.

Many gave Sheldon Keefe flack for not being tougher on certain players during his time in Toronto. We saw Keefe lay down thr law with William Nylander more than once during his tenure in Toronto, but other players on the team, more specifically Mitch Marner, seemed to avoid his wrath after a poor performance.
While we saw Keefe bench Nylander for making mistakes, we never really saw it with Marner even though it was warranted at times. We finally may have an answer as to why that was the case.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman was on 'Leafs Morning Take' yesterday and was asked about the Marner situation. The conversation led to him discussing how Nylander and Matthews have a 'thick skin' and can handle the market, but how Marner's skin may not be as thick. Friedman emphasized that some people have a thicker skin and some do not but that's how life works.
With that being said, Friedman revealed that Keefe was aware of this and that is why he wasn't as hard on Marner as he was Nylander and others.
"Keefe was hard on Nylander but I think Keefe was very careful when it came to Marner. He felt Marner's sensitivity at times."

Sensitivity may not have been the best word choice to describe Marner, but essentially, Keefe, like every coach, had to learn and connect with each player in their own way.
Some players prefer being yelled at or criticized publicly to get the best out of them and others prefer to have private conversations in detail. Friedman went on to say that it will be interesting to see how new Leafs head coach Craig Berube approaches things with players.
Whether or not Marner remains a Leaf this summer is still up in the air, but as more time passes without a deal, it's becoming more and more likely that we'll see the entire Core 4 back for another kick at the can under a new head coach. It will be interesting to see if Berube treats Marner with the same gentle hand that Keefe did or if he tries a different approach, with a firmer hand.
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Sheldon Keefe reportedly afraid of what would happen if he benched Mitch Marner

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