‘We need more snot to our game’: Why the Maple Leafs got noisier, nastier

Luke Fox joins the Jeff Marek Show to discuss the Toronto Maple Leafs bringing in defenceman Ryan Reaves and forward Max Domi and dissect the new additions claiming both players will have a significant impact on the Maple Leafs' locker room.

TORONTO – Sitting in the stands watching a typical Toronto Maple Leafs morning skate, late in the regular season, an employee of that night’s Western Conference opponent turned and asked a beat reporter: “Man! Is this how Leafs practices always are? Are they usually this quiet?”

Yes. The Leafs are, comparatively, a silent bunch.

We’ve had the privilege of touring the league, so we can write confidently that the Maple Leafs’ dressing room and practices — if you discount the early-2000s rap and rock anthems coach Sheldon Keefe is happy to have pumped into Ford Performance Centre between whistles — lean toward the not-so-boisterous.

Now, perhaps that comes with the intense media scrutiny or the low-lying but mounting tension that comes with all their painful playoff loses.

It doesn’t necessarily mean there is something rotten in the room, as some jump to conclude.

But it is something noticed by those in management and those designing plays.

To the point where Sheldon Keefe has not hesitated to extol the virtues of veteran chatterboxes and brief Leafs like Joe “Nicknames for Everyone” Thornton, Ryan “First On, First Off” O’Reilly, and Luke “The Human Eraser” Schenn when they swing through town and try to rally the boys and chase immortality.

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It did not go unnoticed that Keefe noted, shortly before eliminating the Lightning in Tampa Bay this past spring, that 2023’s Round 1 was the first series in which the whole team ate dinners together on the road.

Even when the head coach hesitated to give Wayne Simmonds ice time, he was always in favour of the energy and volume the charismatic fourth-liner injected into the bench. And Auston Matthews lit up every time Simmonds’ name was brought up.

One reason why it was important for Jake Muzzin to keep travelling and hanging around the group last winter, even after it became apparent that he would no longer lace ’em up, is because Muzzin initiated conversations. He chirped. He listened. He laughed.

And prior to his declining health, Muzzin would take the lead and arrange team outings, like a road trip to an NFL game or a golf excursion.

Leafs life was on track to grow a notch quieter with Muzzin inactive and O’Reilly and Schenn packing for Music City. And judging by the moves the new GM made after a month of grinding through internal meetings, Brad Treliving prioritized ratcheting up the racket.

Well, much like Public Enemy and Anthrax, surprise collaborators Ryan Reaves, Max Domi, and Tyler Bertuzzi are coming to bring the noise.

“I don’t ever come into a locker room shy or quiet. I tend to come in and start chirping people right away. Just kind of get that over with,” says Reaves. “I don’t play a lot of minutes. I don’t score a ton of goals. So, a lot of what I do as a physical player are making sure guys feel safe on the ice and chirping, getting guys space.”

While Reaves will been handsomely paid — through age 39 — for his nine minutes of exercise per game, Treliving has made it clear the pricy, punchy addition has as much to do with the personality as the athlete.

“Off the ice, for me, I take that very seriously. I like to plan the parties. I like getting the boys together. I like getting together on the road,” says Reaves, from his off-season home in Vegas, where he reached the 2018 final with the Golden Knights.

“If somebody tends to not come to events, I tend to just make sure everybody’s there. Because it’s really important. The best teams I’ve been on are the teams that everybody is together all the time off the ice. The worst teams I’ve been on is when you have little cliques that hang out together and you never really get the full group together.

“So, I’m not exactly sure what the locker room is. I heard it’s quiet, but I don’t know if it’s cliquey or whatever. So, if it is, we can address it. If not, then — I’ve heard it’s a great locker room. So, I think I’m just going to make sure that everybody’s together all the time and draggin’ guys into whatever we need to do to feel like a complete team.”

We’re not sure if that’s a promise or a threat.

Regardless, it’s an element Treliving & Co. have identified as important.

Yank ’em to the party, then drag ’em into the fight.

Such commotion should be expected on the ice as well.

Domi and Bertuzzi are no shrinking violets.

They get to greasy areas. They cross-check back.

Gone are the days where the lightly penalized Maple Leafs crossed their fingers and hoped their power play would be their enforcer.

We can’t guarantee Toronto’s goals-per-60 will skyrocket next fall from these moves, but its scrums-per-60 sure will.

Things will get messy with a couple edgy wingers in the top nine, plus the sport’s most feared knuckler down the bench — and that’s a positive.

Hockey is still rough and chaotic, mean and bloody.

“We need a little bit more snot to our game. And I think [Bertuzzi and Domi] both bring a little bit of that,” Treliving told reporters Monday.

“As much as the game’s changed, some things have never changed. At the most important times, the rink shrinks. There’s no space. You need courage. And we wanted to add players like that.”

Of course, the potential for Domi to score 20 and Bertuzzi to hit 30 matters most of all, particularly with reliable producers O’Reilly and Michael Bunting walking elsewhere.

The GM says that although Domi has been “dying” to wear the same sweater as father Tie (hey, Sam Lafferty, want a Rolex for No. 28?) signing Max was no legacy play. He and Keefe have Domi slotted on the wing right now, but his ability to sub in at centre is valuable, particularly with Swiss army knife Alexander Kerfoot signing in Arizona.

That Domi is living a boyhood dream and has now tasted the semifinals encourages Treliving to believe he has signed the best and most mature version of a player who has bounced around the league.

“You can’t have players that have piss and vinegar but can’t play,” Treliving notes.

Naturally, Treliving is working just as hard as he expects his snotty new players to.

The executive was already “looking at opportunities” Monday after signing Sunday’s two biggest names.

Negotiations on Auston Matthews and William Nylander persist. There is a goalie to sign, a trade market being explored, and a salary cap for AGM Brandon Pridham to lock himself in a room and puzzle together.

“No food or water until he finds results,” Treliving quips.

John Klingberg adds offence to the blueline, but not the snot-piss-vinegar cocktail Treliving is thirsting.

“I like long D. We’ll still look at that,” Treliving says. “We still got lots of summer left.”

While Tie Domi secretly wished Max would one day be a Leaf, Reaves’s CFL icon father Willard, a wicked running back for the ’80s Blue Bombers, was less particular.

“My dad doesn’t really ever care where I go. But I think he knows how much I want to win. You know, when I called him and told him Toronto, he was excited because he knows the type of team that they have there,” Reaves says.

“He was a legend in Winnipeg. Hopefully I become a legend in Toronto. We’ll see. But that starts with winning a Cup. I think everybody will be a legend if we win a Cup there.”

Domi, too: “It’s gonna be a fun year.”

And a louder one.

Win or not.

Fox’s Fast 5

• Klingberg’s contract comes parceled with 10-team no-trade list.

• Bertuzzi was a beast in his one and only NHL playoff series, scoring five goals and adding five assists for Boston in its seven-game bow-out to the Florida Panthers. Looked pretty comfortable wearing that Spoked B.

What would he say to Bruins fans disappointed that he didn’t go for a one-year deal there?

“I really, really did enjoy my time there. They’re an amazing organization. Amazing fans. Very passionate, just like the Leafs. Another Original Six team. I just… yeah, I don’t know. It was tough leaving. I met a lot of great people there, some friends. It’s just part of the business,” replies Bertuzzi, a Sudbury, Ont., native whose initial attempts were to sign for term.

“If I was going to do a one-year deal, I wanted to go to a place that had a great chance to win — and Toronto is top of my list. Be closer to family. It’s gonna be good to see them more.”

• That new Nashville Predators leader Ryan O’Reilly, an Ontario native, was offered the same four years and $18 million to stay with a contender in Toronto has the rumour mill running wild with theories.

“I had a really good conversation with Ryan,” Treliving said. “Ryan loved playing in Toronto. Loved our players. Loved the dressing room. I’ve heard: ‘Oh, what about the dressing room?’ He loved these guys. Sometimes when you’re from this area, there’s a lot to it. We wish him well.”

• Treliving also signed 26-year-old UFA centre Dylan Gambrel, a right-shot option who has scored 17 goals and 40 points over 233 games with the Sharks and Senators.

“You need lots of centres, lots of defencemen,” Trelving said. “I think he’s going to provide us with good depth.”

• The deadline for restricted free agents to elect salary arbitration is Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET.

Provided Toronto’s Ilya Samsonov does so — not a bad choice, coming off a career year and outperforming his $1.8-million qualifying offer — a second buyout window will open for Treliving midsummer.

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