On the eve of another Maple Leafs’ regular-season opener, team president Brendan Shanahan met virtually with reporters on Tuesday to discuss a range of topics, including why the Leafs’ only goal this year should be a championship run.
“I think it's important for our players not to focus on any other threshold than the ultimate one,” Shanahan said. “Just about every team starting the season in the league is competing for the Stanley Cup, [and that’s] going to be played out on the ice. It’s not going to be said here today or decided here today what threshold we would consider a success or not a success [other than a Cup win].”
As the Leafs wrapped up their final day of on-ice activities before facing Montreal on Wednesday, Shanahan shared his thoughts on what Toronto has done to this point in preparation for the 56-game season ahead, and how it can take steps forward as a franchise.
On whether Toronto will follow the Ottawa Senators’ lead and present a proposal to the Ontario government allowing fans into the building this season
“Those aren't conversations that we're having at this time. In Toronto, we're focused on getting started in Scotiabank Arena without fans present as the games. We look forward to the day that [fans] are in the arena. When they are in the arena, the more important point is it's a reflection that our community as a whole must be doing a whole lot better. When our fans are able to safely come back, that'll be dictated by Toronto Public Health, the Ministry of Health for Ontario and Health Canada.”
On making Leafs into a Cup contender
“When you look at some of the changes that were made, player acquisitions and the messaging that [head coach Sheldon Keefe] has put out from the very start of training camp to our players, [we’re] talking about increased physicality, talking about habits, talking about competitiveness and talking about a structure that we will build from the very first day of training camp through the regular season, in the hope that you are laying a foundation for habits that Stanley Cup championship teams in the past all possess. And the regular season this year is incredibly important for all of us. It's going to be a sprint. It's a unique situation on and off the ice as well. But I think aside from trying to battle and position yourself and lay down those foundations and those habits in the regular season, it is all done with the intent of having success in postseason as well."
On what’s needed to get Toronto past the first round of the playoffs
“I said several years ago that the easy part is coming up with a plan and the hard part is sticking with it. But I think that's what you just have to do. You just have to keep looking for ways to improve, looking for ways to evolve, looking for ways to grow, being attentive to the game, and where the game is evolving, because you have to look [at it all because] what might be working for you in one year might need to be adjusted the next. You just keep going back to the well and you keep trying until you're successful, and then, of course, you hope that leads to a big run. And that's sticking with it and sticking to it. It's obviously a much better solution than holding up and saying that this is too hard and we're just going to not try anymore because it's just too hard.”
On Keefe putting his mark on the Maple Leafs
“He identified a few things in his first off-season as the head coach. He had a hand in some of the players that were brought in that he wanted. He was specifically looking at some of the things that he felt our team lacked, and that our team needed to improve. Obviously, there's also focus on the players that were coming back, just the growth of them as well as professionals, [with] habits that we feel can bring you success in the regular season. His messaging from the very beginning of camp is all done with the intention of having a very strong regular season. If we do those things, then I think that we can become a more consistent team and that's important to us. We've seen games in the past where we will play and [think] that the style in which we played on that particular evening was a game that was elite, and you can win in the playoffs with that kind of game. I think with the growth and our team evolving and becoming real pros at that consistency comes with that, and that's what you see with the previous Stanley Cup winners. So that's what we want to get to.”
On how free agent additions like Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian will impact the team
“I'm really pleased that there were some guys who came back to Toronto, came back to their hometowns. I think that's not always been the case in the past, but we had some guys that wanted to come here and be a part of this. There's a great passion here in Toronto and we feel very fortunate to play here. This is something that we're all committed to doing, and to have more people come aboard and join that quest for us was important. So, to be very specific, adding guys like Joe, Bogosian, Simmonds; they're all coming here for a reason to add to the group that we already have and to create other elements and take us to the next level. That's the hope.”
On what’s next for Auston Matthews
“He's an elite-group scorer in the National Hockey League, but I think what impresses so many people about his game is how well-rounded it is. He's taken a real interest in becoming as they say a 200-foot player, a complete NHL hockey player. That is the kind of player that you can put on in any situation. I like the fact that Sheldon is introducing penalty killing to his game here, I think it's a great message for the team that your best players are not only expected to score goals, but they're also expected to defend as well. You look at a guy like Mitch Marner, I would put Mitch in that same company as a guy that is an elite offensive player but also really developing into an elite defensive player. So that's an important aspect for our team.
"We know we can score. We know that we have also a lot of very skilled players that not only can play well defensively, but are developing that side of their game so that we can become a team that's more difficult to score against. That's an important part of our growth.”