The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t take long to make their first big change of the offseason, as they announced early yesterday that Sheldon Keefe had been relieved of his duties. This was a move most expected, as aside from a first-round series win last year, the Maple Leafs struggled to get things done in the postseason.

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The Maple Leafs’ lack of playoff success, and first-round exit at the hands of the Boston Bruins this year, cannot solely be placed on Keefe’s shoulders. This team seems to lack the true grit and determination to get things done when the stakes are raised, and though many will say it is on the coach to make that happen, it’s worth noting these struggles occurred under Mike Babcock as well.

One of the main criticisms of Keefe during his tenure with the Maple Leafs was that he wasn’t hard enough on his top stars. The general consensus is that they will look for a more hard-nosed coach, and luckily for them, several are up for grabs. Here are five that would serve as good fits.

Craig Berube

There is no doubt that Craig Berube is the frontrunner for this job. The 58-year-old earns tons of respect from his resume alone. He played in over 1,000 NHL games, and was as tough as they come, racking up north of 3,000 penalty minutes. Anything he would ever ask from his players in terms of effort or toughness, he has done himself.

Craig Berube Head Coach of the St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As far as his coaching background, it is very impressive as well. After a brief period as a head coach with the Philadelphia Flyers, Berube got another shot with the St. Louis Blues during the 2018-19 season. Despite the Blues being the worst team in the league when he took over, he not only led them to the playoffs, but helped the organization win its first Stanley Cup.

Berube is viewed by most as the top coach on the market, having been fired by the Blues earlier this season. He will have plenty of options to pick from, but if he is willing to go to the Maple Leafs, they should be doing everything in their power to bring him in.

Todd McLellan

Another very intriguing name on the market is Todd McLellan, who was fired earlier this season by the LA Kings. The 56-year-old seems to have success everywhere he goes, having many winning seasons with the San Jose Sharks, before helping the Edmonton Oilers snap an 11-year playoff drought in 2016-17.

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As far as resumes go, McLellan is one of the better NHL coaches of all time. His 598 wins rank 24th all time, and would increase even further if he were to join the Maple Leafs. While not as hard-nosed as Berube, he is still a very strict coach, and would help bring some much-needed accountability to this team.

Jay Woodcroft

Jay Woodcroft may not be the hard-nosed coach the Maple Leafs are after, but he proved in a short time with the Oilers that he is as wise as any in the business. His firing by the Oilers early this season felt unjust to many, given all the success he had with them since coming in partway through the 2021-22 campaign.

By all accounts, Woodcroft was well respected in the Oilers dressing room, with Connor McDavid telling media that he hadn’t at all lost the team despite his firing. The 47-year-old is a new-aged coach who is expected to receive plenty of interest this summer, and though he may not be the Maple Leafs’ top candidate, he by no means would be a bad hire.

Gerard Gallant

Though Gerard Gallant never seems to last long with teams, there is no denying the success he is able to have with them all in short stints. The 60-year-old can be hard on his team, but is generally considered to be a player’s coach, though one that still commands a ton of respect.

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In 705 career games as a head coach in the NHL, Gallant has racked up an impressive 369-262-4 record. He has yet to win a Stanley Cup behind the bench, but took the Vegas Golden Knights all the way to the Final in their first season of existence, and helped lead the New York Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final in 2022.

Darryl Sutter

I’ll admit, this one is a stretch. The Calgary Flames surprised everyone when they hired Darryl Sutter partway through the 2020-21 season. Many thought the game had passed the 65-year-old, but he quickly shut down his detractors in 2021-22, winning the Jack Adams Award after leading the Flames to a 50-21-11 record.

The 2022-23 season didn’t go the Flames way, and Sutter took plenty of blame for that. However, based on the fact that they finished even worse in 2023-24, it is clear Sutter was not the main issue. He is as hard-nosed as they come, and though past players haven’t always loved playing for him, they always seem to have success. The biggest question, however, is if the relationship between him and general manager Brad Treliving is too fractured for a reunion.

Big Hire for the Maple Leafs

This offseason feels like the first opportunity for Treliving to really put his stamp on the Maple Leafs, and his first big decision will be a coaching hire. There is no need to rush, as he needs to be sure he finds the right fit that can finally lead this team to a Stanley Cup. It should be a fascinating process, and by the time it’s said and done, one of these five may very well be the one to land the job.


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