Why Dominic Moore came back to the Toronto Maple Leafs

Dominic Moore joins Prime Time Sports to talk about being a veteran presence on the Toronto Maple Leafs and discusses his Smashfest charity ping-pong tournament.

TORONTO — The phone call Dominic Moore received last week from a teenage kid drilled home a salient point.

The Toronto Maple Leafs he’ll be joining this summer are not the same Maple Leafs that traded him away in 2009, when Moore was in the midst of his most productive offensive campaign.

Auston Matthews — the reigning Calder champion and assumed choice for next Leafs captain — took a few minutes break from vacation to dial up Moore, one of three veterans the club added to its mix of young and younger within the first 48 hours of free agency’s opening.

“It was very mature, a great thing for a young guy like that, to know he’s a leader, to make that call and welcome me into the squad. It’s something I really appreciated,” says Moore, who sat down with Sportsnet.ca Tuesday to promote Smashfest, his annual charity ping-pong tournament. “That speaks to the kind of character the team has, and I think that starts from the top.

“I just told him I can’t wait to get going.”

As a faceoff black belt, penalty-killing machine and plug-and-play great team guy, Moore is no stranger to the short-term contract.

Last summer, Moore languished on the UFA market until coming to terms with the Boston Bruins on Aug. 30. The depth centre then responded with 11 goals (his highest total in seven years), a plus-2 rating in a defensive role, and a 54.6 faceoff win percentage.

This summer, knowing fourth-line pivot Brian Boyle was headed elsewhere, Toronto called Moore as soon as the negotiating window for free agents cracked.

Moore, a Harvard grad making his 12th NHL sweater change, last employed an agent four years ago, when he amicably parted with Larry Kelly. Now the 36-year-old handles all his own negotiations.

“I wanted to simplify the process. If we were doing this interview and you had to ask someone the question and they translated it to me and I went back through them, things get confusing that way sometimes,” Moore, 36, explains. “It was better to do things face-to-face.”

Moore, a native of Thornhill, Ont., immediately flew to Toronto and met with Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Lou Lamoriello.

“I always find it better to be direct, so it was great to sit down with them. I was fortunate this year to have some good options [thanks to] a good season in Boston last year. You want to make the best decision you can,” Moore says.

Other offers sat on the table, including a return to Boston, where Moore was especially impressed with the Marchand-Chara-Bergeron leadership core. But it’s not as if he wore out the carpet pondering a decision.

“For me, all things considered, this was a no-brainer. Not just because it’s home. More so because it’s a great opportunity to join a great team,” Moore says. “I’m happy with how things played out.”

He quickly inked a one-year pact with the Maple Leafs worth $1 million. Moore and his wife, Mary, will start to home-hunting in Toronto after he throws Smashfest VI Thursday and raises thousands more dollars for rare cancer research.

“We added a veteran forward to go into our fourth-line [centre] slot, who can kill penalties and also move up in the lineup if necessary,” Lamoriello said upon signing Moore. “He has great legs, he still skates well and fits in with the type of game Mike [Babcock] plays, so we feel very good about that.”

The message from Leafs brass to Moore: You be you.

The first time Moore became a Maple Leaf he was plucked off waivers from Minnesota midway through the 2007-08 campaign and coached by Paul Maurice. He wore No. 19 and was promoted to alternate captain and Toronto’s top line the following season under Ron Wilson.

Moore was scoring at a peak rate — 41 points through 63 games — in 2008-09 and drumming up nice chemistry with sniper Jason Blake before newly installed Leafs GM Brian Burke dealt him at the trade deadline to Buffalo for a second-round pick used to select Jesse Blacker, a defenceman of one NHL game played. (Nik Antropov, another Leafs forward on an expiring deal, was also rented for a second-rounder, to the Rangers.)

“It was disappointing,” says Moore, thinking back to the inherit passion sewn into your childhood’s favourite sweater.

“I had to earn Ron Wilson’s trust. He did trust me and used me a lot. Production-wise, it was a good season for me personally. Then there was a general manager change around Christmastime that year, and I ended up getting traded.”

Fast-forward eight years and eight teams.

As a rival Bruin this past season, the uniqueness of the emerging Maple Leafs’ style wowed Moore.

“They seem to play the game at a speed that other teams aren’t playing. That’s a testament to the coaching staff, what they’re trying to instill in them on a daily basis. The speed and skill of the team is at an incredible level,” says Moore, who works tennis into his off-season training. “Up and down the ice, transitioning both ways. Down and back at lightning speed.

“It’s more than potential right now. I think they’ve proven what they can do, and hopefully we can build on that.”

All three of the free agents Toronto attracted this summer have something in common: they’ve all been to a Stanley Cup Final.

Moore was thrilled when he learned that Patrick Marleau — an old pal from his brief San Jose stint and the only Leaf he knows well — would be joining him in Toronto.

“When you go to eat, he was the guy I felt we had a good connection. I have a ton of respect for all he’s accomplished. For everything he’s done on the ice, he couldn’t be a more humble guy. The little preparation things, the fitness things—those are things he’d talk about at dinner. We approach preparation in a similar way,” Moore says.

“So when I heard he’d signed the next day, I was super pumped from a personal standpoint, in terms of he’s a guy I really respect and like. And from a team perspective? Wow. I was already excited about the opportunity but all the more so with him joining.”

The instant Moore sat down with Shanahan and Lamoriello in late June, he sensed this time would be nothing like the last.

“The whole atmosphere around the organization feels different to me now,” says Moore, all hope and happiness. “Diligent is a word I would use. Detailed and diligent. Everything seems conscientious. Those are things I appreciate as a player and try to bring as a player.”

Naturally, Moore will bring leadership and guidance, but he’ll also do his best to boost a still-developing team whose PK units and faceoff success rank around the middle of the pack.

“I’m comfortable. I’m established, having proven what I can do, from my on-ice role to whatever it may be in terms of helping the team reach the next step,” Moore says.

“I’ll probably learn something from Auston Matthews, and he’ll learn something from me.”