The Toronto Maple Leafs made it official and announced the firing of head coach Mike Babcock on Wednesday.
Sheldon Keefe will be serving as the new head coach.
“Today, we made the decision to relieve Mike Babcock of his coaching duties and named Sheldon Keefe our new head coach,” Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said. “Over parts of the last five seasons, Mike has played an integral role in changing the direction of our franchise.”
The timing is appropriate, with the Maple Leafs in the throes of a six game losing streak. The club is fifth in the Atlantic Division with a 9-10-4 record.
Babcock was hired in May of 2015 and was intended to lead the rebuilding franchise to the Promised Land. He posted a 173-133-45 record behind the bench, but went 8-12 in the post-season. The team never made it out of the first round.
Babcock leaves the Maple Leafs with a few less-than-auspicious honours to go with a pretty solid tenure by most standards. He joins King Clancy among the only Toronto coaches to lose three straight first round playoff series, for one, but he does have the fifth-most wins among any Maple Leaf coach. That puts him behind Dick Irvin, Hap Day, Pat Quinn, and Punch Imlach.
“At this time, we collectively felt that it was best to make a change to Sheldon Keefe,” Shanahan said. “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 joins the Maple Leafs in the midst of his fifth season behind the bench of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. The club is 10-2-2-1 this season, good for first place in the North Division. Under Keefe’s watch, the Marlies won the Calder Cup in 2018 and had the best regular season record in the league twice to earn the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy.
Keefe has experience working under general manager Kyle Dubas when both were with Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL.
The 39-year-old coach has long been touted next-in-line for the post with the Maple Leafs, but the team’s current woes clearly accelerated the timeline.
Toronto will maintain the services of Babcock’s assistant coaches, so Paul McFarland and Dave Hakstol are still on board for now.
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