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Marner's goal is long-term extension, Keefe takes responsibility as Leafs address media

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Mitch Marner - The Canadian Press

Leafs players and coach Sheldon Keefe addressed the media at the Ford Performance Centre on Monday. 


Mitch Marner is eligible to sign a new contract with the Leafs this summer. Is he hoping to ink a long-term deal with his hometown team? 

"That'd be a goal," the winger said. "I've expressed my love for this place, the city. Obviously, I've grown up here."

Marner said he'll start thinking about his next deal "probably within the next week or so." 

His future is already a hot topic in the city. 

After averaging 1.23 points per game in the regular season, Marner produced just one goal and two assists in the seven games against the Boston Bruins. He was on the ice when David Pastrnak scored the overtime winner on Saturday night. 

"In my time here, I've learned that there's always a scapegoat," said centre Auston Matthews when asked about the heat Marner is taking. "There's always a narrative. There's always something. We love Mitchy. He's a great teammate. He's a great friend and a competitor."

Marner was not among the players made available to the media after the Game 7 loss in Boston. He spoke to reporters for less than three minutes on Monday. Marner credited the Bruins for playing good defence and lamented the fact his chances didn't fall late in the series before the Q-and-A was cut off by the team's media relations staff.

At times, it has seemed like playing under the microscope has gotten to Marner. When he returned from a high ankle sprain in March, the 27-year-old expressed annoyance with all the coverage and speculation about the injury. In January, he took a brief break from speaking to media after his comments following a loss in Edmonton were not well received by some in the market. 

But on Monday, as the Leafs players cleaned out their lockers and held exit interviews with management, Marner spoke glowingly about life in the centre of the hockey universe. 

"It means the world," he said. "Obviously, we're looked upon as kind of Gods here, to be honest, and something that you really appreciate. The love that you get here from this fan base and this [attention] is kind of [unlike] any other."

Marner pointed out that the players that led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship in 2019 are still beloved, even those who have been traded away. 

"That's kind of the love you want," he said. 

Unlike the Raptors, though, the Leafs haven't come close to winning a title in this era. Toronto has just one series win in the eight seasons since Marner and Matthews broke into the league. 

"It's always frustrating, disappointing, and you always want more," Marner said. "It sucks. Regardless, from this year to last year, it's all the same sh--ty pain. So, it's never fun going home this early, and never gets easier."

Marner's last contract negotiation with the team was lengthy and forced him to miss the start of training camp in 2019. He eventually signed a six-year deal with an average annual value of $10.893-million. It came with a no-move clause, which kicked in last summer. 

Team management – new MLSE president and CEO Keith Pelley, Leafs president and alternate governor Brendan Shanahan and Treliving – will speak with the media on Friday morning. The next negotiation with Marner will be a big talking point. 

"It looms as the biggest decision Treliving is facing," said TSN Hockey Insider Chris Johnston. "If they're extending Marner, is he getting the same contract William Nylander just signed? That was an $11.5-million, eight-year extension. Can the Leafs possibly think they can win if giving him a slight raise in that case? For Marner himself, he has to look and decide what's best. He controls the situation, though. We should be clear on that. He has a no-movement clause. I don't believe he's inclined at all to even consider waiving it for a trade somewhere else at this point." 

New contract extensions for Matthews (four years, $13.5 million annual average value) and Nylander will take effect next season. Captain John Tavares remains on the books with an $11-million cap hit for one more season. The Leafs have failed to breakthrough while committing so much money to so few forwards. 

"We're great players," Marner stressed. "We know it's not an easy thing to do to win this Stanley Cup and we know that. Everyone knows that. It's the hardest trophy to win for a reason. I mean, it's seven games. It's an all out war out there every single game. So, it's never gonna get easier. It's always a challenging thing ... We've been through a lot of that, and it's only gonna make us better."

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Head coach Sheldon Keefe credited Marner for stabilizing the team's penalty kill, which allowed six goals in the first four games against Boston before killing off all four Boston power plays in the final three games. 

"Obviously, our entire team needs to score more and come through at key times," Keefe added. "That is a big part of it. My job as a coach is to help the entire team, including Mitch, to come through in those moments. I failed to do so, and I will take responsibility for that."

Keefe, who is under contract for two more seasons after signing his own extension last August, took the podium on Monday amid speculation about his job security. Before taking questions, he delivered an opening statement. 

"We are in the results business here," Keefe said with emotion in his voice. "We didn't get results. We haven't met expectations. As head coach, I take responsibility for that ... My job as a head coach is to find solutions and chart a path ahead for the group to come through and succeed at the most important time of year. We haven't done that."

Keefe guided the Leafs to the franchise's first playoff series win in 19 years last season, but the Leafs fell in five games in the second round. This year, Keefe was proud of how his players battled back to force a Game 7 after falling behind the Bruins 3-1. 

"But, clearly, that is not enough," he said. "That sits with me."

Although Keefe felt the pair of 2-1 wins in Game 5 and Game 6 represented a recipe for the team moving forward. 

"The level of patience we showed in those games is ultimately what it takes to win in the playoffs," Keefe said. "That is why it is most disappointing to not get it done in Game 7. We were right there. We were one shot away from getting through, and then quickly the narrative changes to: The Leafs have figured out how to play tight games, win tight games, come from behind, show fight, and all of these sorts of things that you are excited about."

The Leafs were also a shot away in 2021 when they lost Game 5 and Game 6 to the Montreal Canadiens in overtime en route to blowing a 3-1 series lead. They were one shot away again in 2022 when they went to overtime in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning while leading the series 3-2. Two of Toronto's losses in the second round against Florida last season came in extra time. 

Keefe readily acknowledged it's unclear whether he'll get a chance to chase a sixth playoff run with the Leafs. 

"I believe in myself greatly," the 43-year-old from Brampton, Ont. said. "I love coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now more than ever, I believe in myself and the team, that I will win and the team will win. I have been through a lot as a coach in my career to get to this level. I have won a lot before coming here. The path always looks different, but you learn along the way. I have learned a lot through my experience. I know I am in a good place."

The Leafs have a .665 points percentage since Keefe replaced Mike Babcock on Nov. 20, 2019, which is fourth overall behind only Boston, Carolina and Colorado. But playoff success has proven elusive. 

"I came out of Game 6 feeling as good about the Toronto Maple Leafs as I have felt in this position," said Keefe, who is the fifth-longest-tenured head coach in the NHL. "That was because of how we were playing and how the group had come together."

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Following Saturday's loss, Matthews declined to get into the health issues that compromised his game-breaking ability in the playoffs. 

"Obviously, it was tough," he said. "Got really, really sick after Game 2."

Matthews willed the Leafs to a Game 2 win with a three-point effort, which was capped by a beautiful goal in the third period. He played in Game 3 despite the illness. 

"I'm still kind of trying to recover going into Game 4, took a weird hit and couldn't go any longer," Matthews said. "And that's as detailed as I'm gonna get."

Matthews was unable to play in the next two games before returning for Game 7.  

"It was really frustrating," he said. "It sucks and was killing me to watch. Proud of the guys and how they fought and climbed their way back into the series."

Matthews produced an assist on Toronto's lone goal in Game 7. He finished the series with one goal and three assists in five games. 

Matthews scored 69 goals in the regular season to win his third Rocket Richard Trophy. He is nominated for the Selke Trophy and Lady Byng Trophy. 

"That stuff's nice, but it's not fulfilling," the Arizona native said. "It's not what I'm after ... Obviously everybody here is after one goal and that's to win. And so I think all the other stuff is nice, but it's not something that I'm necessarily chasing or that makes me feel good. It's about winning. Obviously sitting here, it's frustrating and disappointing."

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Morgan Rielly seemed the most downbeat of all the players who spoke to reporters on Monday. 

"It's always difficult," the longest-serving Leaf said. "I feel this year maybe more than ever."


"Not sure," the 30-year-old defenceman said. "I think partly because of Game 7 overtime, partly being on the ice for the goal, partly age, just, you know, I think every year gets more challenging, honestly."

Rielly was the closest skater to Pastrnak when the Bruins winger scored in overtime. How often has he relived that play? 

"A lot," he said. 

What did he see? 

"It's hard to describe," he said. "I don't know if I can."

Rielly was drafted fifth overall by the Leafs in 2012. He's blossomed into the team's top minute muncher, a leader in the room and an ambassador for the organization. But he's also endured a lot of painful losses. 

"I think at this point, we're in a wonderful position where anything other than a championship is a disappointment," the Vancouver native said. "So we're lucky to be in that position, but it makes anything other than that very difficult and very challenging for the group on many levels."

How close does he feel the team is to winning a Stanley Cup?

"I don't want to stand here and try to tell you that we're on the doorstep of anything because we're sitting here today doing this," he said. "The belief is there that it's attainable, but there's work and improvement that has to take place. So, how close are we? I don't know, we'll see. It feels both attainable and a ways away and that's what drives you as an individual. That's what drives a team forward to either have success or we'll see."

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It looked like Ilya Samsonov may have been able to swat the puck away from Pastrnak in overtime, but the Leafs goalie remained deep in his crease. 

"I think my decision was good, not going," Samsonov said. "I was watching this moment 20 times, maybe more, but still, I think I made the right decision."

That didn't make the loss any easier to take, though. 

"I don't remember what time I feel like s--t like right now," the 27-year-old. "I enjoy being with my family. It's helped me a lot, especially for Miro [my young son], my wife. My mom, she's come too. Yeah. It's tough. You think about a lot. Yeah, we have what we have."

Samsonov lost four of his five starts in the series and finished with an .896 save percentage. 

"I need to play better than what we see in the series," he admitted. "I'm professional ... I need to play better, and this is true. It's not about how we defend or power play or whatever is going on. I need to be better for this team and in this series."

Joseph Woll picked up wins in Game 5 and Game 6, but also picked up an injury late in Thursday's game and was unable to dress in the decider. 

Samsonov has played on a pair of one-year deals in Toronto and wants to stay. 

"I love this city," he said. "I love everybody on this team." 

Samsonov would also love some term on his next contract. 

"It's probably the biggest part," he said. "The last couple of years, seriously, the last three years, I'm just working with one [year] contract. It's not too easy. It's not too easy for me. You think about it. It doesn't matter, you're still human. It doesn't matter your confidence level or something, you still think about this. I think I want to get some more stability. Maybe this will be nice if we get a couple of years or three years contract. It's true. This will be good for my family."

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Jake McCabe earned high praise from Brad Marchand in the handshake line following Game 7. 

"Helluva series, man," the Bruins captain told the Leafs defenceman. "You were f—king unreal. You led the team. Great job."

Marchand was wearing a microphone during the game and the exchange was posted as part of the Bruins' 'Behind the B' series. 

Before the do-or-die tilt, Keefe spoke about how much the 30-year-old McCabe had grown since his playoff debut a year earlier. 

"He's been tremendous," Keefe said on Saturday morning. "He's gotten better as the series has gone along here. Obviously been extremely physical, scored us a massive goal in here in Game 5 to get us going. You can tell he's just far more comfortable, not just in the playoffs, but within our team."

McCabe was acquired days before the deadline last season. He has one year remaining on his contract.  

"He really feels a big part of our group now, which he certainly is," Keefe said. "And with that, his leadership has really stepped up and his overall confidence has has improved."

McCabe finished last year's playoffs minus-seven. He broke even this year while averaging 21 minutes and 24 seconds of ice time, which was third on the team. 

"He was very open with me, you know, when the playoffs ended last year, how disappointed he was in himself," Keefe revealed. "He found that to be a big jump. He sort of vowed to be better the next time around and, having learned from that, he certainly has delivered to this point."