A day before the Maple Leafs’ shootout win over Tim ‘Superman’ Thomas and his Boston Bruins on Saturday night at ACC, assistant general manager Dave Nonis had a little chat about confidence with his players. Returning from injury, forward Colby Armstrong said, "Dave pretty much said that he just believes in our group. I think we were going through a time where it was tough for us. I don’t know if it was confidence or what. It wasn’t a long talk – pretty much just a little kick in the butt to the boys and also a little confidence boost.”
On Hockey Night in Canada, Pierre LeBrun indicated that Nonis told the players that they weren’t going to be moved anywhere. The coaching staff would not be changing. That it was completely up to the current group to dig themselves out of any holes they were in. No trades were imminent. I have no doubt that Nonis, and his boss Brian Burke, thought the talk would help the team. But does something like that work? Frankly, it depends on which team receives the pep talk.
Toronto is a unique city in the NHL. In fact, the only other city that falls roughly into the Toronto category would be Montreal. These are cities in which NHL players do not come by self-confidence easily. The pressure on the players here is overwhelming. It is not productive pressure. There is absolutely no way that living in the Toronto hockey environment benefits a player. It’s simply not possible. It’s quite the opposite.
It would be extremely easy for a young player in Toronto to suffer ongoing, never-ending crises of confidence. And, what do you know, the Leafs are among the youngest teams in the league. That’s why Nonis’ speech was important for the Leafs. He told the players that he and Brian Burke believe in them. They believe that the players here, and now, can do the job they’re being paid to do. Players in Toronto rarely, if ever, hear words of praise – especially this season. There’s always something wrong – if you believe the legions of half-informed fans and blood-thirsty media.
In other NHL cities, where nobody gives a rat’s red a** about hockey, the players don’t need pep talks. In Miami, they can throw it on autopilot in October and coast into summer in early April. No one’s the wiser. Doesn’t quite work that way in Toronto and Montreal.
Nonis and Burke are no dummies. Frankly, I think they could have given this speech a lot earlier. Like about a month ago. No matter. It worked on Saturday. And the Leafs have another tough match-up on Monday in D.C. We’ll see if Nonis’ “we’re-all-in-this-boat-together” speech has any lasting effects.