First, before we get to the main event, have a listen to Mitch Marner.
Marner talks in positive terms about playing with Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau, and he discusses how he coped with a bad start.
He is very animated in talking about the benefits of having Marleau on the team, and you will hear some references to Matthews. They are obviously close friends, and spend a lot of time together.
You will hear the idea of coach’s trust crop up in this conversation, and you’ll hear that again.
“No one said it would be easy,” is the theme Auston Matthews speaks on.
And then, as you may have heard, he talks about playing with Mitch Marner and how much he likes Marner and how he thinks Marner makes other players better. You may have seen some quotes from this segment, which comes up prompted by the reporter, who says Marner brought it up first. You likely haven’t seen any reports that Matthews is laughing when he makes a crack about not making the line up card, and that he follows up with a mention of all the other great players on the team.
There is then a further question about Matthews’ relationship with Mike Babcock. And you may have seen quotes from that section too. You should watch it to see when he laughs and rolls his eyes about it.
He sure does seem serious when he says that Babcock is intense and expects the best out of everyone, though.
Sportsnet has posted part of Babcock’s comments:
Or you can watch the full-length version:
You really, really should watch Babcock tell the story about talking to Matthews on Friday about the reports from the night before that they were on the outs. It’s an interesting look at how Babcock manages high-emotion situations.
He mentions that Matthews was as upset as the rest of the team at the end of Game Seven. The one person I noticed on the bench very, very frustrated and upset was Nazem Kadri, but he doesn’t need a new contract, so I guess that’s why that was never turned into a story.
The most interesting thing to me is that Babcock says he’s told Matthews to tell him if he pushes too hard. The implication there is that Matthews wants to be pushed, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
There’s a lot of famous bench arguments on the Pittsburgh Penguins. One time Evgeni Malkin went and sat at the very end by Sidney Crosby and refused to speak to anyone as they were losing out in round one. Patric Hornqvist and Mike Sullivan or Crosby have had some very intense discussions in games and in practices. I’ve seen players refuse to acknowledge that the coach is talking to them mid-game.
That level of passion in that situation is normal, but the way in which these interviews were reported at first on Twitter left the field wide open for wrong interpretations of how things were said. I disagree with Babcock’s estimation of how often the press reports are correct, but I don’t think the way this day was covered was a shining moment for a lot of the Toronto sports press for telling a fair and complete version of events immediately.
Not contained in the Sportsnet edit of Babcock’s presser is his lineup discussion. He stated he was not ready to decide on William Nylander as a centre until the lineup is set. He also gives his usual response to the questions about Matthews playing with Marner next season: “You guys want them to play together. I want to win.” But what came before it was the clarification that he hasn’t even given this a thought, and it all depends on the lineup changes.
I know that they are fun to watch together. And, by the way, there were several instances where Matthews was rolled out between Marner and Marleau or Marner and Zach Hyman when goals were needed. He was also played with Nylander and not Connor Brown at the end of Game Seven.
But the strategy of spreading out players who drive offensive plays onto multiple lines is a good one. Mitch Marner, to be blunt, doesn’t need Auston Matthews. A winger who can drive the play means you can have a centre with him who is not elite. You might have noticed a lack of centres in the Leafs lineup.
Do not be surprised if the Leafs look for some forwards this summer as well as defecemen. This point is being telegraphed by Babcock here, and in other comments. They see a real need for improvements all over the lineup. It’s very obvious that James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak are not coming back. Everything else is undecided.
Oh, one thing isn’t left to be determined. Babcock, as always, is very clear on who the heart of this team is: Matthews, Marner and Nylander. He’s also very clear that all three of them want to be better, and he does mention specific conversations with Nylander on that topic. He also reveals that Matthews was never really 100% for most of the year. I think we should expect all three players to be even more impressive next year.