The Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have to worry about someone poaching their minor league head coach. Not yet anyway. Today the club announced that Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe has signed a two-year extension to stay in the AHL. GM Kyle Dubas explained the contract:
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.
Keefe, 38, is a rising star in the coaching world that has found incredible success at the AHL level. In his four years coaching the Marlies, the team has advanced to the Conference Final three times and won a Calder Cup in 2018. That success has come even as the Maple Leafs continue to pull talent up every year, graduating players like William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson and Travis Dermott to full-time NHL status. The blend of winning and development is an important one for a minor league team, and one that Keefe has navigated well over the last few years.
That success is exactly why many called for him to be promoted to the NHL squad after another disappointing exit by the Maple Leafs this spring. Head coach Mike Babcock was criticized by fans and media alike for his player usage against the Boston Bruins in the first round, and some speculated that he might be on his way out when Dubas failed to give him a vote of confidence right away. That vote came a few days later, when Dubas confirmed that Babcock and he were on the same page going forward.
Still, with teams calling on Keefe to see if he would be interested in interviewing for an NHL job somewhere else, Dubas and the Maple Leafs had to find a way to keep him in the organization. His contract is expected to pay much more than his AHL contemporaries, and there does seem to be a path to the Toronto NHL head coaching position down the road if Babcock doesn’t find a way to advance past the first round.