Sheldon Keefe NJD presser photo

NEWARK, N.J. -- Sheldon Keefe has a clear vision in mind as the 22nd coach of the New Jersey Devils.

"Our vision is to win the Stanley Cup and that's very clear," Keefe said during his introductory press conference at Prudential Center on Tuesday.

Keefe realizes getting there is the biggest challenge, but said he believes the organization has the makeup necessary to take the next step in reaching that goal by first becoming a perennial participant in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"To win the Stanley Cup, you have to make the playoffs," he said. "It's establishing a process that we'll adhere to on a daily basis and ultimately see the sustained, high performance, that will lead us to have an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup."

Keefe replaced Travis Green on May 23, 14 days after the 43-year-old was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 9 after going 212-97-40 and 16-21 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during five seasons.

He might experience many of the same challenges with the Devils as he did with the Maple Leafs, which begs the question whether his approach to a similar situation can establish different results in the postseason. Toronto has advanced beyond the opening round of the playoffs once (2023) since 2004.

"What's very clear," Keefe said, "and I've known this long before I ever coached in the NHL, is that winning in the playoffs is extremely difficult. Every detail matters and that's why I think it's so important to focus on what's right in front of you on a daily basis and looking to master that every day so that when the tough moments come, you're confident you can just go out, play, and trust yourself and your ability to execute in those moments."

Keefe was one of 10 candidates New Jersey general manager Tom Fitzgerald interviewed during his coaching search. The GM said what impressed him most was Keefe's communication, experience and regular-season success he believes will "really tap into and maximize our talent."

Keefe said: "The team is really good, which is why the expectations are high. There's incredible depth here and there's a great mix of youth and experience. There's skill at all positions at forward and defense, and it's exciting to be able to get those groups connected on both sides of the puck offensively and defensively. I don't sit here and say I have all the answers and have all the information, but I'm very excited to get to work."

NHL Tonight on the Devils hiring Sheldon Keefe

Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as Toronto coach on Nov. 20, 2019, and led the Maple Leafs to the playoffs in each of his five seasons. Toronto (46-26-10) finished third in the Atlantic Division this season but lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games in the Eastern Conference First Round.

The Devils (38-39-5) were 8-12-1 under Green after he replaced Lindy Ruff on March 4, and finished seventh the Metropolitan Division after ending last season with the most wins (52) and points (112) in New Jersey/Colorado Rockies/Kansas City Scouts history. They failed to make the playoffs for the 10th time in 12 seasons.

"I think what you would 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 and I believe that we have those. I'm really excited to build out a plan that can maximize the strengths of our team but also have a group that can develop cohesion and connectivity on both sides of the puck that really shines through in all zones.

"We want to build a team that is not just good in the skilled area, not just the defensive parts of the game, but the game within the game. I think as you see this time of year, watching the playoffs, there's a lot that goes on that you have to be very comfortable in and the group has to really stick together."

Similar to the Maple Leafs, the Devils possess elite-level forwards. New Jersey ranked 12th in the NHL in goals per game (3.22) and Toronto was second (3.63). The Devils allowed 3.43 goals per game, tied for 26th in the League, and the Maple Leafs ranked 21st (3.18). Toronto used three goalies last season and had a combined .898 save percentage. New Jersey used five goalies and had an .896 save percentage.

Keefe has plenty to get excited about when it comes to the Devils forward group. They had five players with at least 20 goals this season: Timo Meier (28), Jack Hughes (27), Jesper Bratt (27), Nico Hischier (27) and Dawson Mercer (20). Bratt (83 points) had at least 70 points for a third straight season and averaged 19:18 in ice time in 82 games. Hughes (74 points in 62 games) averaged 20:58 in ice time and is one season removed from an NHL career-high 99 points (43 goals, 56 assists) in 78 games in 2022-23.

"I do know is the talent is here, the hunger is here, that commitment is here," Keefe said. "I can tell from the initial conversations I've had with some of the players ... it's very clear that they're not happy with last season, and they're excited to look ahead and get to work."

During his end-of-season news conference, Fitzgerald was adamant about finding a coach who keeps "every player accountable and not just a handful of guys."

Keefe said: "My philosophy with accountability is giving the players what they need in the moment. I don't think you can have one philosophy and say, 'This is how I do it.' You have to be able to read and adapt to the situation, each player, each personality, and where the team is at. Sometimes you're doing it in a 1-on-1 basis in your office. Sometimes you're doing it right out in front of the team because the team needs to know it, see it and know that the expectations are higher.

"Accountability is about having actions match ambitions. We know what the expectations are here and what the potential is for the team to challenge to make the playoffs, compete, to win the Stanley Cup."

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