According to a report from TSN NHL insider Pierre LeBrun, the Toronto Maple Leafs have signed head coach Sheldon Keefe to a two year contract extension.
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As LeBrun reports, Keefe was was entering the final year of his contract with the Leafs and would have become a free agent next offseason. With this contract extension, he'll have his duties extended through the 2023-24 season now.
Keefe has technically yet to coach a full season in the NHL. He, of course, replaced former Leafs head coach Mike Babcock midway through the 2019-20 season before the league was put on pause due to COVID-19. Ultimately he couldn't get his team past the Columbus Blue Jackets in the post-season that year. Last season he coached the Leafs to a Canadian Division leading 35-14-7 record but then fell flat on his face against the Montreal Canadiens in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Like Babcock before him, Keefe will be tasked with finally, mercifully pushing the Leafs beyond the first round of the playoffs. It's something that the team hasn't done since 2004 when they beat the Ottawa Senators under Pat Quinn. And, in fact, the Leafs have never won more than two rounds in a single season in their entire team history. Sure, the team has won 13 Stanley Cups in their history, but each of those was won in the NHL's Original Six era when all that was needed to hoist the Cup was two playoff round victories. Since then they've only been back to the Conference Finals three times, losing to the Montreal Canadiens (1978), the Los Angeles Kings (1993) and the Vancouver Canucks (1994). To say that Keefe bears the weight of decades of disappointment would be putting things lightly.
No matter your feelings on the Leafs' performance under Keefe, it's clear that the coach and his boss, general manager Kyle Dubas, have a tremendous respect for one another. The pair essentially devised and executed on a plan to deliver a Calder Cup championship to the AHL's Toronto Marlies and were successful in that plan. Now, can they do the same with the Leafs?