The Toronto Maple Leafs held their locker cleanout and season-ending interviews at Scotiabank Arena after their elimination in Game 7 to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. GM Kyle Dubas, head coach Mike Babcock and a number of players spoke to the media about their future and the likelihood of changes after a third straight early exit from the postseason.
Here are some highlights:
On will he be back for the final year of his contract
“Yeah, I think so. I haven’t heard anything otherwise. It’d be good to come back and continue with this group.”
Thoughts of retirement
“If anything, (this season) was not up to my standards or what I expect out of myself, so it’s an opportunity to come back and prove that I still have it and I feel confident in my abilities to do that.”
On plans for retirement
“Even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you guys.”
On torn ACL suffered in Game 4
“I was able to stand on it, put pressure on it, I could skate on it, so then it’s just dealing with the pain. I didn’t know what (the injury) was at the time and that probably helped.”
What were you doing on the play that ended your season???
“Obviously I wasn’t intending to get (DeBrusk) in the face. That’s completely not my character. Had that been the case, there would have been more substantial damage there. I just was unsatisfied with the hit on (Marleau). I felt like it was a bit of a dangerous play. I just wanted to go give him one of those shots on the arm, just kind of let him know that wasn’t okay with us. Unfortunately I caught him high and I’ve got to be accountable for that. I’ve got to have control of my stick. That’s definitely a bit of a bone-headed play but like I said, we were still in the game.” Kadri said. “Ultimately in trying to do the right thing and protect my teammates and stand up for them, I ended up doing the wrong thing. That’s just something I’ve got to be accountable for.”
“I think they can, yeah. They know what kind of person I am. They know I’m not a selfish person. All these instances are standing up for other people, myself is just not included. I know I put us behind the eight-ball and I know they know that, my teammates and staff, I would do anything for this team, anything for the players. I’d much rather have somebody on my team that maybe cares a little too much than too little. It’s just something I’ve got to control.”
On his back injury
“I definitely wasn’t 100 percent. I’m not going to use that as an excuse. Everyone is playing through stuff. It’s kind of what you do in the playoffs.”
On his future in Toronto…
“I’ve been here a long time, been through the ups and downs, When I first came here, the team was not great. (Kadri, myself and Morgan(Rielly) are the last guys here who have been around for a long time. I’ll be pretty proud of what we’ve done here and the way we brought this organization to a team that we can be proud off. The playoffs didn’t go the way we wanted to. This team has a real good future and bright future ahead of them.”
On whether he was treated unfairly by the fans and media?
“That’s just the way it is. It’s good and bad. If you’re winning, you’re the best player on Earth, if you’re losing, you suck. Some people see it differently than others. They’re not always going to agree with you. You just have to deal with it, whether it’s fans ripping you or media, it’s part of professional sports. You’ve got to get through it.”
Is the focus now shifting to your contract?
"It's all Kyle and my agent. I haven't talked to any of them about anything yet. I'll wait to hear more from my agent and Kyle. I'm sure in the next couple days we'll get more we'll get more talkative."
Have you learned anything from Nylander and Matthews contract talks and how to handle yours?
"From Willie's standpoint, try and be here for (the start) of the season. Nobody wants to miss half the season. I know he didn't. It's just how things went. So, try and get something done earlier than later, and try and be a part of this team for the next coming years."
What has contract process been like?
"I haven't really heard too much. Throughout the season I didn't want to hear anything. I still haven't heard (very) much. It's all through my agent. I haven't asked him anything. We just finished two or three days ago. I'm sure it'll be exciting, it'll be fun. It's something every kid dreams of, getting that contract talk going. We'll see when it starts.
How important is it for you to stay in Toronto long-term?
"It's a major priority. I want to be here. I want to play for this team. I love the people in this locker room, I love the people that work in this organization. We're a tight-knit group. It's a special group to be a part of."
Head coach Mike Babcock
Is there anything you wish you did individually to help influence a better result?
“There’s always things. You know, it’s interesting, there’s 23 coaches sitting at home today thinking they should have done something different. And you know what? I thought we really prepared. We knew who we were playing. We really prepared. We started the series, they adjusted, we adjusted back, they adjusted, we adjusted back. When I look back at the series, Game 2 and Game 6 were our weakest games.
Game 6 we started so well. Then we froze there for about 30 minutes in the middle. You can look at Game 7 all you want but that one there to me was the slipped opportunity. Game 7 I thought we started really well. I thought we played really good until the score was 3-1 to be honest with you. The puck went in our net, didn’t go in their net. But the toughest two games for us were 2 and 6.”
What does Nylander have to do this summer? Can he use the first two months of the season as an excuse or does he just have to be better?
“I don’t know how much you’ve tried excuses in your life. They’re a waste of time for yourself and they’re a waste of time for everyone else. And Willy’s not like that. What does Willy need to do? He needs to get out of here. He needs to get back to being the Willy who was confident, the Willy who was feeling good about himself. When you’re an athlete, and you held out like Willy did, you come back and you’re getting going…Willy’s a proud guy, he’s a great kid.
And he has a chance to be a real good player. He wasn’t a good player. No one wears that more than Willy. He needs to get out of here, he needs to get home, he needs to get re-charged, he needs to get training and get his game back on track and get his swagger back. No athlete who has any success, is any good, without having that swagger. It’s a huge summer for Willy. ‘Cause we need him to be a factor.”
What have your conversations with Kyle been like since the loss and what you need to do this off-season?
“I mean obviously we’ve had a number of conversations. We had a good one for a couple of hours this morning. Our plan moving ahead, what we have to do as a management team, to make sure we get where we want – when you’re talking about players getting stronger, working with a skill set, you have an obligation as an athlete to do a lot of work yourself, to improve yourself as a coach, as a manager, but also to improve the team within the structure and help the guys to get where they want to go. So that’s going to be our focus. That conversation is going to go no for quite a bit. And we’ll try to get ourselves set up to improve our hockey club.”
When there’s a disappointing loss like this, a lot of speculation on the outside. Can you clarify, what is your relationship with Kyle right now?
“It’s really good. But…I thank the media in our town because you guys, I say this all the time, you guys do, the reason we have a fan base and the support we do is because of you people. And the reason you have jobs is because we have this big community that loves hockey so much.
And you get paid to do this stuff. Have at her. But what we’re going to do, the people that are running the hockey team, we’re going to make the decisions and run the hockey club. And we’re going to know what our relationship is because we have it every day. We’re not going to let anybody get into that. So, (Kyle is) a smart guy, a good guy, I’ve worked with him, he was here when I got hired. I’ve worked with Shanny now four years now and enjoyed it and continue to.”
GM Kyle Dubas
On where Leafs go from here
“It’s disappointing that the summer is going to be this long. Just as our family, we were talking yesterday and it’s the first time in seven years where the team I was most primarily involved with that, we’ve been done in the first round. That part was certainly disappointing, it’s not a feeling you want to get used to. I think everyone in the room knows the business we have to attend to over the summer and how imperative it is for the growth and development of our program, so we’ll get to that right away.
We’ve obviously got to make some more strides in terms of adding to our prospect pool again, the development of our existing prospects and how that will be tied up here in the Marlies’ playoff run and get ready to roll from there, get ready for the draft.”
On William Nylander and how those negotiations will affect Mitch Marner
“I think frankly speaking, and we’ve talked about the Nylander situation here at length, I think the blame for the situation going that far has to go to me, and I don’t think it set William up to have a good season and I accept that. Looking back on it and how we handled our business and go about it, I think in the end, if you’re looking to assign the blame to someone, it has to be to me because we didn’t get it done for training camp, we didn’t get it done to start the season, we didn’t get it done until there were three minutes left or whatever it was. It’s not acceptable, it didn’t set William up to have success, and as I said, the other contracts are going to be priority one.
I can’t use the excuse that I didn’t start until May, I had a full runway with the rest of them. We have to do good contracts for the organization and for the marketplace and we’ll get right to that. If you’re looking to assign blame, it should go to me and me alone.”
Can Dubas be sure Mike Babcock and Nazem Kadri will both be here next year?
“I think the way I look at that is (Brendan Shanahan) has to decide on me first, to do an evaluation of me, which I think any organization would be best to do. And then once that’s done, we evaluate everybody.
We could win the Stanley Cup, and it would be the same discussion of evaluating where we’re at and are we content and are we moving in the right direction. So, I think with how fluid the situation is, I wouldn’t give any guarantee to anybody in our whole organization, starting with me. We’ll do what we think is best, and we’ll let you know when we know. That’s my expectation.”
How important to get Marner’s deal done by July 1
“I think it’s imperative for all the other facets of our team. So Mitch, as I said, is Priority 1. Without an answer on Mitch, we’re going to be in a staIemate. It is a top priority because we’re not going to jump around and chew up our cap space we are going to need for Mitch by or with fringe signings either. It’s important. We just have to get right on it and get it done.”
On the possibility of Jake Gardiner being back…
“I think one of the things that is sad for me, particularly about Jake, is that Jake has been a driving force from 2014, walking in here the first day, to where it is now, it’s night and day to where it is now. I know everyone is disappointed today but from where the team was then to where it is now, it’s a night and day difference. There are three players from then who are still here now, and Jake is one of them. I think his contributions have been, and his legacy to the Toronto Maple Leafs, people try to tie them in with small things like a play in Game 7 and what does this mean or that mean … Jake has been such a huge part of turning this franchise around, and I don’t think one game or a series of games should change that.
I think in time the way that people view Jake will be so positive. People will be so appreciative of what he’s done with the group. When it comes to his status, it goes back to Chris’s question of how much room are we going to have once we get through the situation with Mitch, and then we’ll get in touch with his people.”
Are you still confident in your skills-first vision
“What I saw in the playoffs, if you asked me that in Game 2, they obviously had a certain way they wanted to play that game. They handled us in that game pretty easily. And then as the series went on, after Game 5, I thought we played so well in Game 5 in their building. If there is any game if there is any way that I would like to see our team consistently play it’s Game 5.
They then took out a couple of their heavier guys and inserted more speed and skill. So my conviction about speed and skill has not been shaken at all. I do think like any team, as our guys get older they’re going to naturally get heavier and grittier. As they accrue these scars and scar tissues from experiences like this, mentally they’ll deal with it. I thought even in this series when things weren’t going their way our guys did a great job of being able to dig in and push back. In Game 6 here we didn't play well and then in the third period we were able to push back again. Game 7, we were down two goals, then we started driving back to try to tie the game. I wish there was a switch we could flip naturally to get there but it comes only with experience.”
Any positions you want to address in quest to take the next step
“It’s interesting. It’s something I thought about a lot since we’ve been eliminated on Tuesday night. You look at teams that suddenly break through. Washington a year ago, people said that other teams were more talented. Then you look at Chicago … I wish there was a formula of what position it may be. The best thing from my perspective is that I have to do a better job, continue to improve and help our players and our position as a group. I’ll take some time rather than be rash so I can analyze everything. Look at how we can improve our team even that 1 or 2 percent we can improve upon and hopefully be in a different set of circumstances 13 months from now or more.”
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