Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has not been behind the bench of the Maple Leafs for very long, this in spite of the success he has experienced behind that bench, and in fact has relatively little experience at the National Hockey League level overall. On Saturday night however Keefe demonstrated that he has all the confidence, and frankly the courage, of a veteran head coach behind the bench.
Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander has often been the subject of criticism for being, for lack of a better term, somewhat of a flake out there on the ice. Nylander has become infamous for his inconsistent play, the kind of play that can see him having a dynamic performance one night and then following it up with an extremely lackluster effort the very next game. It has long been a source of frustration for fans of the team and now it seems like it has become a source of frustration for the Maple Leafs bench boss as well.
On Saturday night the Leafs head coach effectively sent as clear a message as he could to young William Nylander when he suddenly stop deploying him entirely while the Maple Leafs were facing off against the National Hockey League's worst team in the Detroit Red Wings. It remains unclear what exactly sparked the move from Keefe, perhaps he saw Nylander dragging his feet on the ice against an easily overlooked opponent, but what was clear during the second frame was that Nylander was glued to the bench. Keefe used him sparingly to start the period but sat him for almost the final three quarters of the frame, significantly less deployment than Nylander is accustomed to.
By the time the game was all said and done Nylander had played just a combined total of 16 shifts through the full 60 minutes of the game, a total that is higher than only other 4 games in Nylander's career. That sends a clear message to the young and often inconsistent Nylander, play hard or your ice time will be severely diminished if you fail do to so. It is a message that perhaps should have been sent long before Sheldon Keefe arrived in Toronto.