Auston Matthews, Leafs legend
Photo: Canadian Press

In today’s Leafs Links, Hayley Wickenheiser evaluates the performances at the Maple Leafs’ 2021 development camp, Brendan Shanahan reflects on the David Ayres game, Auston Matthews provides an update on his rehab from wrist surgery, and Elliotte Friedman supplies the latest rumours from around the Atlantic Division.

Wickenheiser has mixed reviews on SDA’s camp, high praise for Robertson

The Leafs Senior Director of Player Development, Hayley Wickenheiser, reflected on 2021 development camp, including her impressions of new Leafs prospect Alex Steeves, Nick Robertson, and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev.

Wickenheiser on Nick Robertson’s development camp:

I thought Nick had a really dominant camp. The nice thing from our standpoint was to see the way he was able to distribute the puck and his offensive playmaking — less forcing opportunities, a little bit more taking the play that was there. Of course, there was the consistency he showed from practice one through the last scrimmage today, and the ability to really rise up and dominate in this game.

Wickenheiser on Alex Steeves’ development camp and next steps:

I have worked with Alex now through the summer. He was here for about a month earlier in the Spring/summer. To me, he looks like a pro player on the ice. He is a man in the way he is built. His conditioning is quite far down the line. Playing at Notre Dame, they have quite the regimented system there. He continues to put in the work. There are no concerns about his work ethic or ability to show up every day and be a professional out on the ice. He is a very diligent and serious guy. I like his approach. I thought he had a really solid camp as well.

For Alex, the next step is going to be to play at the next level of speed and processing. He has the ability to make plays. We saw him finish off a couple of goals today. He has a good shot. He is very strong. He is powerful. Can he make plays under pressure at the next level? Can he impact the players around him when he plays with less skilled players as well? Those are going to be things that are really going to be the challenge for him at the AHL level.

Wickenheiser on SDA’s development camp:

I think SDA had a very slow start to this camp. His first two practices were not very good at all — self-admittedly. He struggled with the contact drills, the battle-type situations that we put out there. We challenged him to step up his game. I thought he had a really good first scrimmage, and today was okay. For him, it has to be a question of consistency and being able to compete every day that he steps on the ice — to elevate not only his play but the players around him.

He has a special ability to make plays and see the game like few others do in the camp, but SDA’s physical ability and his willingness to compete is his biggest challenge.

Brendan Shanahan reflects on the David Ayres game

Leafs President Brendan Shanahan fielded a few Leafs questions on a recent appearance on the Hot Mics podcast, including his feelings on the infamous David Ayres game and his desire to bring a Cup to Toronto.

Shanahan’s reflections on the David Ayres game over 20 months later

That was actually a really interesting moment. I watch the game from different spots — different vantage points — so that I have different perspectives on watching the game. For the second period, I was down by the zamboni by the ice. I like to watch up close. I saw him come in.

We weren’t playing very well. They were beating us and they deserved to be beating us. He came in late in the second, and it was bad. We scored a couple of quick goals. We should’ve had another. People were yelling, “shoot!” when we were crossing the red line, and it wasn’t a bad idea — with all due respect to David, who settled his game down in the intermission.

There was a shot of Rod Brind’Amour after shooting the puck into the net in a game where they were playing better than us, and he just sorted of looked disgusted. That was sort of my look, too. I felt disgusted by it. Honestly, I think our players did, too.

What happened in the third period was that one team galvanized and said, “We are going to stick up for this guy,” and I am guessing our players felt as dirty and cheap as I did — like, “are we really going to steal a game like this?” It is a no-win game. If we lose that game, it is the David Ayres game that we all remember. If we win that game, we are just a bunch of bullies and it’s the shittiest two points you’ve ever gotten in your life. 

At the end of the day, David Ayres is a really good person. I got a message with about a minute or two left in the game from our game-ops saying, “Here are what the three stars are going to be,” and I think David was #2 or #3. I quickly called up and said, “Are you effing nuts? I am disgusted and I am upset, but you better make him the first star. Let’s not be complete idiots and jerks about this. This is a moment. It is not our moment, but let’s not be small. You better make him the first star. And they did, and it was a great moment for him at our expense. But, hey, it is two points.

I didn’t go into the dressing room before the third period, but I know how I felt as a former player about the whole situation. It was just unfortunate. If we can be big about it and just say, “It was a great experience for David Ayres,” let’s just be big about it.

Shanahan on his burning desire to bring a Cup to Toronto after his championship success as a player:

I heard Tom Brady get interviewed one time, and he was asked to pick his favourite championship. His answer was, “the next one.”

I grew up here. I was born in ’69, so in my lifetime, I have not seen a Stanley Cup in Toronto, either. I was fortunate enough as a player to win three. When I was working at the NHL for five years, I always used to say that the fun part of working at the NHL is that you are invited to every Winter Classic. You make every All-Star Game. You make every Stanley Cup Final. You just never win any of them. As an executive, you don’t get to participate with the winning team or players. You’re an observer. You do get to experience those cities and those teams — players, management — are going through. It is just such a celebration. You saw it a little bit with Massai and the basketball team in Toronto. That was such a fun ride with the Raptors.

I have had the good fortune of experiencing what it can do for an entire city in Detroit. I would just love to be able to let Toronto experience that and be a part of that and have an impact so that everybody I grew up with, went to high school with, was neighbours with — not just the players on our team, not just our owners who are very supportive — the entire city of Toronto and anybody who lives anywhere who supports the Maple Leafs. I am driven to do that and be a part of that for them.

Auston Matthews is hopeful he’ll be ready for game one 

In his press tour on Monday, Auston Matthews updated the media on his status and timeline after undergoing late-summer wrist surgery.

Matthews on his current health:

I am feeling good. I have been progressing well. I have a couple more weeks until I can really get back to it. I am shooting for the home opener or the first game of the year. Hopefully, fingers crossed, everything goes well and I will be ready by game one.

Matthews on the decision to have surgery late in the summer:

It just wasn’t feeling right. After the year, we all kind of met, had some imaging done, and made the decision to let it rest and see if it’ll heal. I kind of ramped up skating towards the end of summer and it just wasn’t feeling right. I decided to be a bit more proactive and clean it up a little bit. I am happy I did. It has been going well and I am recovering well. I am really hopeful that I’ll be ready by game one.

Matthews on playing through the wrist ailment all of last season:

We were able to get it to calm down a little bit. I got a lot of treatment on it throughout the year to help with the pain and whatever discomfort was going on. Some days were better than others.

Matthews on the team’s mental approach after the disappointing vs. Montreal:

We absolutely can use it as fuel. There is nothing we can do now to change what happened, unfortunately. For us, it is putting our best foot forward, using that as motivation, and just being in the present.

Matthews on the faith GM Kyle Dubas has expressed in his core players:

It is nice. That is the feeling that we have, too. All of us believe in one another — every single person in this organization. We trust each other and have that belief. For us, that is more than enough. Whether people have a lot to say or a lot of doubt, that is really not anything we can control or care about. We are focused on one another, focused on this team, and what we can control. We are extremely motivated by what has happened in the past. We are putting our best foot forward and moving on.

Friedman: Matthews non-plussed by the wrist injury

On the NHL Network, Elliotte Friedman discussed his interview with Auston Matthews concerning his wrist injury as well as the latest news from elsewhere in the Atlantic Division on Jack Eichel and Brady Tkachuk.

Friedman on Matthews’ wrist recovery:

He is definitely not panicked about it. He is as calm as he ever is… It is a smaller brace thing on his left wrist. I think he has just started skating. Monday was going to be his first day back on the ice. He won’t be ready for the start of training camp, but he doesn’t seem concerned at all that he is going to be ready for the start of the season.

Sidney Crosby is going to miss the start of the season according to the Penguins. Auston Matthews definitely doesn’t feel that way. He thinks he will be ready to go at the start of the season.

Friedman on the latest with Jack Eichel:

The only thing I have heard recently is that CAA had their introductory meeting with the Sabres to see where the landscape is and where things stand a couple of weeks ago. Business picks up after Labour Day, and I think that the Sabres and some of the teams involved have been re-engaged a little bit.

I had just heard that nothing much had moved. One phone call could change everything, but as we have this conversation, I don’t have the sense that anything is imminent.

One of the things we are all curious about here: Training camp begins in a little over a week. They have physicals. What happens if Eichel comes back to Sabres camp? Does he have a physical? Do the Sabres say, “In our view, you are cleared to play and don’t need surgery,” when Eichel still felt he needed the surgery.

I think we are still in a holding pattern here. There were some teams that were talking to the Sabres last week. I didn’t get the sense it went anywhere. We will see where it goes.

Friedman on the status of Brady Tkachuk contract negotiations in Ottawa:

This week is going to be a big week. One of the things that Brady Tkachuk, Newport, and the Senators were doing is talking about is a long term deal. I know it was on the table. A couple of years ago, they signed Thomas Chabot to a deal that was 8×8. I think the two sides were looking at a deal that was similar if not exact. It was in that area.

One of the things that I was told: If it didn’t get sorted out at eight years or long term in the near future, they were going to talk about something a little bit shorter. I don’t think anybody has a desire for Brady Tkachuk to miss time in training camp. I had heard the shift was going to begin, if they couldn’t get a long-term deal done, by about this time to start talking short term.