Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot ‘not overly thrilled’ with early contributions to team

Alex Kerfoot joins Hockey Central to discuss the transition from the Colorado Avalanche to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and how going through three coaching changes affects a player.

As the whirlwind quiets and the dust settles, Alexander Kerfoot has been gifted time to breathe, to reflect on a tumultuous 10 months that left him “not overly thrilled” with his performance in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform.

Why does the 25-year-old believe he under-delivered and under-produced, by his own standards, after the trade from Colorado and signing up for a juicy four-year, $14-million commitment?

“It’s a tough question to answer,” begins Kerfoot, speaking on a conference call from his boyhood home in Vancouver. “But I think there was just a lot that happened this year.”

The Harvard grad runs through the Coles Notes: How he didn’t see the Canada Day trade (as part of the Nazem Kadri deal) coming and how he never envisioned leaving the small-market Avalanche for the spotlight of hockey-mad Toronto, with its Everest highs and Atlantis lows turning heroes into trade bait on a week-to-week basis.

How he had to meet a whole new set of teammates and coaches, get used to playing more centre, get comfortable with head coach Mike Babcock — only to watch him get fired. How Sheldon Keefe overhauled the system and Vitamixed the lines, experimenting with Kerfoot at wing.

November was a particularly trying month. Prior to the coaching change, Kerfoot endured facial surgery to repair a broken jaw. He returned to action rather quickly, thanks to a protective face guard, only to get suspended two games for a dangerous hit on Erik Johnson’s numbers during his pins-and-needles return to Denver.

An out-of-character check he regrets.

“It was a weird stretch there. I came back from injury. I felt like I was playing horribly coming back from that, whatever the reasons were, and then go to Colorado, an emotional game. Then I obviously do that to one of my good friends. Felt horrible about it… It was a bad play,” Kerfoot explains.

“I don’t mean to make excuses, by any means. Just so much happened this year. There was a lot of things thrown at you.”

After scoring 19 goals as a rookie and eclipsing the 40-point benchmark in each of his first two seasons, Kerfoot managed just nine goals and 19 assists in 65 games on the Maple Leafs’ third line. And heading into the pause, Keefe wasn’t shy about wanting to see more offensive contributions from the bottom six.

Kerfoot draws a parallel between what he personally and the group as a whole should glean from the Leafs’ wild 2019-20 ride: consistency is critical.

“I really see some of the top guys in the world, and they’re elite every single game. And maybe my elite is different than their elite. I’m never gonna play as well as [Auston] Matthews or someone like that, but just bringing that consistency on daily basis is important,” Kerfoot said.

“I’m still confident in myself. I think that I could still be a big part of the team. I’m excited to get back and kind of keep improving and getting better and help out.”

To that end, Kerfoot has been making smart use of this unplanned family sabbatical. He’s cooking, devouring athlete biographies (Andre Agassi’s Open, Hank Haney’s The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods) burning through Ozark and Billions episodes, virtually joining the Maple Leafs’ morning yoga lessons, hitting the household gym, playing board games, and staying active outdoors with his hockey-loving siblings.

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The son of Vancouver Whitecaps owner George Kerfoot, Alexander also has the unique opportunity to lace up the skates in quarantine — something few North American hockey players have been able to do.

The Kerfoots’ place in Whistler features an NHL-sized rink, and Kerfoot says he and his siblings have used it a couple times.

“I’m able to do everything that I would want to from a workout standpoint, stay in shape, and I’m ready to go and whenever we need to get back,” he says.

Kerfoot is not only optimistic that, yes, the NHL will salvage a 2020 post-season, but that his best days as a Maple Leaf are still ahead.

“Last year, I could never have imagined getting traded and being in Toronto, but now that I’m here and we’re in this situation, I couldn’t imagine being back in Colorado,” Kerfoot says.

“Whatever your current situation is becomes the new norm, and so I couldn’t be more happy with the Toronto organization. We’ve got a great team, a great group, and I think that the future is really bright here.”

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