TAVARES CALM BEFORE EXPECTATIONS SWELL
On the blue carpet at Monday’s TIFF gala (Tavares Inquisitors Film Festival) a bank of cameras and microphones was in position when the Maple Leafs’ new star came on set.
In his first major pre-season parlay with the Toronto media — after a summer of reading or hearing a slew of positives about his arrival and the future of the team — it was time to talk about getting to work and putting some pop in those projections.
But ahead of Thursday’s training camp medicals, Tavares was measured in his comments, no big pronouncements about regular season numbers for himself or his teammates.
The word playoffs was not uttered, never mind when the inevitable Cup question came up.
“You go into every season and that’s the goal,” Tavares said at the club’s charity golf tournament outside Toronto (cancelled due to inclement weather).
“We’ll just worry about the journey, getting ready for the start of the season.”
Not too long ago, the Leafs were being asked at this annual event if they had enough horses to make the playoffs, never mind go four rounds. That was before Mike Babcock put his stamp on the team and Lou Lamoriello, followed by Kyle Dubas.
The major addition was Tavares, who signed for seven years at US$77 million, returning to his hometown. He turns 28 Sept. 20.
After a whirlwind summer of fretting free agency, making a graceful exit from Long Island, getting married and then immersing himself with his new club, Tavares says he’s in the right frame of mind for what many hope is a long ride into May or June.
“I’ve been able to just be myself and live my daily life,” said the Mississauga native. “That was a big thing for me. Even when I was in New York and coming back in the summer, people were great to me. I didn’t want to change the way I live and who I am.
“Obviously, it’s an adjustment, being in one place as long as I have been. There is some familiarity from being from here, but there are still a lot of new things.
“Plenty of days I’ve gone out and not been recognized. I’ve had a lot of attention about people being happy that I’m coming home . ... That support has been fantastic. (Now it’s) just worrying about myself and doing what I have to do to be ready for the season and help contribute.”
He didn’t participate in too many of the club’s scrimmage games in the weeks leading up to camp, but did see some of Mitch Marner, whom Babcock indicated would be on his right wing.
“We’ve been on the ice a couple of times together,” Tavares said. “It’s just the energy he brings, it’s infectious. He has a lot of speed.”
Tavares has also been hanging around behind the scenes at the club’s practice rink.
“It’s good to get familiar with everybody,” he said, “the locker-room and the staff, get that comfort level, build those relationships and that chemistry you want to carry over to the ice and lead to a lot of success.”
Tavares has also grown a little closer to GM Dubas since July 1.
“A lot of guys look at his age (32), but it’s how much belief he has in himself,” he said of his new boss. “And I don’t think it’s an overconfidence, it’s just the way he carries himself and his ability to have his vision and belief in how things should be managed here, the people around him and the process.
“That was impressive to me — how he can get everyone on the same page.”
The Tavares chapter has begun.