After practice on Tuesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Auston Matthews’ status in his recovery from wrist surgery, his goaltending tandem, the hiring of peak performance coach Greg Harden, and whether the league’s crackdown on cross-checking could benefit the Leafs in their search for more power-play opportunities than seasons past.
Another step for Auston Matthews today. How did he look?
Keefe: He looked good to me out there in terms of how he is moving and everything. I know he was excited to be back on the ice with some of his teammates. It is a step in the process for him.
I am not sure where it is going to lead. I haven’t talked to anybody since. We think he is going to stay on a similar type of plan for the remainder of this week.
Is the approach that he will take part in half a practice and then make his way off?
Keefe: Yeah, he is basically doing the noncontact pieces — the stuff that involves skating, shooting, and passing is what he is capable of right now. He is going to stay on that plan. There is no set timetable or anything at this stage.
What has been communicated to me is that likely in the next couple of days, you will see something similar to today. We will re-evaluate from there.
He won the Rocket Richard while bothered by his wrist last year. What sort of potential do you see for him to take another step this year?
Keefe: I see great potential. Not just the health — which is, of course, part of it — but he is just going to continue to get better as a player and an athlete. He is committed. He is always working to add different layers to his game. He is a year older and more experienced.
The amazing season he had last season knowing what he went through — he wasn’t playing many games where he was feeling 100% — was incredible. It is exciting to know that he is going to be feeling better when he is back on the ice playing for real again.
In regards to goaltending, are you hoping by the end of camp that one is going to separate himself as the number one, or is it going to be something that all season long is going to be a battle?
Keefe: I would say that it is something that will play out over the course of the season. I don’t expect, in the next couple of weeks, there is going to be any level of separation there. Right now, it is just about getting both guys up and running and feeling good.
We are going to start the season with back-to-back games. We will decide who is going to play the first night and who is going to play the second night. We will just kind of take it a day at a time there.
We have two goalies who are very capable. We also have two guys who have been in this situation before where they are sharing the net and pushing one another. We expect that to be the case all season long.
It is a big deal on the outside as to who is the number one to start the regular season. But does it matter to you?
Keefe: It doesn’t matter to me. I haven’t stressed about it at all. As I said, we are going to play game one. We are going to get on a plane to go play game two the very next night. We are going to use two goalies right off of the start of the season. I expect that will continue for a good period of time. We like the ability of both guys to continue to push each other.
What kind of impact do you hope that Greg Harden could have on your players this season?
Keefe: We just think the mental performance side is an area the organization has been trying to grow for as long as I have been here. He has great experience. He comes in with a fresh voice and a fresh set of eyes in terms of what is happening here. He is a guy who is going to take his time to build relationships, to let the players know what he is about and how he can help.
It is not just players. It is coaches as well, and all departments of our organization. He is going to be in and out of town. When he is [in town], he is a resource for everybody. Even from a distance, he is somebody that I can talk to or the players can talk to.
He has a lot of great experience and can bring a different perspective on what is happening here. It is a nice addition for us. It is an area every organization is looking to get better in. I think we have a good guy in that department.
How did he end up on the radar for your staff?
Keefe: Our high-performance team led by Rich Rotenberg did a lot of the research in finding the right people and developing the list. Kyle, Brendan, and I worked through that.
You don’t hire someone like Greg Harden. He decides if he wants to come work for you. We are fortunate that he decided to come join us.
What is Pierre Engvall’s status?
Keefe: I haven’t gotten a report on him other than he was on a similar plan as Auston today. It is a lower-body injury that he is dealing with. Skating is a bit tougher for him. He got some work in today. It will just be a matter of how he responds to that in terms of where he goes from here.
What is Semyon Der-Arguchintsev’s status?
Keefe: Day-to-day. He got a little banged up yestesrday. He needed to take today. He won’t play tomorrow. We will just have to see how he is from there.
If the league follows through on the crackdown on cross-checking, is it something that could benefit the Leafs? You haven’t generated as many power plays as you would like in the past.
Keefe: We think so. Whether it is cross-checking or any of the other rules, if they’re called at a high standard and it is consistent, we think that would benefit any team with high-end talent. I think it benefits the league and benefits the game.
We will have to see how it plays out. Players are going to have to adjust. Certainly, we would like to have more power-play opportunities if they are warranted. Of course, with that, we have to make sure our power play is better than it was at the tail-end of last season.