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Maple Leafs fire coach Sheldon Keefe after first-round exit
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Maple Leafs fire coach Sheldon Keefe after first-round exit

The Toronto Maple Leafs relieved Sheldon Keefe of head-coaching duties Thursday.

According to a statement from the club, a search for Keefe’s replacement will begin immediately.

“Today’s decision was difficult,” Leafs general manager Brad Treliving said. “Sheldon is an excellent coach and a great man; however, we determined a new voice is needed to help the team push through to reach our ultimate goal. We thank Sheldon for his hard work and dedication to the organization over the last nine years, and wish him and his family all the very best.”

No determination has been made about the rest of Toronto’s coaching staff, which includes assistants Manny Malhotra, Dean Chynoweth and Guy Boucher.

Keefe has two years remaining on a contract extension Treliving signed him to in August, which doesn’t officially kick in until the 2024-25 season.

Treliving is scheduled to meet with the media alongside president Brendan Shanahan and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Keith Pelley on Friday.

Keefe was promoted to Toronto’s head-coaching role in November 2019 to replace the fired Mike Babcock. Keefe had previously been coach of the Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, since 2015 and guided them to a Calder Cup championship in 2018.

Through 4½ NHL seasons, Keefe led the Leafs to a 212-97-40 record — with consecutive seasons of 50 or more wins — and playoff appearances in each full campaign. Toronto never found postseason success under Keefe, though, bowling out of the first round in three of the past four seasons, including in this year’s first-round loss to Boston in Game 7 overtime.

That defeat in particular appeared to seal Keefe’s fate. The Leafs were down 3-1 in the series and battled back to force a decisive final contest, but Toronto’s perennial underachievement forced management into making a change.

This is the first major adjustment for Treliving since he joined Toronto’s staff last May. Shanahan had parted ways with former GM Kyle Dubas — who originally hired Keefe to replace Babcock after also bringing Keefe to the organization when he was GM of the Marlies’ prior to that — and introduced Treliving in the role shortly after. Treliving opted to extend Keefe before last season began, touting Keefe’s “clear vision and direction for where the team needs to go.”

Now the hunt for Keefe’s successor will get underway in what could be a busy offseason for the Leafs. Toronto has key skaters including Auston Matthews and William Nylander signed to long-term contracts. They want to capitalize on that core with success right now, particularly in the playoffs. The other pieces of the Leafs’ designated Core Four — Mitch Marner and John Tavares — will be entering the final year of their current deals this season. Both would be eligible to sign extensions in Toronto on July 1.