It’s a little known fact, but the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967. Beyond that startling and rarely-discussed point, they’ve not had a lot of playoff appearances of any kind. The last time they got into the second round was 2004, and that didn’t go well.
The Maple Leafs are not fooling around with this year’s playoff opportunity because they treat them like the precious jewels they are. While the only people left from that 2004 team seem to be the equipment managers, that doesn’t matter, these players want to be the team that redeems that playoff record.
John Tavares (814 regular season games, 31 playoff games) is the leader of the largest contingent of players to open Phase 2 of the NHL’s return to play at any arena. Bob McKenzie reported there were at least 20 players in Toronto already.
Several of the players who came into Canada from time off in the USA have already completed their 14-day isolation. Added to the large number of Maple Leafs who live in Toronto, or were staying around (Ilya Mikheyev seems not to have ever left), and they have almost enough players to make up a real roster while some NHL teams don’t have enough interest to open up the facilities yet.
Tavares described the process in the story linked above and to TSN, and in the most Tavares-esque thing he’s ever said, is planning to tape his sticks at home to maximize his allowed time at the training facility.
Sportsnet also reports that Auston Matthews and his current house guest Frederik Andersen are waiting to leave Arizona on the assumption that the 14-day self-isolation requirement for incoming travellers will be adjusted for NHL players. One proposal is to allow a “cohort quarantine” where as long as the players have no contact with anyone but each other, they will be allowed to enter the country. Under the NHL’s Phase 2 protocol, they must have a negative test and continue to be tested and monitored before they can begin accessing the team facilities.
Aside from Mikheyev and the Toronto contingent of players, Kasper Kapanen and William Nylander are already on site. Alexander Kerfoot and Morgan Rielly have arrived from BC, and Jack Campell, Nicholas Robertson, Joseph Woll and Kenny Agostino have all been reported to have come from the USA and undergone the isolation period.
John Tavares is at the rink for Phase 2 as well. Says his group of #Leafs teammates so far has been Ilya Mikheyev, Jake Muzzin and Jack Campbell. Cody Ceci and Mitch Marner joining on Thursday after getting CoVid testing done.— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) June 9, 2020
Zach Hyman is at the rink for Phase 2, said his small group of #Leafs teammates for the process are Morgan Rielly, Alex Kerfoot, Travis Dermott, William Nylander and Joseph Woll— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) June 9, 2020
The Leafs players have arranged their 6-person groups by line combinations, with Kerfoot filling in for Matthews right now. The Phase 2 protocol doesn’t contain explicit rules for a player switching groups, but does suggest that the six-man units should stay together if possible.
There is no media at the Phase 2 training sessions, but Tavares acted as spokesman after their Tuesday session:
“On the ice we’ve been brainstorming amongst [ourselves], and then with some [outside] guidance from our development staff on the fundamentals, we just started skating, shooting, passing and stick handling,” Tavares said.
This sort of player-run training usually runs for one to two weeks in the fall before training camp begins. This version of the polite fiction that the coaches aren’t running things might go on for a month or more.
Insider Trading discussed the next steps for the Return to Play committee, the NHL and the NHLPA. The word from them is that Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (actual game play) will have protocols written up and voted on just like Phase 2, but that the whole bundle will be subject to one vote of the NHLPA’s executive board (the 31 player representatives from each team). That’s a global yes or no from the players to the final play to actually have a playoffs.
So far, all that has been agreed to is the format of eventual game play, none of the other rules, protocols, requirements or testing procedures are decided yet. This process to get to a vote on the next steps will take at least two weeks, or longer, so Phase 2 is going to just keep chugging along until that decision is made and a process to have actual training camp is ready to implement for all 24 teams. Phase 3 is not expected to happen before mid-July. It does seem more and more likely that training camp itself will be quite short.
Meanwhile, the NHL and the NHLPA are negotiating the new collective bargaining agreement in earnest. Pierre LeBrun reports that some involved (most likely players) are holding out hope that they will have significant process on that agreement before play begins.
The players want to know what the salary cap and escrow decisions will be for next year, and what the timetable will be, and they want to know that now. This makes a lot of sense, because while John Tavares doesn't have any questions about where he’s playing, he or his business manager might like to know when that big signing bonus cheque is arriving.
LeBrun discussed the idea that if no actual CBA can be finalized in the next month, a memo of understanding on the key elements of concern could be signed by then.
Can the Leafs players maintain their level of commitment over the course of an extended period of group training? We’ll find out, but considering the plan here is to start the qualifying round like they’ve been shot out of a cannon, destroy the hopes and dreams of every Blue Jackets fan, and then march onto the first round of the playoffs ready to win it even if it is Boston they’re facing, they’d better be ready to peak early and then maintain that peak deep into the summer.