Maple Leafs fire Mike Babcock

Mike Babcock, former head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Photo courtesy

The Toronto Maple Leafs are making a change behind the bench.

Team president and alternate governor Brendan Shanahan announced Wednesday afternoon that head coach Mike Babcock has been relieved of his duties.

“Today, we made the decision to relieve Mike Babcock of his coaching duties and named Sheldon Keefe our new head coach,” said Shanahan. “Over parts of the last five seasons, Mike has played an integral role in changing the direction of our franchise. Mike’s commitment and tireless work ethic have put our organization in a better place and we are extremely grateful and appreciative of the foundation he has helped us build here.”

Sheldon Keefe, head coach of the Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, will step into the head-coaching role on an interim basis.

“At this time, we collectively felt that it was best to make a change to Sheldon Keefe,” Shanahan continued. “Sheldon’s record with the Marlies in terms of development and on-ice success during his time in our organization has compelled us all to feel that he is the right person to take us to the next stage in our evolution.”

One of the more-decorated coaches in the NHL, Babcock coached the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003. He won his only Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and brought them back to the Finals the following season. When his contract with Detroit expired after the 2014-2015 season, Toronto hired Babcock with great fanfare.

Babcock, with the addition of younger stars like Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, brought the Leafs back to the playoffs with his second season behind the bench. The team is on a three-season playoff streak, despite first-round exits each time.

The current season has been a disappointment, though. With a quarter of the regular season in the books, Toronto has a 9-10-4 record, good for only 22 points and fifth place in the NHL Atlantic Division. They are currently two points out of a playoff spot.

Babcock now has an overall record of 173-133-45 with Toronto, plus an 8-12 record in the playoffs.

Toronto lost Tuesday night 4-2 to the Golden Knights in Las Vegas.