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Sheldon Keefe hired as coach of AHL Toronto Marlies

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- The reshaping of the Toronto Maple Leafs' organization continued Monday with the introduction of Sheldon Keefe as coach of their American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.

Keefe, 34, was introduced to the media at Ricoh Coliseum by Maple Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas. Keefe is the latest hire by Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, who has remodeled the front office and hired longtime Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, signing him to a reported eight-year, $50 million contract.

Shanahan is still looking for a new general manager to replace Dave Nonis, but has indicated he will wait for the right candidate. That could mean Shanahan, Dubas and director of player personnel Mark Hunter will work together to run the team through the 2015 NHL Draft.

The Maple Leafs consider adding Keefe an important step for their future.

"For us, we want to have a coach who can help us to be the best developer of our young players," Dubas said. "We know that every time a player comes through those doors that we have the best young coach in the AHL. I don't want that to mean he is that right now. He has got to develop and evolve and we'll support him as best we can."

Dubas added it is Shanahan's desire to have the best up-and-coming people in the organization.

"We're not going to stop until we're satisfied with what is there," Dubas said.

Keefe, the 2014-15 Ontario Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League coach of the year, directed the Greyhounds to a franchise-record 110-point season during which they scored a CHL-high 342 goals. However, they lost to the Erie Otters in the OHL Western Conference final.

Prior to joining the Greyhounds in December 2012, Keefe spent five seasons coaching the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Junior A Central Canada Hockey League, winning five consecutive league titles and the RBC Cup national title in 2011.

Keefe played 125 NHL games with the Tampa Bay Lightning and 120 games in the AHL. He was the OHL rookie of the year in 1998-99 with the St. Michael's Majors and won the league scoring title in 1999-2000 with the Barrie Colts.

Keefe does not expect his role as coach of the Marlies to change from what it was with the Greyhounds: developing players to be prepared to take the next step.

"We looked at it as a development league in the OHL because you are preparing for this step," Keefe said. "It is the same here. Certainly you want to be competitive and win hockey games, but we recognize the role here with the Marlies is to prepare players to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That, first and foremost, will be where we spend our time each day.

"What the players that have been in the organization have come to expect is going to change. There is a new voice here. I'm going to spend time with Mike [Babcock] learning his message and what he expects from players. That will lead the way and start the plan."

Dubas is convinced Keefe will be a successful pro coach.

"I worked with Sheldon for close to two years in Sault Ste. Marie and got to see his effect on our team firsthand," Dubas said. "With Sheldon's ability to maximize the potential of the players in Sault Ste. Marie, the number of players they had drafted [to the NHL], the number of players they had signed [to professional contracts], the way they played and after his conversation (when he was interviewed by the Maple Leafs), it was clear to me this is what everyone on our management team was most comfortable with so we moved ahead."

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