Three days after watching his Toronto Maple Leafs fall in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth straight season, team president Brendan Shanahan said Tuesday that general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe will return for the 2022-23 campaign.
“We’re not going to make any excuses. I thought our players battled hard, I thought that they played well, and they lost to a great hockey team. As players, management and ownership, we share in everybody’s frustration in not getting the job done,” Shanahan said Tuesday.
“Certainly, as we look forward to next year, there’s always going to be new faces. That being said, we will not be making changes just simply for the sake of saying we made changes.”
Dubas has served as the Maple Leafs’ GM for four seasons, guiding the club to four playoff appearances in that span, after serving as assistant general manager for the previous four campaigns.
Keefe has served as head coach for two full seasons, after taking over the club during the 2019-20 season.
“I think that Kyle built a very good hockey team,” Shanahan said of Dubas. “I think he made excellent adjustments along the way, and I think Sheldon is an excellent coach. As we look forward to next year, and getting to work towards next year, I think it’s important to state that I see both of them as being extremely important in getting us to the next level, so that when we do approach next year, and we do come back, that we are ready to take that next step.
“As Kyle said to the players today, the work for next year begins right now. And I look forward to getting to work with Kyle and Sheldon for next season.”
Asked about his own relationship with Keefe — which goes back to the pair’s OHL days with the Soo Greyhounds, and ran through the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate as well — Dubas similarly offered a vote of confidence for his head coach.
“We have worked together at three different levels, and three different teams. We’ve won once together, and in other seasons lost in conference finals, second rounds and of course first rounds. But I think the great value in my relationship with him is that we can be very confrontational and challenging with one another,” Dubas said of Keefe.
“I’ve always thought this was the key, just in my experience, between the general manager and the coach’s relationship, is can you argue, can you challenge one another, can you call each other out when you think that you’re below the standard that you expect from one another? And not have that cause any long-term issues in the relationship, and, more than that, have you come back the next day and be stronger knowing you’re both going towards the same goal.
“I think that’s always the way it has been with Sheldon, and that’s why I value that relationship with him as much as I do.”
Chatter around the team’s coaching staff has swelled of late not only because of the Maple Leafs’ string of first-round exits extending one more year, but also because of the calibre of bench bosses to recently hit the market.
Asked Tuesday whether he’s considered what the impact could be of adding a veteran coach like Barry Trotz or Pete DeBoer — both of whom were relieved of their duties by their former NHL clubs this month — Dubas said he hasn't considered moving on from Keefe for a more veteran voice.
“It hasn’t crossed my mind, and I think my reason for that is my belief in Sheldon and the job that he’s done here so far,” the GM said.
“But also, that I only think Sheldon’s going to get better. I think when we speak of Sheldon 10, 15 years from now, it’ll be in the same way that you spoke of those two great coaches . And I think that’ll be played out here in Toronto.”