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In today’s links, Brian Burke, Bob McKenzie and Pierre LeBrun discuss the John Tavares sweepstakes and the Leafs’ pitch to the Islanders’ superstar center as he closes in on a decision as to whether he’ll stay or go in free agency.

Leafs Links

Brian Burke on the spotlight John Tavares would receive in Toronto (Fan 590)
Former Leafs GM Brian Burke provides his thoughts on the plus and minuses of playing in Toronto and how it may be the factor into John Tavares’ decision.

On what he would sell Tavares on with the Maple Leafs:

I think you’ve got lots of things to sell there. You’ve got a beautiful building. A great city. A great hockey market. But you’ve got good young players around him. I don’t know John well — just to say hello to — but at this point, getting some kind of hardware is important to him and I think that’s the primary thing. If you go in and tell him, “Here’s what we have: A top young goaltender, good young forwards around him, and we’re going to upgrade our blueline. Stable ownership. Spend to the cap every year.” So on and so on. They can paint a pretty good picture.

On whether he’d be selling the team over the homecoming:

That’s a negative for a lot of players. Everyone says they want to play in their hometown. This is a very tough place to play. You look at Auston Matthews and he’s 20. In the playoffs, when he struggled a bit, they turned right on him. This is not a fun place to play… When you’re playing well and the team is winning, it’s great. But that’s not all the time. When it’s not happening like that, it’s a very difficult place to play. I don’t think anyone ever says, “Geez, I’d love to play in Toronto.” It’s more like it’s the best setup when you add all the things together.

You’ve got 100 people that cover this team in the media, so when they go south, they all pick up rocks and throw them at different people. But there are still 100 rocks. In Calgary, we only had 20. If we struggled, five rocks would hit me and five would hit our captain and five would get our coach, and five would get miscellaneous people they hated, and it’d be OK. Here, on a bad day if there is a bad trade, there might be 60 rocks at the GM. Ask Phil Kessel sometime what it was like playing there.

McKenzie on Maple Leafs’ meeting with Tavares (TSN1050)
Bob McKenzie discusses the odds of where Tavares ends up as the decision-making process continues this week.

There is nothing significant that I’ve heard that would lead you to believe he is going here or he is going there. The reality is we have no idea. We can see that we heard the Leafs‘ proposal and whatever they did was very well received, and I believe it was. It doesn’t mean he’s coming to the Leafs or that he’s coming to the Leafs. It just means we don’t know. This thing has been happening in a vacuum, and Pat Brisson and John Tavares are the only ones who would be able to gauge the pros and cons of the various proposals. They’re not saying. It’s just speculate and away we go.

I can only tell you this: Anecdotally, people throughout the NHL, if I were to start calling people up — managers or coaches or whatever — they would say, “I think he’s going back to the Island,” “I bet he’s going back to the Island,” or, “I bet he’s going to be an Islander.” And yet, I think he’s got a somewhat open mind to the process and wants to see. I said it the other day — it’s a deeply personal and emotional decision. It’s got to be a rational decision, but any time you are making a life-changing decision on where you are going to live and who you are going to work for, those are big things. That’s big upheaval in your life. I understand why people would default to, “The Islanders are out of this yet.”

I have been handicapping it at 51% chance he’s going back to the Islanders and the other teams can fight over the other 49% and see where it goes. As we get closer to the decision, the 51% could become 100% one way or the other. It’s kind of like buying a house — if you have five or six places you’re looking for in all different neighbourhoods all over the city, as you go and look at each of them and talk to the real estate agent and talk about what you’re going to do, some of the places you probably know right away, “I just don’t see myself here.” Then, there are some places where you are like, “Wow, I could really see myself here.” It’s like love it or list it. You’ve got to go back to your house and decide whether or not you want to stay there or not, and whether these other places are better than where you are living.

LeBrun: Don’t count out the Islanders in Tavares sweepstakes (TSN1050)
Pierre LeBrun discusses how the Leafs’ pitch to Tavares went on Leafs Lunch.

The Leafs and the Sharks, I don’t know if I’d call it an edge, but they are the only two teams that got to present to Tavares this week that also presented to Stamkos two years ago, and you’d think there would be some knowledge in being able to do both. In the Leafs’ case, it did not go well, by all accounts, with Stamkos two years ago. I think, by virtue of the fact that Kyle Dubas was a lead presenter this year, that’s different anyway because he wasn’t last time, but also, I think they learned — from talking to a source at the draft — that they would approach it a bit differently. There were stories of an executive of Canadian Tire being in the Stamkos meeting. Every player is different, though. Maybe some players would have loved that, actually… your face on a billboard in Toronto. That’s just not Steven Stamkos’ personality, so it backfired.

By all accounts, the pitch on Monday went very well from the Leafs, but from San Jose — as usual — they’re low key and they’re all about, “Hey, you want to play with Jumbo and Couture and live in San Jose?” What else do you have to sell?

The Leafs are also in a different position than they were two years ago. When they were pitching to Stamkos, they weren’t the team they were today. Even though you could see it coming, they hadn’t actually gone out and done it. They’re closer to winning now than they were two years ago.

But don’t count the Islanders out in all of this. I still have to see it with my own eyes that he’ll leave the Islanders.

Rasmus Sandin and Mac Hollowell: A Q&A with Drew Bannister (MLHS)
Alec sits down with former Soo head coach Drew Bannister to discuss the games of new Leafs Rasmus Sandin and Mac Hollowell. “There were times during the year – and long periods of time, when Conor Timmins was out of our lineup – when he was by far our best defenseman,” said Bannister of Sandin.

The non-Tavares guide to what the Leafs need to do this summer (The Athletic)
James Mirtle takes a look at the needs down the middle, on the blue line, and on the wing assuming Tavares is not going to wind up in Toronto. He floats the idea of a Jared Spurgeon (RHD) acquisition, knowing the Wild want to offload the final year of Tyler Ennis’ $4.6 million contract and would like help at right wing and at the backup goalie position — two organizational strengths for the Leafs.

Analyzing the impact Tavares would have on the six finalists (The Athletic)
“The Leafs are not on Boston or Tampa Bay’s level, not yet anyway, but with Tavares they would be, with the potential to grow and be the league’s best team thanks to further development from the team’s young stars,” writes Dom Luszczyszyn.

Tavares should not fear Toronto homecoming, Connor Brown says (
“It’s all I’ve known but I’ve loved it,” the Maple Leafs forward said Monday at the Smashfest VII launch party in Toronto. “The team has done such a good job of shielding it. Everyone says it’s such a big media market but for me, I haven’t felt it too overwhelming.”