After guiding his team from the start and right into the Eastern Conference Finals, head coach Sheldon Keefe was awarded a two-year contract with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL on Tuesday.
During exit meetings in the morning at Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, the Toronto Maple Leafs, in partnership with their affiliate, announced the multi-year contract extension for the Marlies bench coach.
Keefe, 38, has been with the Marlies in Toronto for the last four seasons, posting a 189-87-20-1 record while he also led them to their first Calder Cup championship in 2018. Unfortunately, his team, led by Jeremy Bracco and Rasmus Sandin, was unable to repeat this standard, falling in six games to the Charlotte Checkers.
In a statement from Sheldon Keefe upon having learnt of his extension, the longtime Marlies coach had this to say about staying put with the team in Toronto, “It’s been a privilege and honour to be part of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization and head coach of the Toronto Marlies for the past four seasons. In my conversations with the Leafs over the past several months, I felt that staying on with this club was the best decision for me, my family and my development. I’m incredibly proud of our recent achievements as a club and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to develop young Maple Leafs.”
As for Kyle Dubas and his thoughts on the two-year contract, he said, “Over the last four seasons Sheldon has done a great job developing our individual prospects into Maple Leafs while also guiding the Marlies deep into the playoffs in each of his four seasons with the organization, including the Calder Cup in 2018. Ensuring that Sheldon remains tasked with guiding the development of our prospects was very important to our program and the reason we began the discussion to extend Sheldon months ago.”
Coming into Toronto, Keefe had three seasons of experience in the OHL, coaching the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds under Kyle Dubas, earning Canadian Hockey League Coach of the Year honours in 2014-15. This achievement would make the signing match an inevitable one moving onto Toronto.
Keefe also earned the OHL’s Coach of the Year Award for his success as well. Speaking of which, during his time with the Greyhounds, Keefe led the team to a league-best record of 54-12-0-2 and establishing a new franchise record with 110 points.
With success being something that Keefe has seen plenty of since joining the Marlies, he recently moved past Dallas Eakins earlier this season for the most regular-season wins by a coach in franchise history. He also had the highest winning percentage (.688) of any Marlies coach-to-date.
While Keefe has now been involved with professional level hockey for the last seven years, the Brampton, Ontario native served as head coach and general manager of the CCHL’s Pembroke Lumber Kings before joining the Marlies. During this time, the team captured five straight league titles and an RBC Cup national title in 2011.
In digging deeper at the success that the Toronto Marlies have had under Keefe, the club has registered two of the seven best single-season records in AHL history, going 54-16-5-1 (.750) in 2015-16 and 54-18-2-2 (.737) in 2017-18. The Marlies have also won the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy each year as the AHL’s regular-season champions.
Prior to become a coach, Keefe was a member of the NHL, having played in 125 NHL games and 120 AHL games as well. He was selected in the second round (47th overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.
When addressing the media on Tuesday after the announcement of his extension was made, Keefe said about the agreement that he formally agreed to with Dubas and the Leafs, “It feels good, of course it’s something that we’ve worked towards over the last number of months and it was done before today obviously, but I’m thrilled about the opportunity to remain in the organization and continue to work with the young players here.”
Laurence Gilman, a Maple Leafs executive who has taken over focus of the Marlies for Kyle Dubas, had this to say of Keefe’s signing and the success that he believes could be ahead, “It’s exceptionally gratifying because I think he’s one of the best up-and-coming coaches in the American Hockey League. I think he’s a great hockey mind, he manages our roster well, he’s the life beat of our dressing room and it means the fortunes of our team are going to be good moving forward.”
In closing, Gilman said in the work he will continue to do alongside Keefe, “Am I happy that he’s going to be back and that I’m going to work side-by-side him next year? I’m ecstatic about that. Most importantly, I think it’s the best thing for the development of our players and it moves this organization forward.”
When asked about the possibility of finding a position in the NHL, Keefe said of the job opportunities that he had been offered to fill in a vacancy, “The contract was obviously something that was already done, and I was committed to this role and this responsibility. I’ve been an assistant coach before at different levels, and I respect that position a lot and it’s important, the assistants we have here are vital to our operation, but I see myself as a head coach.”