Sheldon Keefe may very well lose his job in Toronto if the Maple Leafs can’t dig out of their 3-0 series hole against the Florida Panthers. If that happens, the New York Rangers could reportedly be interested in making Keefe their next head coach after they swiftly moved on from Gerard Gallant last weekend.
The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports that Keefe would "presumably become a person of interest in the Rangers’ coaching search" if he became available.
While that’s speculative, Brooks did rule out a big (and controversial) name such as Joel Quenneville being in the running for the Rangers’ head coaching gig. Naturally, the net could be thrown out wider, as Brooks laid out a scenario where Dubas and Keefe moved to the Pittsburgh Penguins, opening the door for the Rangers to then land Mike Sullivan.
So I will pass along this scenario that was just presented to me.
Dubas leaves Toronto to become Pittsburgh GM, brings Keefe with him, as such fires Mike Sullivan, who in turn becomes free (assuming permission) to become NYR HC.
— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) May 9, 2023
Could Rangers have interest in Keefe if the Maple Leafs let him go?
Keefe, 42, is the youngest head coach in the NHL. Through four (sometimes abbreviated) seasons under Keefe, the Maple Leafs recorded a 166-71-30 record in regular season games, good for a strong .678 points percentage. Facing a possible sweep in the second round of this year's postseason, Toronto’s playoff record under Keefe is 12-16 heading into Game 4.
Once you go beyond the numbers (which will most likely include just a single successful playoff series), your viewpoint of Keefe’s work will be subjective. Although the team carries a reputation for being offensively explosive and defensively vulnerable, they’ve become far more defensive-minded over the years under Keefe. Evolving Hockey’s team RAPM chart captures how well-rounded Toronto was in 2022-23.
Becoming a sturdier defensive unit is a goal for plenty of NHL franchises, including a Rangers team that’s often struggled at even-strength during their ascent back to contention. Brooks also believes Keefe is well-prepared to handle life as a head coach of the high-profile Rangers after dealing with the Toronto market.
"But Keefe has experience dealing with marquee players. There is structure in Toronto. He has experience under the spotlight with wattage a hundred times greater than the one in New York," Brooks wrote.
There’s room for debate if Keefe and the Maple Leafs sacrificed too much offense with that fixation on defense. Some may look at certain tendencies as playing not to lose instead of playing to win. Either way, a lack of postseason success has mired Keefe and will likely be the thing that prompts his exit from Toronto if the team doesn't pull off a miracle against the Panthers.
Of course, the Maple Leafs haven’t been eliminated just yet, and even if the Panthers finish that job as expected, there’s no guarantee Toronto will part ways with Keefe. It makes sense that the Rangers and other teams would consider an option like Keefe if he does become available, though.