When the Toronto Maple Leafs fired Mike Babcock 23 games into his fifth season as head coach, the franchise needed an immediate revolution and GM Kyle Dubas knew exactly where to look. Sheldon Keefe was elevated from within the organization having achieved great success with the Toronto Marlies, given his first NHL head coaching role and tasked with salvaging something from the current campaign.
Since his November 20 media presentation and first game at the helm, the swift turnaround Keefe had insisted upon has happened. Results and performances have been much improved and after making such a disappointing 9-10-4 start to the 2019-20 campaign under Babcock, the new head coach has put the Leafs firmly back on track as contenders to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of course, Dubas had never doubted his confidence in Keefe would be repaid.
The dynamic duo
Keefe had already transformed the Pembroke Lumber Kings as owner and coach, leading the CCHL outfit to five championships, when Dubas came calling for his services at the Soo Greyhounds in 2012. While there, Keefe took a distinctly average OHL team and turned them into contenders, earning both the OHL and CHL Coach of the Year awards after a stellar 2014-15 season, as the Greyhounds recorded one of their best ever campaigns.
TSN recently highlighted the analytics conference where Dubas gave a speech after that season, referring to Keefe as a coach who was “very open to learning everything our analytics department could generate,” using statistics and data to improve team performances. When both moved to the Toronto Marlies, their symbiotic and analytical relationship brought more success when the Marlies won the Calder Cup in 2018.
Big data and the Toronto Maple Leafs
Following more than six years of development, despite a variety of practical and technical hurdles exclusive to hockey that needed to be overcome, Puck and Player Tracking will be fully implemented in time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. According to this study produced by Betway, coaches and players will have access to around 2,000 data points per second, as tracking devices monitor performances on the ice.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) December 11, 2019
For analytics afficionados such as Dubas and Keefe, the huge volume of additional data and metrics information available will be a dream come true. Having already begun to turn the Leafs in the right direction, there’s still every possibility Keefe could still lead them to the Playoffs this season. Undoubtedly, he will be studying every bit of data that Dubas and the tech-savvy analytics team in Toronto can provide, with the promise of more to come next season.
Promising numbers for the future
At the time of writing and having coached eleven games, the Leafs under the leadership of Keefe boast an impressive 8-4 record. Such a turnaround in form would suggest they’re more than capable of making the playoffs, providing the positive results continue. Looking further ahead and with the greater impact of big data coming to NHL, it’s fair to say that in the dynamic and analytical duo of Dubas and Keefe, the promise of success in Toronto seems increasingly likely.