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Three Reasons Penguins Should Not Hire Sheldon Keefe



Pittsburgh Penguins coach rumors. Sheldon Keefe

Sheldon Keefe is the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whether he still will be five minutes from now is another matter.

His team honored one of the sport’s most enduring traditions — Toronto failing to win the Stanley Cup — with its 2-1 overtime loss in Game 7 of an opening-round playoff series against Boston Saturday night.

The Maple Leafs celebrated a championship as recently as 1967, mere months before the Penguins and five other clubs, one being the Oakland Seals, doubled the NHL’s size to 12. Hockey lore holds that several motorized vehicles took part in Toronto’s post-Cup parade, although that hasn’t been confirmed.

Keefe, who was hired by Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas when he was GM of the Maple Leafs, seems certain to lose his job because of Toronto’s latest postseason fizzle, and the Core Four — Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander — Dubas assembled is expected to lose a member or two before next season.

Now, if the rumors that swirl around hockey with Category 4 velocity could be translated into actual energy, fossil fuels would be rendered obsolete, but it’s reasonable to think there will be major changes in Toronto in the coming weeks and months.

And maybe hours.

Perhaps inevitably, it was suggested even before the Bruins ended Toronto’s season that Dubas likely will have a job for Keefe if/when he becomes available.

Most of that speculation had Dubas replacing Mike Sullivan with Keefe, but it also was suggested that Keefe could be chosen to fill the coaching vacancy with the Penguins’ top farm team in Wilkes-Barre to await promotion to the parent club if Sullivan is still behind the Penguins’ bench next season and the team gets a sputtering start.

Dubas, of course, has made no public comment about any interest he might have in Keefe, and in this instance, he shouldn’t. There are, after all, rules about tampering with personnel employed by other clubs.

But regardless of Keefe’s coaching capabilities (or lack thereof) — he is 349-212-97 in five regular seasons with the Leafs but just 16-21 in the playoffs — there are reasons he should not automatically be penciled into a spot on the Penguins’ coaching depth chart.

Here are three of them.

1. What really matters

It’s ideal if a coach and GM share a general vision of how an organization should proceed, although there’s ample room for disagreements and creative tension between them, too.

That appears to have been the case, for the most part, with Dubas and Sullivan, and if Dubas were to bring in Keefe, that would make it clear that he meshes well with Keefe, too.

But having the GM be comfortable with his coach is not the stand-alone top criterion for who should fill that role.

The coach has to be the person deemed most able to get maximum production out of the current collection of talent and to contribute to the development of the young players who will be called on to fill major roles in the present and the future.

Having an amicable relationship with the GM is tertiary, at best.

2. Past as prologue?

How much Dubas will be able to remake the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster before next season remains to be seen, and beyond his obvious objective — to make the team younger, faster, etc. — it’s hard to say which direction he will choose to go.

It is, however, hard to imagine that there will be any changes to the Penguins’ own Core Four — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson — so whoever is coaching them in 2024-25 figures to be working with the same foundation that was in place last season.

But while no two situations are identical, of course, Keefe has a pretty spotty record of getting the most out of a Dubas-built roster. Especially in the playoffs, which is when success truly is measured.

He led Toronto to one series victory in five years, and had a winning percentage of .432, including an 0-3 mark in Games 7.

That doesn’t guarantee he wouldn’t succeed with a different club constructed by Dubas — or anyone else — but it surely suggests he hasn’t been able to get the most of out it when the stakes are highest.

3. Let the guy decompress

Keefe has spent the past five years in one of the NHL’s high-profile, high-pressure jobs — Toronto has an extremely large, loyal and understandably frustrated fan base — and that has to be psychologically exhausting.

In a casual conversation some years ago, a coach who had been in a similar situation mentioned that after being fired, he had holed up in a hotel room and, uh, self-medicated for three days.

When he finally checked out, he still didn’t have a job, but he did have a really nasty hangover.

Now, how one deals with such a professional setback varies from individual to individual, but it’s safe to assume that most people need some time to regain their personal equilibrium after emerging from a high-stress position, whether they realize it or not.

There’s no reason that Keefe couldn’t coach again. He just doesn’t have to do it immediately.