The Toronto Maple Leafs are just seven games into the 2022-23 National Hockey League (NHL) season, and already there’s turmoil surrounding the team. This is nothing new for the hockey-crazed market, especially after the team has frustrated fans with heart-breaking playoff exits in each of the last two seasons.
There were signs things might go south for the Maple Leafs in the offseason. President Brendan Shanahan decided not to make any managerial changes, and the team returned with almost the same roster, with the exception of new goaltenders Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray, as last season. Murray, as expected, is already injured, but Samsonov has been very good so far.
Auston Matthews, last year’s Hart, Rocket, and Ted Lindsay winner, is off to an incredibly slow start with just one goal and five assists but should start finding the net. He’s an elite goal scorer who can score 40 while coasting. That’s not the problem.
Coaching, however, has been a glaring issue so far for Toronto Maple Leafs.
Keefe’s Failure to Make In-Game Adjustments
Sheldon Keefe isn’t a bad coach. He has a 120-53-19 record through 192 regular season games, good enough for a .674 winning percentage. That’s really good. His playoff-winning percentage of .421, however, isn’t that inspiring.
What’s more concerning through the first seven games this season is the fact that Keefe hasn’t been able to get his team motivated coming off of another disappointing finish to last season. Toronto isn’t playing with much intensity or urgency and its star players seem to be coasting. The team also isn’t getting much out of its depth players. Some of that is one Keefe.
Again, Matthews and linemate Mitch Marner will get going and should play well together. But it’s not quite working right now. A change is needed, but Keefe hasn’t been willing to do that. Rookie Nick Robertson has been Toronto’s best forward in the last three games and would look good on Matthews’ line for a change.
There’s clearly a lot of frustration in Toronto. General manager Kyle Dubas was visibly frustrated when the Dallas Stars had a called-off goal overturned in Toronto’s 3-2 victory last week. We don’t need to repeat the words he mouthed, but it was a huge overreaction for the fifth game of the season. He’s clearly feeling the pressure of the team’s slow start.
Keefe, meanwhile, made an issue out of thin air in the media last week. He rightfully said the Maple Leafs elite players weren’t playing elite following the team’s upset loss at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs. That should have been it. But he clarified his comments the following day, saying his comments were out of context.
Marner even said they discussed the comments and “we’ll leave it at that.” The Toronto media then criticized Keefe for backtracking, and he had to clarify those comments again the following day. It was a mess created entirely by Keefe, showing he, like everyone in Toronto, is feeling the pressure to put past failures behind him.
Unfortunately, he may not get a shot at redemption. Keefe’s firing is the last bullet Dubas has in his chamber before his own firing, and, if the Maple Leafs can’t turn things around quickly, we might see a new coach in Toronto before Christmas.
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