UPDATE: Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and new head coach Sheldon Kennedy just held an official press conference to discuss yesterday's promotion of Keefe from the AHL's Toronto Marlies to the Leafs.
For the full press conference, click below:
In any case, read below for our full account of Babcock's firing from yesterday as the news broke.
In case you missed the news yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs have relieved head coach Mike Babcock of his coaching duties.
Read below for an official statement from Babcock himself concerning his dismissal:
“Larry Tanenbaum talked me into going to Toronto,” Babcock said from Arizona. “I would have never gone until I met Larry. He’s one of the finest people I’ve ever met. Had an absolute riot and met another friend for life in Lou Lamoriello. I thought we did an amazing job taking a franchise from where it was to where we had 100-point seasons, we set franchise records if I’m not mistaken, got into the playoffs. I’m disappointed, we didn’t have the start to the year we wanted and that’s on me. I want to thank the fans, I want to thank the media, I want to thank the city, it was spectacular, I loved every second of it. And I wish the new group (coaches) nothing but success. Morgan Rielly has been here the whole time. I can’t thank him enough. And all the players I got an opportunity to coach. It’s been fantastic and I wish them nothing but success.’’
Interestingly enough, you'll notice there's no mention of Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas or anyone else from the Leafs' current management group. In fact, he even dropped this little comment about the coach/RM relationship as his sees it:
“I really do believe that every general manager should have his own coach."
Babcock, of course, was not hired by Dubas nor former GM Lou Lamoriello. Babcock was hired by Shanhan and Larry Tanenbaum.
Interestingly enough Babcock names only one player, Morgan Rielly, in his farewell statement, as well. Maybe it's an oversight, maybe it's intentional? With Babcock though... I'd bet on the latter over the former. What's even more interesting is that there's no mention of his captain John Tavares from Babcock. TSN's Darren Dreger dismissed reports of a rift between Babcock and Tavares:
It does seem, though, that most of the Leafs' players were happy to see their head coach get the boot. According to Leafs insider James Mirtle of The Athletic, "90%" of Leafs players were relieved to see Babcock fired.
Check it out:
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan issued the following statements about Babcock's dismissal:
TOR prez Shanahan: “Over parts of the last 5 seasons, Mike played an integral role in changing the direction of our franchise... Mike’s commitment & tireless work ethic put our org in a better place & we are extremely grateful & appreciative of the foundation he helped us build”
Shanahan: “At this time, we collectively felt it was best to make a change. (Sheldon Keefe's) record with Marlies in terms of development & on-ice success during his time (here) has compelled us all to feel he is the right person to take us to the next stage in our evolution”
As mentioned above, Sheldon Keefe, formerly head coach of the AHL's Toronto Marlies, will take over Babcock's position immediately.
UPDATE 2: The Leafs have issued a press release concerning Keefe's hiring. Read below for the full press release announcement:
Toronto Maple Leafs President and Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan announced today that Mike Babcock has been relieved of his coaching duties and Sheldon Keefe has been named the Club's new head coach.
"Today, we made the decision to relieve Mike Babcock of his coaching duties and named Sheldon Keefe our new head coach," said Shanahan. "Over parts of the last five seasons, Mike has played an integral role in changing the direction of our franchise."
"Mike's commitment and tireless work ethic has put our organization in a better place and we are extremely grateful and appreciative of the foundation he has helped us build here."
"At this time, we collectively felt that it was best to make a change to Sheldon Keefe. Sheldon's record with the Marlies in terms of development and on-ice success during his time in our organization has compelled us all to feel that he is the right person to take us to the next stage in our evolution."
Keefe, 39, was in his fifth season as head coach of Toronto's American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. In 319 regular season games, Keefe led the Marlies to a 199-89-22-9 record and won the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL's top team in the regular season on two occasions. In the playoffs, Keefe helped lead the Marlies to a 38-21 record in four post-season appearances and saw the Marlies capture the franchise's first Calder Cup championship in 2018.
Keefe joined the Marlies after a successful three-year stint as head coach for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. After joining the team as a mid-season replacement in 2012, the Brampton, Ontario native led the Greyhounds back to the playoffs after the team missed out the previous two seasons. In Keefe's two full seasons with Sault Ste. Marie, the Greyhounds posted a regular season record of 98-29-2-7 while reaching the second round (2013-14) and third round (2014-15) of the playoffs.
Prior to Sault Ste. Marie, Keefe served as general manager and head coach of the CCHL's Pembroke Lumber Kings, leading them to five consecutive league championships (2007-2011).
Keefe has also served as an assistant coach for Team Canada's Men's Summer U18 team which earned a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2015.
As a player, Keefe suited up for 125 NHL games with the Tampa Bay Lightning after they selected him in the second round (47th overall) of the 1999 NHL Draft. He was named the OHL's Rookie of the Year with the Barrie Colts in 1998-99 before earning the Eddie Powers Trophy as the league's top scorer in 1999-2000.
In parts of five seasons under Babcock, the Maple Leafs posted a record of 173-133-45 in 351 regular season games and an 8-12 record in three postseason appearances.
No other changes to the Maple Leafs coaching staff will be made at this time. With respect to the Marlies, assistant coaches AJ MacLean and Rob Davison will share bench duties tonight as they face Laval in Toronto.
Babcock, was is in year five of an eight year contract worth $50 million, and had come under fire for his strategies this season, specifically when it comes to the playing time of his superstar players. Too often, fans contend, Babcock elects to sit game breakers like Auston Matthews and William Nylander in favour of fourth line grinders or defensive specialists. He’s an old school coach in a new school league, as they say. Because of his inability to adapt, these fans had been calling calling for Babcock’s job in recent weeks.
Just earlier this week though, Babcock had a message for those fans:
Gotta give Babs credit… he certainly doesn’t lack in confidence. The problem is... you can't show that kind of confidence when it's clear that your tune has tuned you out. With the Leafs dropping their sixth straight game last night, you just KNEW that the other shoe had to drop sometime.
After a particularly bad showing this past weekend captain John Tavares and assistant captain Morgan Rielly called a private meeting with Babcock following Saturday night’s loss, in an effort to right the ship. Clearly it didn't work out.