The Toronto Maple Leafs have faced plenty of negativity over their post-season struggles, but in the regular season they continue to break records under Sheldon Keefe.
As a player, he guided the Barrie Colts to the OHL championship and played 125 games in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After moving behind the bench, Keefe was named CHL and OHL Coach of the Year in 2015 with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and then guided the Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup in 2018.
The logical move for the organisation at that time was to elevate their young, successful and still promising coach up to the majors to see what he could accomplish with some of the most talented players seen in franchise history.
Fast forward to 125 games into his coaching tenure, interestingly the same number he achieved as a player, and Keefe has already established himself as a coach that deserves serious recognition in the Leafs’ history books.
Per Sportsnet Stats, Keefe has coached the Leafs to a 77-35-13 record in his first 125 games as head coach, which is the most wins through that number in franchise history – proving that the team made the right decision to bring him up from the minors.
At the time of Babcock’s firing, the Leafs had a 9-10-4 record, with a .478 points percentage, a far cry from expectations considering the previous two seasons had seen the team reach 105 and 100 points with .640 and .610 points percentages respectively.
By the end of the 2019/20 season, the Keefe-led Leafs had pulled their points percentage up to .579, eclipsing .628 during the games that Keefe was in charge of the team – taking the exact same team and transforming it into the product that is seen today.
At the time of writing, Keefe’s Leafs are on pace to obliterate their regular season highest points record (105 – set during the Babcock-led 2017/18 season) by at least ten points and the team’s lowest points percentage under his guidance has been the .628 set during his debut season.
There have been many detractors of the team under Keefe due to their struggles to move beyond the first round of the post-season, with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens both knocking the Leafs out at the first hurdle in 2020 and 2021.
If Keefe can continue to guide this team forward, however, playing a high-powered offence that continues to make franchise history, it is just a matter of time before success comes in the playoffs.
Fans should enjoy the quality seen on the ice at present, with some household names leading the team in all three areas and giving themselves a serious chance at making history and providing doubters wrong by the time the 2021/22 season is over.
With Keefe at the helm, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the very best position to be successful and keeping him in charge for the long-term will undoubtedly see expectations reached.