TORONTO | On paper, the Maple Leafs have a team with the potential to accomplish great things. They have three of the best forwards in the NHL, and three players with salaries of over ten million, in Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and John Tavares.
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Since Tavares arrived in Toronto in 2018-19, the Maple Leafs have dreamed of winning the Stanley Cup, a feat that has eluded this concession since 1967.
Before Tavares, it was the hiring of Mike Babcock at the start of the 2015-16 season that would eventually guide the Leafs to the Promised Land. While Tavares still has a key role, Babcock lost his job at the start of last season to Sheldon Keefe.
But there is an enduring reality in Toronto. The Maple Leafs still haven’t won anything despite high expectations in recent seasons.
Last August, the Blue Maple Leaf team lost in five games (three of five) in the qualifying round to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In the spring of 2019, the Leafs were eliminated in seven games against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. In the spring of 2018, the Leafs also lost in seven games to the Bruins in the first round. In the spring of 2017, it was another setback in the first round of the playoffs, but in six games against the Washington Capitals.
To find the last time the Leafs made the first round of the playoffs (victory over the Senators) you have to go back to 2004. Matthews and Marner were six and seven years old respectively at that time.
On the eve of this opening game against the Canadiens, the big guns of the Maple Leafs met the press by videoconference. Matthews, Tavares, defenseman Jake Muzzin and goalie Frederik Andersen took turns answering questions as they came out of a practice on the ice at the Ford Performance Center.
All four players refused to delve too far into the future. There was no promise, although several reporters in Canada predicted the Leafs will end the year atop the North (Canadian) Division.
“We are looking forward to this new season,” said Tavares. Another year, another chance to fight for the Stanley Cup. I like our group. We want to accomplish great things. But I keep a mentality of one day at a time. “
“We will have to remain constant. In my first two seasons in Toronto, we had some incredible streaks where we could dominate the NHL, but it just didn’t last long enough, the captain continued. We would like to get the ice advantage by winning our division. But, there will be a lot of work since it’s a very competitive division. To achieve this, there are three themes that come up often inside our locker room: consistency, finding ways to adapt and responding to adversity. “
In the present
We know one thing. The Leafs will still score a lot of goals. Even though Joe Thornton, at 41, will open the season on the left wing of Matthews and Marner. On defense, TJ Brodie and Zach Bogosian will solidify a fairly thin group led by Morgan Rielly and Muzzin.
Andersen could make a big difference in goal. The 31-year-old Dane is capable of both the best and the worst.
Asked how he would describe a good season for himself, Andersen offered a present-focused answer.
” It’s a good question. I don’t care too much about it right now. I focus on the present, that’s my only goal, said Andersen. The other questions are distractions. They are useless. To accomplish great things, you have to stay in the present. ”
The ultimate goal
Brendan Shanahan, the president of the Maple Leafs, derogated a bit from the responses of the players by alluding to a single goal.
“We will not say here today and we will not decide today what threshold we would consider successful or not at the end of the year. It is important that our players keep their focus on one goal, and that is the ultimate goal. “