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Sheldon Keefe Reveals Why He ‘Couldn’t Pass Up’ Devils Job

Sheldon Keefe was unsure he was going to jump right back into coaching after he was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, he revelas why he couldn’t pass up the New Jersey Devils.



New Jersey Devils
(AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

Freshly minted New Jersey Devils head coach, Sheldon Keefe, doesn’t know what it means to coach a meaningless game.

Keefe has a long coaching history dating back to his post-playing career which ended in the 2004-05 season due to a knee injury.

In his very first coaching gig at the Junior A level, Keefe won a championship with the Pembroke Lumber Kings after coaching them to a 41-10-2-2 record. Keefe went on to win four additional championships in the following four seasons behind the Lumber Kings’ bench.

That success led him to the Ontario Hockey League, coaching the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and then to the American Hockey League where he led the Toronto Marlies to claim the Calder Cup in the 2017-18 season.

Keefe then landed behind the bench for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Say what you will about Keefe’s postseason success in the NHL, but his winning pedigree as a head coach precedes him at all levels, leading the Maple Leafs to .622 points percentage or better in the last four seasons.

When Keefe was ultimately fired by Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving, it was the first time ever that the 43-year-old became a free-agent coach.

However, it wasn’t long until Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald was on the phone to lure Keefe to New Jersey.

It was a slow process for Keefe as he was unsure if he was going to jump right back into another coaching position in the NHL or take some time for himself and his family. However, following multiple conversations with Fitzgerald, the Devils’ new head coach revealed a few reasons why he couldn’t pass up coaching the New Jersey Devils.

“With each conversation that I had, and with each day that passed, it became very clear that this was an incredible opportunity here in New Jersey,” Keefe explained at his introductory press conference. “It was going to be a fit for my family and I, and was going to be an opportunity in which, as I say, the expectations are high. I’m drawn to that. I’ve never coached any team, at any level, that didn’t expect to win every time they put their equipment on. And that’s the case here. And that excites me right from day one. So here we are.”

As the former head coach of the Maple Leafs, Keefe had a bevy of talent at his disposal from Auston Matthews to William Nyander. However, Keefe is coming to another star-studded roster, one that ices the likes of Jack Hughes, Timo Meier, Jesper Bratt, and Nico Hischier.

Keefe couldn’t quite put a finger on what went wrong for the Devils last season. In his words, there was a bit of an “anomaly” regarding the schedule when the Devils and Maple Leafs faced off three times at the end of March and April when New Jersey was well on their way from being eliminated from the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, therefore he couldn’t properly analyze what changed for the Devils.

However, Keefe could recall the Devils’ 2022-23 success which he believes they can get back to with much of the same core.

“You did reference the season prior to that. Some of those things really stand out to me in terms of what I believe this team is capable of,” Keefe explained. “I can remember playing against that team, and, frankly, feeling overwhelmed. We were a very good team as well, in Toronto. We played in here at a time when there was an incredible streak going on and the team was really clicking. You could feel the skill, but also the pressure, how much they’re in control of the game. Those are all things that I value as a coach, and I really saw that and felt that firsthand. So that’s, that’s exciting. You know what [the roster’s] capable of.”

Keefe explained he’s spoken with much of the Devils’ roster already. He conceded the fact that the conversation has only been surface level thus far, but there’s one clear message he’s received from each conversation he’s had.

Not one single Devils player is happy about the result of the 2023-24 season and they share the same passion for winning with their new head coach.

“I’m very excited to get to work with what I do know,” Keefe explained. “The talent is there, the hunger is there, and the commitment is there. I can tell from the initial conversations that I’ve had going back and forth with some of the players. It’s been very clear that they’re not happy with last season, and they’re excited to look ahead and get to work. So all those things together for me made it very clear that I was ready to get back into this and this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”

Expectations, youth, talent, and hunger. That’s the cocktail that Keefe drinks in his celebration with Fitzgerald after accepting the job as the newest head coach of the Devils. Looking ahead, Keefe recognizes the history in New Jersey and is reminded of the expectations and winning culture.

“I drove in here this morning and saw the statue of [Martin] Brodeur out front and it’s just a nice reminder that this is a place of high expectations, but also we’re winning as possible,” said Keefe. “It’s very exciting for me and for the players. I think every player that I’ve communicated with here is very clear that there’s excitement about being in New Jersey. And that comes through when you’re communicating with them. And I’m excited to learn more and build upon that.”

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