One day before the NHL regular season is set to begin, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs have one question on their minds: Is this the year?
Speaking to reporters after the team’s final pre-season practice on Tuesday morning, Coach Mike Babcock said that “eventually, it’s got to be your time.”
“But you got to work to make it your time,” he added.
The Leafs made the playoffs last season, but fell to the Boston Bruins in game seven of the first round. Fans are hoping for different results from the upcoming season.
"There's an expectation of growth for (Auston) Matthews, (Mitch) Marner, (William) Nylander even (Morgan) Reilly," TSN Leafs reporter Kristen Shilton said. "There's an expectation for that defence to be better because the Leafs made trades so that it would be."
The team also added Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci in the off-season in an effort to improve their top four.
At the news conference, Marner was asked if this version of the Maple Leafs was the best team he has played on. The 22-year-old responded by saying “probably.”
Marner was an early hold out during training camp before signing a six-year-contact that will pay him more than $10 million a year. But he says he isn't worried about living up to the price tag.
"It's hockey. We've been playing this game since we were three or four so nothing’s changed," Marner said.
While his play on the ice was strong, Auston Matthews pre-season was clouded with news of his off- ice legal trouble. The Leafs’ superstar is facing a charge of disorderly conduct and disruptive behaviour for an incident last May in his hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz.
Matthews said that he doesn't get nervous the night before the season opens, rather he is "just anxious to get out there.”
“You know, pre-season feels like it was longer than the summer," he added.
Leafs centre John Tavares, who was the biggest addition to the team before last season, points out that the expectations are biggest inside the dressing room.
"We believe in our group and we want to play right to the end and we want to get to the ultimate prize,” he said.
As it stands, the Leafs don’t have a captain, but Babcock confirmed to TSN that the team will fill the spot by the Wednesday night home opener against the Ottawa Senators.