New Jersey Devils hire former Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe

new jersey devils hire former maple leafs coach sheldon keefe

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe speaks to the media at an end of season press conference in Toronto Monday, May 6, 2024. The Maple Leafs lost to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup NHL hockey playoffs. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Less than two weeks after being fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sheldon Keefe has been hired by the New Jersey Devils and given the task of turning a young team led by a superstar forward into a Stanley Cup contender.

Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald announced the hiring on Thursday, saying Keefe would be introduced at a news conference on Tuesday.

“This was an invigorating process for me, having met with many qualified candidates and hearing how attractive this position was to them,” Fitzgerald said. “Sheldon jumped to the top of my list when he became available, and I was thrilled when he agreed to be a part of what we are building here. He is an excellent communicator, believes in collaboration and will take what he has learned previously to make this team a Stanley Cup contender."

new jersey devils hire former maple leafs coach sheldon keefe

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe speaks to the media at an end of season press conference in Toronto Monday, May 6, 2024. The Maple Leafs lost to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup NHL hockey playoffs. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

In Toronto, Keefe had Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to lead the team to five consecutive playoff berths. New Jersey has young forwards Jack Hughes and Nico Hischer, both No. 1 overall draft picks.

“This is an exciting time, and I’m honored to be a member of the Devils’ organization,” Keefe said in a statement. “To have the chance to lead this young, dynamic team and to see the potential that can still be unlocked is all very attractive for me."

new jersey devils hire former maple leafs coach sheldon keefe

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, top right, Martin Jones (31) and Pontus Holmberg (29) prepare to shake hands with the Boston Bruins after losing in overtime during Game 7 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Keefe is the Devils’ fifth coach since 2019 and the third since March. They fired Lindy Ruff late in the season, replaced him on an interim basis with Travis Green and missed the playoffs anyway. Green left to coach the Ottawa Senators.

This is the second head coaching job in the NHL for the 43-year-old after spending the past four-plus seasons with Toronto, making the playoffs each time but winning just one series in the process. That led the Leafs to seek a new voice and hire Stanley Cup-winning coach Craig Berube.

The Devils finished with the sixth-worst save percentage in the league and could not outscore their problems. The step back came a year after reaching the second round of the playoffs in 2023.

New Jersey posted a 38-39-5 record this past season, a 31-point drop from the previous one. They had several injuries, with the biggest being a torn pectoral muscle that limited defenseman Dougie Hamilton to 20 games. Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler also missed time with a broken foot and a concussion. Hughes missed 20 games, while Hischier was out for 11.

new jersey devils hire former maple leafs coach sheldon keefe

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe talks to players on the bench during a timeout during the third period of Game 3 of the team's NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins in Toronto on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

New Jersey also lost key faceoff man Michael McLeod in February after he was indicted in Canada on charges related to a sexual assault case in 2018.

Goaltending was the team's major problem last year as Vitek Vanecek, Nico Daws and Akira Schmid were inconsistent. New Jersey got help late when it acquired Jake Allen at the trade deadline, but the netminding remains an issue heading into next season.

Besides Hughes (27 goals, 47 assists) and Hischier (27-40), the Devils' roster includes forward Jesper Bratt (27-56) and Timo Meier (28-24) up front. Defenseman Luke Hughes — Jack's brother — had a franchise-record 47 points (9-38) in his rookie season.

Ruff led the Devils to a franchise-record 112 points in 2022-23, a 49-point improvement from the previous year. They finished second in the Metropolitan Division riding a career-best season by Jack Hughes. New Jersey rallied to beat the Rangers in seven games in the opening round and lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in five in the second round.

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