Sheldon Keefe was a great hire for the New Jersey Devils

Sheldon Keefe Hired as 20th Head Coach of New Jersey Devils
Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers
Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers / Joel Auerbach/GettyImages

Former Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has reportedly been hired by the New Jersey Devils as the 20th head coach in franchise history. Keefe fills the head coaching position left vacant by the firing of Lindy Ruff in March and the departure of interim head coach Travis Green to become the new coach of the Ottawa Senators.

Rear Admiral of the Spitting Chiclets podcast broke the news, with subsequent confirmation by TSN's Darren Dreger.

Keefe joins the Devils after five seasons as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he compiled a 212-97-40 record in the regular season. His Leafs teams, however, failed to make the Eastern Conference Finals in any of his five seasons at the helm, including being ousted in seven games by the Boston Bruins in this year's postseason.

Keefe is an intriguing bet for the Devils. The 43-year-old has a better chance to connect with the current roster than either of the coaches that lead the Devils last season. He is much younger than Ruff, 64, or Green, 53. It remains to be seen if that age gap played a part in the disconnect between the coaching room and the roster, but it's clear that a different kind of voice was needed.

Keefe has been consistently praised as an expert communicator and motivator during his time with the Leafs. One particularly striking moment from his time in Toronto was a speech during a game against the Montreal Canadiens captured on the Amazon Prime Video series All or Nothing.

Keefe was once considered one of the most promising young coaches in the league, and he seems like a natural fit for a Stanley Cup contender trying to rebound from a disastrous season. For a team that was the sixth youngest in the NHL last season, a new head coaching hire skewing younger was a necessity. Keefe will be tasked with finding a communication style that will get through to a young roster experiencing growing pains.

More than any other head coaching candidate on the market this summer, Keefe has extensive experience with a young, inconsistent, but spectacularly talented forward core. His experiences managing the egos and scrutiny that come with the territory of coaching offensive superstars like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander will serve him well as he joins a team whose top 6 contains Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Timo Meier.

Of course, there will be skeptics who say that Keefe did a poor job managing those egos and that scrutiny. He was never able to turn Mitch Marner, a perennial 100 point threat in the regular season, into anything close to a playoff performer. His teams regularly underperformed their regular season record in the postseason. His team won just 16 of the 37 playoff games that they played under Keefe, for a W/L% of .432.

Some of that, without a doubt, is bad luck. He has been consistently saddled with poor goaltending through his five years in Toronto, with a cavalcade of mediocre or worse starters (Matt Murray, Jack Campbell, Ilya Samsonov, Joseph Woll). And so many of those playoff losses came down to a Game 7 coin flip that simply did not go the Maple Leafs way. Some of that blame you can put on the coach, but some of that is also just simply small sample size weirdness.

Now that Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has his new head coach, his next order of business should be finding a starting goalie to pair with Jake Allen next season. That would give Keefe what he has never had in his entire NHL coaching career: a goalie that can make the saves that help a head coach keep their job.