Today was the traditional media scrums with players that they call “locker clean out”, and it marks the worst day of the season. If your team is off in a fountain in Vegas celebrating, you don’t have to have this event. If you have it, you, like 15 other playoff teams, lost.
Before we begin watching the videos, I want to say that while I was watching another game recently, they started playing Mitch Marner’s Game Seven post-game availability, and I have never hit the mute button so fast in my life, not even for Don Cherry. I don’t want to remember his devastated voice. I have more tolerance for this sort of thing, with the benefit of a few days distance, however.
First up are the two best players on the team:
Auston Matthews and John Tavares
You won’t learn much here you don’t already know. He believes in the ups and downs of life, “that’s hockey”, but he’s 25% of the way to Marner after Game Seven, and it’s hard to listen to.
He wants people to know he thinks Zach Hyman is a warrior, which isn’t news, but my takeaway from his comments is that he believes in this team.
As you’d expect, John Tavares has had a lot of practice at this gig, and he’s good at it. He phrases his take on the season as that they didn’t meet the expectations they set for themselves. Which is a way of saying you believe you can be better.
He also believes in the team, and thinks the future is full of potential. But he gives a very long speech on how you have to work for your success, get out of your comfort zone, and take advantage of your chances, and it’s really hard not to hear that as pointed, yet friendly advice to some of the younger players on the team.
Kyle Dubas and Mike Babcock
Kyle Dubas starts by saying he doesn’t like being finished so early. He directly addresses the challenges of drafting in the second round or late first at best, and how important it is to do that right.
On William Nylander, he takes the blame for allowing that negotiation to drag on. He feels that didn’t set him up to succeed. He calls that “unacceptable”. He sure sounds like he doesn’t want that to happen again, but easier said than done. Later he covers some of the details of that negotiation.
Dubas discusses Nazem Kadri, and I’ll let Kadri speak for himself when the video of his comments is available, but Dubas says the team has an obligation to help Kadri improve his self control.
On the Marner contract, he chooses to just tell everyone how great Marner is rather than really say anything, as expected.
When asked if he was satisfied with the coaching in Game Seven, he says he isn’t willing to “evaluate a micro event”. [I just love when he says stuff like this, just totally owning the biz school nerdery] He says they make their decisions on the whole season, but he thinks many people who bear responsibility for how the team plays.
He echos John Tavares’s words about not meeting their expectations, and while he thinks the team played better in the playoffs than last year, he’s not satisfied with any aspect of the team. He wants everything improved.
When asked if Mike Babcock and Nazem Kadri will part of the team, he deflects with the truth [a good trick] and says that first Brendan Shanahan will evaluate him, and then they’ll look at the whole organization.
Dubas essentially says that the Marner contract has to come first before he can do anything else. He specifically says he doesn’t want to “chew up our cap space” with other signings before finalizing that deal, which puts a deadline on this of July 1, if he wants to be able to do anything in free agency. While that sounds very plausible, that’s going to be an interesting task to accomplish, even with extra time to do it in.
Dubas then basically gives an ode to the glory of Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs defencemen, and then he reiterates that he’s got to sign Marner first before he talks to Gardiner’s agent. If you think Babcock loves Gardiner, and I think he does, this is an order of magnitude more.
There’s a question about “the skill focus” of the team that is basically all about are they tough enough.
The question about how they “keep losing the special teams battle” in the playoffs gets a defence of the power play, but he takes the blame for not finding better players for the penalty kill. I think this means one thing: a centre who can PK for real in the NHL and who is good at faceoffs. Par Lindholm was a legit try at it, but he just wasn’t quite enough of a five-on-five centre to work.
The questioning opens with a discussion of Nazem Kadri, and he doesn’t say much before moving on.
“This is the most disappointed our group has ever been.” He also says this is the best group of players the team has had. He talks about how the players like each other, the team, believe in the opportunities, and yet he says they all, he, the rest of the management and the players, believe they need to improve their depth.
When asked directly about his coaching, he talks about how they were very well prepared, and they and the Bruins adjusted to each other as the series progressed. He says he believes that Game Two and Game Six were their weakest games. I recapped Game Six, and I agree on that one wholeheartedly. His words:
“Game Six, we started so well, and then we froze there for about 30 minutes in the middle. You can look at Game Seven all you want, but [Game Six] was a slipped opportunity.”
I said this in the middle of that 30 minutes: “I don’t see this as a team that can score against Boston right now. But now won’t last forever.”
And it didn’t. Babcock says he liked the Leafs at the beginning of Game Seven. They were organized and controlling the puck.
When asked if William Nylander can use his missed few weeks as an excuse for his season, Babcock dismisses the idea that Nylander is a guy who makes excuses. He essentially says Nylander needs to go away and get his mojo back.
Many won’t like the typical sportsman talk about Zach Hyman. His admiration for his character will be perceived as promoting playing hurt. But I focused on the fact that Babcock thinks Hyman will beat the six months. All players who play hockey play hurt.
He covers the last three years of the team in a way he’s said before: year one in the playoffs was a fluke, last year they deserved to be there, but that’s it, and this year, he thought they were a real hockey team despite the losses of significant players. Because, which is obvious, Tavares is just that good, he made up for players like James van Riemsdyk moving on, and Muzzin is also a good player who improved the team.
He reiterates that they need more depth. Now, if you’re so inclined, you can claim that’s a shot at Dubas, but if Dubas thinks this roster is complete, he didn’t sound like it.
He talks about his relationship with Dubas, which is an unsurprising string of the sorts of things he’s said in the past.
When asked the question that is consuming everyone whole: Should Auston Matthews get more ice time, Babcock turns it around and says that Matthews 20 minutes a night in the playoffs. He says he’s guessing at that number [I don’t believe him]. But it is likely too much for the regular season, but that shift length and score state affect ice time a lot.
This one is tough because Gardiner gets asked if that was his last game as a Leaf. He just says he won’t know until the summer.
He says he hadn’t thought he would come back from his back injury to play again, but he managed it. He also hopes not to need back surgery but isn’t sure, and that has to play into his decisions. But then he gives what can only be read as a goodbye speech, and it seems like it’s over for one of the three players who have been with the Leafs longer than Kyle Dubas.
There are some other player interviews available, but they aren’t very revealing. There’s only so many times you need to hear how disappointed someone is.
Update: Nazem Kadri’s presser doesn’t seem to be on the Maple Leafs site yet. Curious! So TSN has it, if you want to listen to it instead of just reading some tweets about it: