TORONTO (AP) — Sheldon Keefe is out as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, fired Thursday after another early exit from the NHL playoffs.

The move had been expected after Toronto lost to rival Boston in Game 7 last weekend, the fourth time in five years under Keefe that the team has lost in the first round. The Maple Leafs won just one playoff series since Keefe took over in November 2019.

“Today’s decision was difficult,” general manager Brad Treliving said in a statement. “Sheldon is an excellent coach and a great man. However, we determined a new voice is needed to help the team push through to reach our ultimate goal.”

After the league’s 18th coaching change since the end of the 2022-23 season, the team said the search for Keefe’s replacement will begin immediately. Treliving and other members of management are expected to address reporters Friday about the coaching change and other end-of-season topics.

Keefe, 43, joined the organization in 2015 as coach of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies thanks in large part to his junior hockey connection to then-assistant general manager Kyle Dubas, who was promoted and spent five season as GM before being fired last year. Keefe replaced Mike Babcock when Dubas fired him weeks into the 2019-20 season.

What followed were some excellent regular seasons and trips to the playoffs without much else to show for it. Coached by Keefe and with a core led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly and John Tavares, the Leafs went 16-21 in the postseason.

Earlier this week, Keefe said that while he accepts responsibility for expectations not being met, his confidence in the group’s — and his own — ability to succeed was at an all-time high.

“Now more than ever, I believe in myself and our team,” Keefe said. “That I will win and our team will win.”

That winning in Toronto, if it happens, will be under a different coach. Among the experienced options available are 2019 Stanley Cup winner Craig Berube, former Minnesota coach Dean Evason and former Los Angeles coach Todd McLellan.

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