Connor Brown acknowledged Tuesday that he’s been casually monitoring #TavaresWatch. Not too closely, but just enough for a lifelong Leafs to start dreaming a bit, right?
"Any team would be lucky to have him," said Brown.
The 23-year-old winger would love to welcome another local boy into the dressing room. He knows Tavares from summer skates – although not well enough to start campaigning him behind the scenes – and they even appeared in a photo op together 13 years ago when the American Hockey League’s Marlies relocated here from St. John’s.
The Leafs were the first of five teams to get a face-to-face meeting with Tavares and his representatives from CAA Sports. Kyle Dubas, Brendan Shanahan and Mike Babcock visited the agency’s Hollywood office on Monday afternoon.
The New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars remain in the running for his services with free agency set to open on Sunday.
In addition to working the hometown angle with the native of Mississauga, Ont., the Leafs are selling Tavares on their bright present and future. They have a young core of budding stars and are fresh off a 105-point season. He could help put them over the top.
"I think we’ve put the blueprints in here and we really believe in what we’re doing," said Brown, appearing at a kickoff event for Smashfest – Dominic Moore’s annual charity ping-pong tournament for NHLers which will be held Aug. 1 in downtown Toronto. (Perhaps Tavares will receive an invite.)
"We think we’re close to doing something special," Brown added. "Obviously last year didn’t end the way we wanted [with a Game 7 loss to Boston in the first round], but there were a lot of good building blocks and we’re going into next season with a good feeling."
Moore was a depth member of that team in his second go-around with his hometown Leafs. He’s played 897 games during his NHL career with 10 different organizations and is a free agent himself this summer.
Asked whether Tavares – sixth in points-per-game among NHLers since the start of the 2012-13 season – would elevate the Leafs to a top-level contender, he paused.
"It’s so hard to say. Every team is asking that question other than Washington right now," said Moore. "Every team is saying ‘Where are we? What do we need? What were we missing?’ Whether you made the playoffs or not, you’re always trying to answer that question to get better.
"For the Leafs, it’s hard to know. There’s so many variables that go into success in the playoffs. Washington would describe what gave them success this year, but sometimes it’s adding a story after the fact and you’re not necessarily sure what the special ingredients were."
Still, Brown and his teammates wouldn’t mind finding out.
He’s spent the last four seasons playing in his hometown – two with the Marlies, then two with the Maple Leafs – and lives here year-round. Other than the odd hello on the street, he feels like there’s more privacy than people think in the city.
"It’s all I’ve known, but I’ve loved it," said Brown. "I think Toronto’s done such a good job of kind of shielding it. Everyone says it’s such a big media market but for me I haven’t [found] it too overwhelming. It’s been awesome.
"It’s a really cool experience to play at the ACC."