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Devils Introduce Sheldon Keefe As New Head Coach

Sheldon Keefe, come on down.

Tuesday morning, one week after the news initially broke, the New Jersey Devils officially introduced Sheldon Keefe as the 22nd Head Coach in team history during a press conference at Prudential Center. And with that announcement came the customary pageantry of fans, family, organizational people, and media welcoming the new coach with a mixture of applause and questions. Lots and lots of questions. To his credit, Keefe answered each and every one the media sent his way. As did GM Tom Fitzgerald, who, along with Devils Co-Owner David Blitzer, sat next to Keefe on the dais. 

Keefe comes to New Jersey with a history of winning. As was pointed out by Blitzer and Fitzgerald, he is the second-fastest Head Coach in history to reach 200 wins. He also made the playoffs every year while coaching the Maple Leafs. And he was even a winner throughout his minor league travels; which is when he first caught the attention of David Blitzer.

“Sheldon’s been a winner at every level,” Blitzer said during his opening remarks. New Jersey’s Co-Owner also took note of how Keefe has made the playoffs in all 18 years of his coaching career (minor leagues plus NHL). With such a vast resume of winning, it’s no wonder the Devils wanted Keefe as their new Head Coach. After all, New Jersey has only been to the playoffs twice since 2012. 

That isn’t going to fly with Keefe as he made his goal crystal clear on numerous occasions. “The vision is to win the Stanley Cup,” Keefe said. “That’s very clear.” What’s also clear is that Keefe was the Devils’ first choice to be their Head Coach. 

“Tom (Fitzgerald) ran a tremendous and detailed process,” David Blitzer told the assembled media. “We spoke to a number of tremendous candidates, but after talking to Sheldon it was clear he was the man for the job.” 

“When I look back at the process, it was pretty thorough,” Tom Fitzgerald added. “I called it ‘the gauntlet’ to the people who went through it because I spent a lot of time with great quality candidates.”

According to Fitzgerald, there was an extensive list that was eventually parsed down to eight-to-10 candidates. Of those candidates, Fitzgerald noted that some were not ready for the job.

“There were a lot of guys that I spoke to that I knew weren’t ready for the job,” Fitzgerald explained. “But curiosity put them in front of me, knowing that some of the people I talk to will be NHL coaches at some point down the road.”

Of course, timing was also key in this instance. After Blitzer initially brought up Keefe’s name to Fitzgerald, the GM went about contacting his counterpart in Toronto, Brad Treliving. Fitzgerald explained how he asked Treliving for his permission to speak to Keefe and to see if Keefe would even take his phone call. That began a series of phone calls and text messages that culminated last Tuesday with Keefe texting Fitzgerald that he was accepting the job.

That decision was met with plenty of excitement within the Devils’ organization. 

“Sheldon checks a lot of boxes that I was looking for,” Fitzgerald explained. “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 (the) roster, personnel, and lineups, (that) 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. One thing I learned going through this process was how innovative he was and where he was in the process of utilizing these resources. I told our staff that he’s going to teach us a lot because of the experiences he’s had.”

Those “resources” Fitzgerald mentioned are related to Sports Science and Analytics. “I believe all those things are in place here,” Keefe told the media. He also spoke about how he’s already contacted each of the Devils’ players. “The initial communication I’ve had with players, they’re really hungry and excited…You have to foster accountability, make ambitions clear and the actions will match that on a daily basis. It’s on me to police that and enforce (it).”

“I expect the players to hold me accountable as well,” Keefe added. “I have a job to do. 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.”

“Accountable.” That was the keyword throughout the entire press conference. That starts at the top with David Blitzer and Josh Harris. It flows down to Tom Fitzgerald. And you can now add Sheldon Keefe too.

Keefe also explained what type of style you can expect to see from the Devils with him behind the bench. “You should expect us to play a style that is fast and competitive, that pressures the puck in all zones and leans in on skill.” Part of holding his team accountable will be getting his players to not only look for the “pretty plays,” but also the “dirty” ones. As he experienced in Toronto, style may win in the regular season, but substance is needed to succeed in the playoffs. 

“The expectations are high,” Keefe said. “And I’m drawn to that. 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.”

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