Both in actions and in words, the Toronto Maple Leafs are believers. They returned to the city in droves to participate in small group workouts and to serve as areas of quarantine early. And even with the final return-to-play of details yet to ironed out, and the NHL after having announced 11 positive tests for COVID-19 by the players last week, the Leafs are in the process of preparing for the 24-team reboot as it happens.
“I know that I am excited to play and our team,” said veteran Jason Spezza, echoing the recent comments of his teammates, Mitch Marner and John Tavares.
“I know that you read the reports that the guys (other teams) are unhappy and there are guys who do not want to play, but you’d like to think that it is the minority and that we’re going to go ahead here and play, and they will do a good job of maintaining security. I’m pretty optimistic about things, to be honest.”
Spezza is one of a dozen Sheets of players who remained in the Toronto area throughout the NHL break and joined the Phase 2 training sessions when they began in the team of the establishment at the beginning of this month. The locals have been joined by Morgan Rielly and Alex Kerfoot, who each traveled to the back of the bc, in addition to William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Jack Campbell and the teen Nick Robertson, who returned to the united States.
Rasmus Sandin flew in from Stockholm last Thursday and will be adding more small-group sessions, once his quarantine is served, and Tyson Barrie is expected to arrive this week.
They are ready to rejoin his teammates as the NHL is to double the allowed number of skaters for these sessions of six to 12. For Spezza, who has been a regular on the conference calls that are made by the NHL Players Association during the break, it was another step towards normality.
“The more guys we get on the ice it feels like the hockey and the more I think about it, it will shorten the track in terms of need time to play,” he said.
The stakes are very high here for Spezza, who celebrated his 37th birthday earlier this month. He has signed a league-minimum contract last summer to play for his local team and is now ready to enter in a bubble environment, which will prevent him from seeing his wife, Jennifer, and their four daughters in person for an extended period of time.
It is a sacrifice of the family has already been discussed, even if the Leafs will likely not travel to a hub city before the last week of July.
“It’s not going to be easy, especially after three months of really probably the best time with his family than I ever had with my children and my wife,” said Spezza. “It’s going to be a great fit, there will be tears, I’m sure that along the way. We are going to FaceTime.
“They understand that papa is a dream to win the Stanley Cup and there’s not too many more years left.”
Assuming that the NHL manages to pull it off, it is the most unpredictable playoffs of the tournament in league history. This is not only a four-month layoff, either. The teams have only two weeks of training camp and one exhibition game before the play-in round begins, this is why the Leafs wanted to maximize their time together during this phase of voluntary participation in the advance.
Spezza loves Toronto’s best of five matches against the Columbus Blue Jackets because this is a team that he feels that they do not take it for granted.
The Blue Jackets have swept the 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning last spring, and is seated at the side of the Leafs in the standings when this season has been arrested with 81 points in 70 games. They obtained the results in various ways, Toronto rating 53 more goals and Columbus for 40 less against.
“This is a team that we have a lot of respect,” said Spezza. “With some of the studs they have on their back end, it poses a lot of problems. I think it is good, however, it keeps you honest, and he gives us something really to work towards.”
They began to implement even before formally learning if the season is going to move forward. A return-to-play package that includes health and safety protocols, and the framework of the collective agreement of the extension should be finished in the next week.
Then, it will be subject to player vote.
“I think it really helps tie everything together and it all makes sense,” said Spezza. “I think that this is an opportunistic time for the two sides with a mutual interest to try to link the things together … so that there is peace in working with the troubles in the world now and give everyone a chance to get out of this together.
“I think there’s a big focus on this right now and we’ll see where it leads.”