Sheldon Keefe could become the best New Jersey Devils head coach ever

The New Jersey Devils are going to name Sheldon Keefe their head coach on Thursday. With the history of Devils coaching being poor, he could easily become the Devils best head coach ever if he brings Cup to the Garden State.
Toronto Marlies v Laval Rocket
Toronto Marlies v Laval Rocket / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

The New Jersey Devils have a new head coach. Reports say that Sheldon Keefe has accepted the position just a couple of weeks after he was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is a controversial hire, but after it became clear that Mike Sullivan, Jon Cooper, and Rod Brind’Amour were not available this offseason, Keefe is the best option left. Craig Berube chose to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Keefe makes all the sense in the world to coach the Devils.

If Keefe’s time with the Maple Leafs was his only time as a head coach, we’d be worried, too. However, he’s been a head coach for a total of 15 seasons. He started as the head coach of the Pembroke Lumber Kings, and he won a championship in his first year. He moved on to the Soo Greyhounds, and he got better every season, making it to the third round of the playoffs in his third season on the bench.

After his juniors coaching career, Keefe moved on to the AHL. With the Toronto Marlies, it was well known he was one of the top coaches in hockey. He won the Calder Cup in 2018, and he could have won more if he stuck around. 

His time in the minors ended when the Leafs fired Mike Babcock in 2019. He immediately took the head coaching job, and then a pandemic hit in the middle of his first season in the NHL. It was a trying time for everyone. The Leafs lost in the qualifying round to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and they didn’t have many playoff celebrations beyond that. 

However, it’s well known that coaches are better in their second stint than their first. Look at the head coaches who have won the Stanley Cup recently. Of the last 10 head coaches to win the Cup, Mike Sullivan, Craig Berube, Barry Trotz, and Mike Babcock were on their second coaching job. Bruce Cassidy, Claude Julien (counting his weird one-year Devils run), and Joel Quenneville were on their third job. 

The Devils got themselves a quality head coach, and they might have hired their next great coach. This could be the greatest Devils head coach in history. Remember, Lindy Ruff had three mediocre seasons and one great one, but only two coaches in Devils history have more wins. The affinity for Lou Lamoriello to fire his head coaches faster than George Steinbrenner to Billy Martin has only one head coach standing out for “best ever.” 1995 Stanley Cup-winner Jacques Lemaire had 199 wins in his first run, then he came on for an interim role in 2007 to add another 27 wins to his resume. 

Can Keefe do better than this? He has a career points percentage of .665. The Devils have just two seasons ever with a better win percentage, 2000-01 and 2022-23. The Devils have never had a season like Keefe had in 2021-22, when he went 54-21-7. 

Of course, this is VERY early. Keefe hasn’t even been officially named the head coach. However, the fanbase should be excited for this hiring. He’s looking to prove himself, and there were immense excuses why things went wrong in Toronto. Even with that, he never bottomed out like Ruff did with the Devils last season. He just didn’t beat the Bruins in overtime of Game 7 this season. Literally, if his team scores one more clutch goal, then he’s still coaching in the most important job in the sport. Now, he gets to coach the Devils, and he could be the catalyst for a new era.