Today the Toronto Maple Leafs are holding their end of season media availabilities. Several players spoke to the press, notably not Mitch Marner, and the tone of this year’s post mortem on a Game Seven loss was very different to last year.
Jake Muzzin wasn’t the first man up, but I want to start with him, because he spoke for me last year. He was angry, disgusted even, and the iconic shot of him turning away from the ice as he stood watching, injured, from the press box in the loss at home to Montréal has always stuck with me. I felt what he felt then as well.
Last year, he was clear that the problems were within the team and the team needed to change how they did a lot of things. This year, he was much more positive that this team can be a winner and his tone was one of a hard and determined push for more.
This was the theme of all the player comments: the team has “it”. They just need to push a little harder to get over the line. Everyone had things to say on that topic:
Jason Spezza: He pushed back on the narrative that they played tight. He thinks the best players on the Leafs played a different kind of game, the kind you have to play. But they need to do more
Auston Matthews: It was not the outcome they wanted. “It sucks.” He thought they had it, but ultimately they didn’t get what they wanted. He won’t second guess how they played Game Six, they played hard, he doesn’t think was like previous years where there wasn’t full commitment to do what it takes.
Morgan Rielly: When asked about the “respect in the handshake line” business he said it was a classy move for Tampa players to be complimentary in the media to the Leafs. “It’s nice, but not the position you want to be in.” This is exactly the same point that Sheldon Keefe was making. That while that showed they were a respectable team, they didn’t win, and the point is to win it. The hue and cry after Keefe’s comments was an absurd attempt to be super mad at everything he says, and was not at all reasonable.
Rielly also says he believes this group has “it”.
William Nylander: He believes it is the closest they’ve ever been. They can learn from this, reach even further, which is the only positive thing you can take out of it. He says that a lot of guys had unbelievable seasons, but they need to do more than that in terms of playing a playoff-style game. He believes they did that, but need to do more.
John Tavares: He thinks the team is right there [as a top team], that it’s hard to get there, difficult to win, and there’s a fine line between winning and losing at that level. “We want to get on the right side of that line.”
He believes there are small things they can improve on: discipline, consistency of play, etc.
Beyond that theme, everyone was asked about Mitch Marner, and of course had nothing in detail to say. Some injuries were covered:
- Muzzin won’t give details of his in-season upper body injury
- Matthews said he sat out because of groin and knee problems, but his wrist it fine
- Jack Campbell admits he was injured in Game Seven, but would not elaborate
In terms of potential trades or big changes, no one has anything to say beyond the expected bland answer, but John Tavares was then asked by Mark Masters about Kyle Dubas. He gave a long, articulate answer, praising Dubas for all areas of his approach including his work ethic, constant learning, trying things outside the box, working through difficult times, making tough decisions. Tavares declared all of that extremely impressive.
The other question is UFA signings:
Jason Spezza says he won't play anywhere but Toronto and still needs to have discussions with management to see if they still see a role for him next season.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 17, 2022
Adds Spezza: "I'm a little lost right now, to be honest."
Jack Campbell and Mark Giordano both expressed their love for the team and desire to return as well.
Jack Campbell, pending UFA: "I just absolutely love being a Leaf."— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 17, 2022
That’s all for the players. When the videos are available we’ll add them here.
Later on today, there will be management availabilities.