In addition to the season resumption protocols, the NHL and the NHLPA have also negotiated a four-year extension of the league’s collective agreement which includes a fixed salary cap of at least $ 81.5 million until ‘next year. For Toronto, the capital, it could add more pressure for the club to win now, but general manager Kyle Dubas doesn’t see them drowning in expectations.
” I know it [flat cap storyline] seems to be the story of the team and there is a lot of discussion about it, “admitted Dubas during a Zoom call with journalists on Sunday. “But I don’t think this season there should be additional pressure. I think the players have expectations and we expect us to be competitive and of course we are trying to fight for the Stanley Cup. I don’t look at the situation and I say, because the ceiling is going to be flat, this is our only chance to [win]. If we didn’t have our basic guys locked up for this year and next year, I might feel a little differently, very honestly, but I don’t think so. ”
Per capita, the Leafs have only about $ 4.6 million of space available for the 2020-21 season, and restricted free agents like Ilya Mikheyev, Travis Dermott and Frederik Gauthier in the new business market, not to mention unrestricted free agents Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci.
Although Dubas does not see this stagnant number raising the temperature in Toronto at the moment, he emphasizes the overall depth of the club, which will be on display during this two week camp.
Among the young Toronto entrants to participate are 18-year-old Nick Robertson and players who made their NHL debut for the Leafs this season in Adam Brooks, Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin.
Whatever the level of experience, Dubas said that everyone would be well shaken to decipher the club’s roster for a potential phase 4, where the Leafs will face Columbus in a best-of-five series starting August 2.
“What I would say to all of these players is that they are lucky to have an impact,” said Dubas. “They compete with each other. This is one of the great things of the next two weeks. We will have time to assess everyone and where they are. If Nick or Kenny Agostino or Adam Brooks step up and beat the door throughout the training camp, let’s give them the opportunity. The development of our young players will be enormous, not only for this short term, but now with the salary ceiling being flat, our development program will be essential. ”
Robertson’s inclusion has already sparked a tidal wave of excitement over the aspiring young prospect, who has just completed a sensational 55-goal and 86-point season with the OHL Peterborough Petes. . The Michigan native was a full participant throughout Phase 2 in Toronto, and Dubas will carefully assess his efforts over the next few weeks.
“I think the way it happens in training and in scrum and in games and with the way we’re going to organize the camp [will be telling]Said Dubas. “This is not a typical camp where in the past we had 70 guys; there is no possibility of getting lost as much as in a camp [that size]. It will be visible; we will watch it. ”
The Leafs have invited a total of 34 players to their next camp, and Dubas has said 28-29 should enter the team bubble when they head to the Eastern Conference hub (which is, ironically, Toronto) July 26. Dubas estimates that the club will have 15 to 16 attackers, 9 to 10 defenders and 3 to 4 goalkeepers as part of the group of 52 people who take up residence at the Royal York Hotel during the qualifying round, to ensure that no one remains in quarantine without a defined job to do.
“We want to make sure that every roster has a role,” said Dubas. “We didn’t want to have two or three more guys at the bottom of the list who didn’t really feel like playing. So maybe up to 28 or 29 players, and then we’ll have six-person coaching staff [consisting of head coach Sheldon Keefe, assistants Paul McFarland and Dave Hakstol, goalie coach Steve Briere and video coaches Andrew Brewer and Jordan Bean], [Leafs’ president] Brendan Shanahan and I from the management group, and then all of the other staff are people we consider to be the ones who directly benefit the player’s performance. ”
Dubas doesn’t see much benefit for the Leafs staying in their own hometown for the start of the tournament (which will travel to Edmonton for the conference finals and the Stanley Cup finals), other than the fact that “I guess we don’t need to take a flight to get here. What should make the difference is that in the past four months, the team has returned to full health (except for Andreas Johnsson, who may be able to recover from a knee injury in the second round of the playoffs) and that his head coach had a chance to catch up after being promoted in mid-November to replace licensee Mike Babcock.
“When we made the change of coach, Sheldon had an early morning skating session at Glendale [Arizona] to get the team ready to play for a game that night, and now they basically have full training with the coaching staff, “said Dubas. “And then we will have a two-week training camp to prepare the players, so I think there is also luck for us to that end. We are delighted to see this not only for the short term, but I think it is a great experience for Sheldon and will help and help him. And we’ve gone far beyond some of the injuries that plagued us at the end of the season, so more than anything, we’re very excited about it. ”
What is less attractive to Dubas is the prospect that Toronto will potentially make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season and also win first choice overall in this next NHL Entry Draft. In the NHL lottery on June 26, the best selection was given to a “placeholder”, requiring a second lottery which will be made up of teams that will lose in the qualifying round of this post-season tournament at come.
But it’s not the kind of consolation prize that Dubas aims to win.
“If you lose, you have a 12.5 percent chance of winning the first overall choice and all of these eight teams have the same chance,” said Dubas, “but for me, the probability of losing and then winning the choice is still so weak. , relatively speaking, and it’s so far from where our franchise is and what we’re looking for, that we don’t really see it that way. Our goal is to do everything we can to prepare our team to try to win 19 games. ”
Dubas said that almost everyone on the Leafs’ training camp list participated in Phase 2, and that the entire organization was very receptive to the protocols in place to protect themselves from an outbreak of COVID-19. This is yet another way in which Dubas has seen his team adapt over the past year, and he predicts that quality will continue to shine as the Leafs advance into their next chapter.
” I think [these playoffs are] a great opportunity for us to learn a lot about our entire group, ”he said. “The season itself, there was so much going on, whether it was coach changes or injuries. And the thing that I thought we learned about our group while we were going is that we had a bad time and we responded very well. We have shown the ability during the season to have better resilience than we have had in the past. It’s so different and it’s a major challenge. It’s an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup, being able to focus on what we do every day and our commitment to each other. I saw signs of growth of the group, especially during the season and especially during this last phase and I know that in the long term it will bear fruit. “