Maple Leafs excited by 'different elements' brought by Reaves, Domi and Bertuzzi
Toronto Maple Leafs teammates Max Domi, left, and Ryan Reaves laugh at practices during the opening week of their NHL training camp in Toronto, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, September 22, 2023 6:45PM EDT
TORONTO - Ryan Reaves wasn't going to sign just anywhere.
Max Domi, meanwhile, dreamt of pulling on the blue and white jersey since childhood.
And Tyler Bertuzzi jumped at the chance to play for another Original Six franchise.
The Toronto Maple Leafs remade a chunk of their forward group - new general manager Brad Treliving described it as adding “a little more snot to our game” back in the summer - during a dramatic off-season of change.
The big names, including stars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares, remain in place after the organization finally broke through last spring and advanced in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
The supporting cast of characters, and what they're expected to bring, is vastly different.
“Those three guys, to me, are competitors first and foremost,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of Reaves, Domi and Bertuzzi. “We've got guys that, no matter what the game brings or what it calls for, they're comfortable ... sometimes they're going to raise the temperature.
“They're confident playing in that environment.”
Toronto finally broke through in the playoffs by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning before falling to the Florida Panthers in a series that saw the Leafs pushed around at times.
“All bring a lot of piss and vinegar, or snot, I guess everyone's been saying,” Marner said of the additions. “All the guys we've brought in have been very vocal, all been great in the locker room.
“They all bring a lot of energy, all bring different skills to our team that we're very excited to see.”
The enforcer role was basically eliminated in the NHL over the last decade as the game evolved, but Reaves, 36, has found a niche and stayed relevant.
When the Leafs came calling July 1 offering a three-year, $4.05-million contract, he was sold for a host of reasons.
“The talent that's on this team,” the hulking winger said as he went down the list. “Them getting over the hump in playoffs, I think was a big exhale for this organization. It was probably pretty emotional after that. Now that little burden's off the back. Sky's the limit for this team.
“I told (the Minnesota Wild) at the end of the year, I wasn't leaving unless it was to a contender. And when Toronto called and after we talked that was really the only option.”
Domi's links to the Leafs run deep.
The 28-year-old's father, Tie, was a fan favourite from 1995 through 2006 thanks to his hard-nosed, glove-dropping style.
The younger Domi, who signed for one year at $3 million, has more skill than dad, but doesn't mind when things get heated.
“They've done a great job of building a real special group here,” he said. “Just having the opportunity to come in and help in any way we really can is a massive privilege.”
Bertuzzi, who's also 28 and inked a $5.5-million deal for 2023-24, comes to Toronto after being drafted by the Detroit Red Wings a decade ago and getting traded to the Boston Bruins last season.
“Energy, get in front of the net, grind it out,” Bertuzzi, who's on the top line with Matthews and Marner to start camp, said of his game. “Try to create some space for those guys and just bring energy.”
And it's not lost on him he's now on a third team dripping with history.
“Pretty cool opportunity to play for Original Six franchises,” Bertuzzi said. “Very grateful.”
Domi started camp on a line with William Nylander, while Reaves will likely slot in on the fourth unit, which spreads out the new faces - and their traits - across the lineup.
Treliving also mentioned he felt Toronto's group was “quiet” after signing Reaves.
If that was ever an issue, it won't be now with one of the game's biggest personalities calling Scotiabank Arena home.
“I don't see where the locker room problem is,” Reaves said. “I see a very tight-knit group that goes out and has a good time together. I just hope to add a little more swag, a little more volume, I guess, which I think a couple of the new guys are also going to add.
“I'm not trying to come here and reinvent anything.”
The six-foot-two, 225-pound Reaves and the five-foot-10, 208-pound Domi went toe-to-toe in a battle drill this week at camp.
Neither gave an inch.
Bertuzzi, at six feet and 200 pounds, is another solid frame unafraid of the rink's dirty areas.
“Bertuzzi and Domi ... they play their best when the games are most competitive, and they've got a great skillset to score,” Keefe said. “And Reavo's done his job as good or better than anybody in the league for a number of years. You've got them on three different lines, it's a good mix.
“There's some different elements there that we maybe haven't had an abundance of in the past.”
The Leafs hope it's the right combination.
Ilya Samsonov is Toronto's undisputed No. 1 goaltender after going 27-10-5 with a .919 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average in 2022-23.
The Russian then went to arbitration to secure a one-year, $3.55-million contract this summer after the two sides couldn't agree on a new deal.
“It's a little bit unique that the first time you meet your goaltender is at the courthouse,” Treliving, who replaced former GM Kyle Dubas in the spring, said at the time. “We kind of joked about that.”
Samsonov, 26, said this week there are no hard feeling about a process that can sometimes test nerves and emotions.
“This is my future,” he said. “Just the business.”
JONES PAYS HOMAGE
Goaltender Martin Jones is in tough to make the roster with Joseph Woll all but cemented as Samsonov's backup.
That didn't stop him from going all-out with a new mask that features Toronto netminders of the past, including Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour.
“A lot of great history here,” said the 33-year-old. “We were spitballing ideas with the painter.
“Turned out pretty good.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.