keefe sheldon

Sheldon Keefe made his ambition clear. Very clear in fact.

“The vision is to win the Stanley Cup, that’s very clear,” he said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon that introduced him as the 22nd coach in team history.

Keefe also made it clear as to how the Devils can achieve that ambition.

“How you do so, you have to maximize every single day,” he added. “My focus is on establishing a process that we’ll adhere to on a daily basis and seek a sustained high performance that will lead us to have opportunities to compete for the Stanley Cup.”

That process has already been underway for Keefe, who was named head coach last Thursday. He’s already held preliminary talks with nearly every player on the Devils roster, but will ramp up those conversations starting Wednesday to chart a path forward.

“From the initial conversations I’ve had with players, they’re very hungry and excited,” he said. “They’re not pleased with last season and looking to get to work and put together something sustainable.”

Sheldon Keefe Introductory Press Conference Content

FEATURE: The Hiring Process
DEVILS NOW: Welcome, Sheldon!
Press Conference Opening Remarks
PHOTO GALLERY: Keefe Press Conference
Press Conference Q&A

Keefe, 43, brings quite the coaching pedigree to New Jersey. He spent the previous five seasons as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He led the club to playoff appearances in all five years while becoming the second fastest coach (tied) in NHL history to reach 200 wins. During his tenure with the Leafs, the club ranked second in both goals and power play.

Winning is also a part of Keefe’s makeup. He won the 2018 Calder Cup as head coach with Toronto in the American Hockey League and won the 2000 Ontario Hockey League championship as a player for Barrie. Not to mention his five straight titles as GM/coach with Pembroke of the Central Canada Hockey League.

That, among many other reasons, are why general manager Tom Fitzgerald zeroed in on Keefe to be the Devils’ bench boss.

“Sheldon checks a lot of boxes that I was looking for,” Fitzgerald said. “From the get-go, it was evident that Sheldon would be a great partner for me. Someone I can partner up with. Someone that can challenge me and vice versa. Groupthink is not something we believe in here. At the end of the day, using those resources in collaboration to make proper decisions on roster, personnel, lineup that night, was important to me.

“At the end of the day, we have the same goal and that’s to bring the Stanley Cup back to New Jersey.”

Fitzgerald also noted Keefe’s forward-thinking mentality when it comes to sports science and analytics.

“One thing I learned going through this process was how innovative he was and where he’s at in the process of utilizing these resources,” Fitzgerald said. “I told our staff that he’s going to teach us a lot because of the experiences he’s had.”

But the biggest buzz word from the press conference was “accountability.”

Amanda Stein sits down with Sheldon Keefe

“That is integral to building successful teams,” Keefe said. “First of all, having players accountable to themselves and what their responsibilities are to the team. Then ultimately having the group hold each other accountable.

“You do have to foster that as a coach. You have to make it clear what the ambitions are and make sure our actions are matching that on a daily basis. For me as a coach it’s to police that process and enforce it when the time comes and when necessary.”

And accountability is a two-way street for Keefe.

“I expect the players to hold me accountable as well. I have a job to do,” he said. “I want their communication and feedback if I’m not holding up my end or any member of our staff isn’t holding up our end to give them what they need.”

And accountability isn’t just talking the talk but walking the walk.

“Really, it’s about having actions match ambitions,” Keefe said. “We know what the expectations are here and what the potential is for the team to challenge for a playoff position, make the playoffs and ultimately compete to win a Stanley Cup.”

All that work starts on Day 1 of training camp and building details and habits that become second nature. Aside from winning a Stanley Cup, Keefe shared his other vision. That of how he expects his team to play.

“What you’ll expect from us is to play a style that is fast and competitive, that prioritizes pressure on the puck in all zones but also leans in on the skill to make plays,” Keefe said. “In order to do that you have to have the proper tools to do so. We have those here.

“Have a group to develop cohesion and connectivity within the group on both sides of the puck so that really shines through in all zones. Then have a team that is very good not just in the skilled parts of the game, not just in the defensive parts of the game, but in the game within the game.”

And when it comes to coaching and developing players, Keefe has learned that one size does not fit all.

“You’ve got to be flexible. You’ve got your core valuables and non-negotiables,” Keefe said, “my philosophy is you give the players what they need in the moment. I don’t think you can have one philosophy of this is how I do it and that’s it. I think you have to be able to read and adapt to each situation, each player and each personality and where the teams at. Sometimes it’s a one-on-one basis in your office. Sometimes you’re doing it out in front of the team because the team needs to know it and see it and know that the expectations are higher and we’re not meeting them.”

Keefe and Fitzgerald share a vision

Keefe left a Maple Leafs team stacked with high-end talent like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly. He joins a team with high-end talent like Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier and Dougie Hamilton. But one thing Keefe has learned is that hockey players are still just hockey players.

“Just like players you coach at any other level, these are guys that want to be guided, they want information, they want to know that you can make them better and how you’re going to do that,” Keefe said. “They want to know that their feedback is valued. But they want to be pushed, they want to be challenged, they want to be great.”

And Keefe will focus on building from the bottom up through the individual.

“The bigger thing is to develop those players, but also develop our team concept,” he said. “Develop value throughout the lineup, throughout the roster. Having continuity that we can grow together as a group. That’s extremely important. That’s what I’m excited to do.”

Expectations are high for New Jersey. The team set franchise records and advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2022-23. But missed the playoffs and finished in the bottom 10 last year.

While Keefe couldn’t comment on what transpired last season, he did offer: “What I do know, the talent is there. The hunger is there. The commitment is there.”

The talent, hunger and commitment are inside the Devils locker room. Thus, the expectations remain high. And in many ways, that’s what attracted Keefe to the job.

“The expectations are high, and I’m drawn to that,” Keefe said. “I’ve never coached any team at any level that didn’t expect to win every time they put their equipment on. That’s the case here. That excites me from Day 1.

“So, here we are.”

The media ask questions during the press conference