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Sheldon Keefe’s first Devils press conference: What we learned

Shortly before New Jersey Devils made the news official, the NHL rumour mill was abuzz with Sheldon Keefe becoming the new Devils boss.

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Shortly before New Jersey Devils made the news official, the NHL rumour mill was abuzz with Sheldon Keefe becoming the new Devils boss. After the announcement, the former Toronto Maple Leafs coach appeared in his first press conference for his new team. Here are our key observations from the presser.

Keefe expects more freedom and resources at New Jersey 

When quizzed on what appealed to him about New Jersey, Keefe pinpointed the organization’s structure for achievement, specifically its ability to provide him with the tools he needs. 

He specifically mentioned “sports science” in getting players match-fit. By this, we take him to mean the medical staff and trainers. He also highlighted the analytics department as a group to furnish him with the data required to make informed decisions. 

Regarding the talent, he emphasized their skillset as something to rely upon. Keefe seems confident that this will be a more collaborative venture than his previous job. 

General Manager Tom Fitzgerald also hinted at a more involved role for Keefe at the Devils. 

Fitzgerald highlighted Keefe’s ability to communicate effectively with a diverse range of stakeholders, including the equipment staff, trainers, players, and even the managing partners. He relayed to his staff that “he’s going to teach us a lot,” pointing out this strength as a key factor in his decision to appoint Keefe.

Keefe is yet to finalize his coaching staff 

Keefe has already made contact with most of the players. He did indicate that he intends to have further discussions with each of them, as well as the assistant coaches. 

We interpret the latter as effectively an interview process for Keefe to choose his staff. Incidentally, assistant coach Sergei Brylin was present at the press conference, although it’s unclear whether he’s already a part of Keefe’s staff or not. 

Despite this lack of confirmation, the odds for a Devils victory this year have already increased.

You’d be surprised at some of the markets offered by betting sites on the NHL. A good bookmaker will provide a range of betting variety, with lines such as outright winner and chances of making the playoffs. Both of these have improved for the Devils with Keefe’s appointment. 

Owners love Keefe 

As soon as Travis Green was named as an interim coach after Lindy Ruff was fired, people started to toss around a few names as his successors. The Devils hierarchy, however, knew exactly who they wanted after Keefe was relieved of his Maple Leafs responsibilities. 

Other than Keefe and the Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald, the team’s co-owner David Blitzer also attended the conference. 

Josh Harris and David Blitzer have been the principal owners since acquiring the team from Jeff Vanderbeek. Blitzer has emerged as the more public face of the ownership duo. The team’s website lists him as the Governor, while Harris is listed as the Alternate Governor. This distinction, given that the NHL is ultimately governed by its Board of Governors, suggests Blitzer wields greater influence.

Blitzer extended a warm welcome to Sheldon’s family and stressed that Fitzgerald undertook a comprehensive search. The truth of this claim is borne out by reports and rumors of interviews conducted with Jay Woodcroft, Todd McLellan, Craig Berube, and even, rather surprisingly, Jay Pandolfo and David Carle.

One could sense Blitzer’s enthusiasm for the new hire. This bodes well for Keefe, who can expect the full weight of the ownership behind him in the coming season.

Keefe to implement a dynamic playing style 

Keefe outlined his vision for the team, emphasizing a style that is fast-paced, competitive, and prioritizes puck pressure in all zones. However, he underlines the importance of leveraging the players’ existing skillset to make plays. His aim is to develop a game plan that maximizes the strengths of the current squad.

Naturally, supporters will be eager to see these words translated into action. After all, the core of this team, meticulously assembled by Fitzgerald and backed by significant financial investment from Blitzer and Harris, possesses undeniable talent. 

Keefe’s primary focus, therefore, lies in optimizing their existing strengths, rather than demanding  wholesale changes. 

Cautious optimism in camp

As expected, Keefe declared the ultimate objective to be championship glory. However, his elaboration offered a welcome dose of pragmatism. 

He emphasized the sequential nature of achieving this goal. Playoff victories pave the way for championship contention, but those victories themselves hinge on reaching the playoffs, which can only be accomplished through a relentless focus on “winning each day.”

This strategic approach is particularly relevant given the team’s disappointing fall from grace last season after their remarkable 2022-23 campaign. 

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