The ‘All or Nothing’ series offers a glimpse into the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lives. You get to see the good, the bad, and at some points, the ugly. But what was it like being around them at every breathing moment?
Rob Worsoff, the showrunner and executive producer for the ‘All or Nothing’ series, had the privilege of being around the Leafs daily. He followed the team wherever they travelled. Worsoff was on the plane, the bus, the trainer’s office — he was everywhere.
“I was there every single day, in the bubble with the Leafs.” Worsoff said. “Dream of a lifetime.“
He and the rest of the crew were able to get access to almost everything. During every game, they had Sheldon Keefe, a player, and one referee wearing microphones. Everything — Worsoff heard. He was even in the dressing room before and after the games, as well as the intermissions.
The most significant thing, though, was there was only one camera.
“A lot of the ‘All or Nothing’ franchises are done with, like, 35 cameras.” Said Worsoff. “In COVID, we really only had one camera and one audio inside the bubble, obviously because of the restrictions. Our coverage was way limited.“
When watching the series, it might leave you wanting more. And if you felt like there wasn’t enough access, this was the main reason why. However, it also had to do with the lack of episodes. Each ‘All or Nothing’ series has five episodes, and Worsoff and his team had 140 days of footage to go through. There were going to be some scenes that were left out.
One scene, in particular, that was left out was how Keefe manages a hockey game for the Leafs.
“He [Keefe] was always 45 seconds ahead.” Worsoff said about the Leafs’ head coach. “In a weird way, what was going on on the ice wasn’t in his control. All that was in his control was coming up next. It was really cool to hear him during the game, and in my mind I was like: ‘What’s he talking about?’ and what he was talking about was 45 seconds from now.”
A big moment in the Leafs’ season and the ‘All or Nothing’ series is the loss to the Ottawa Senators in overtime. Toronto had a 5-1 lead that eventually got wiped away. During one scene, Keefe speaks with Jason Spezza about sensing that the team is becoming frustrated with him.
The reason behind that was because the Leafs were in first place in the North Division, but Keefe felt there was more work to be done. And in that same scene, Spezza says he agrees that his judgement on the situation was correct.
“Keefe had a real ability to see the forest for the trees. There were times where he was hitting the panic button when the Leafs were in first place, and everybody else was like ‘What wrong with this guy? We’re in first place, what more does he want from us?’” Worsoff said. “He seemed to be able to tell with great clarity where he needed improvement.“
When Ottawa scored to make it 5-2 before the end of the second period, Keefe knew something was happening.
“He [Keefe] just went ballistic.” Said Worsoff about the Leafs coach during the second intermission. “He could see that there was cracks in the foundation, and you could almost see him telegraph that the rest of the game.“
After that game ended, Keefe said that was a moment where he saw the Leafs team from the season prior.
But what’s most important to the Leafs is getting past the first round. Keefe was trying to correct those mistakes before they bled into the future.
He wanted to be in the now while also looking beyond the regular season. And after losses like that, some might think the Leafs don’t care. However, that’s an inaccurate narrative, says Worsoff.
“People often say at the bar or at work ‘Oh these guys don’t care. They make millions of dollars, they don’t bust their ass, they don’t care.’ And getting to live with them every day, seeing them grind it out every day — if you don’t care, you don’t last. And if you don’t care, you’ll just run out of steam. You could see them [the Leafs] with their heads hung in the dressing room, and the commitment that they go through every day. They care.“
It’s always been a back and forth narrative, even for myself as a Leafs fan. We see their performance on the ice, and that’s it. And although you don’t get an incredible look at the work each player does, you’re still able to see some of it in this series.
“It’s a constant grind for those guys. They earn every penny.” Said Worsoff. “They only have four days in their whole life: game day, practice day, travel day, and then they have an off-day which we’re constantly begging them for their time to shoot stuff with us on their off day. So they really had no days off.“
Being with the players, though, is something that Worsoff doesn’t take for granted. He even admitted that he was a Montreal Canadiens growing up. However, that didn’t stop him from developing relationships with the players.
Worsoff described Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl as “hilarious” and “great guys.” He even spoke deeply about former Leaf, Zach Bogosian, and the role he took in allowing them access to his life outside of the rink. Worsoff also went on to say that another former Leaf, in Zach Hyman, was “a fantastic and wonderful human being” and “really funny.”
William Nylander was another player who intrigued Worsoff. The 24-year-old carries a swagger in his game, and it’s apparent in the ‘All or Nothing’ series.
“Getting to see Willy’s cockiness, but also, it’s always with a bit of a wink. I think he sees himself as that guy in class who sort of misbehaves when a substitute teacher comes.” Worsoff said. “What’s cool about WIlly is he always kind of gives you that little wink. He kind of knows that he’s messing with you a little bit. And that was cool to see that personality emerge.“
He even spoke about Leafs’ captain, John Tavares, for a moment.
“As a Habs fan, I always sort of didn’t particularly like John Tavares. When he was on the Islanders, I was like ‘who cares?’ and when he was on the Leafs I was like ‘he’s boring.’ But, then I got to know John Tavares.” Said Worsoff. “And you know when people say things like ‘oh he’s the consumate professional, he’s our leader, he’s the captain’ and it always just seems like this canned bullshit? Getting to know Tavares, that guy’s a mensch. Like he’s a gentleman. He’s a fair, kind person who has tremendous respect for everyone around him, and he has a real ability to keep his cool. And he’s a great guy.“
The player that Worsoff wished they learned more about, though? “Morgan Rielly.”
“[Morgan Rielly] is a really cool guy that I wanted to get to know more, but he wouldn’t give us much. He was guarded, and I think he didn’t like the cameras around. And you know, you can’t blame him.” Worsoff explained. “But I thought he was really cool and I wanted to get to know him more and he’d never let — everytime I’d ask him to do interviews and stuff, he wouldn’t do it. At the end, after the season, he sat down with us. During he was a really cool guy that everybody loves, by the way. But he didn’t want to hang as much.“
Being behind the curtain, the camera crew got to experience a lot of situations. Some that are amazing, like Jack Campbell’s history-setting run and some horrible, like their game seven loss. Most importantly, the one that brings back the best memories.
“When the Leafs were up 2-1 or 3-1 on the Habs, after the game, everybody was eating and the Jets/Oilers playoff game was on. And every player on the Leafs was sort of watching the game like they were a little kid.” Said Worsoff. “It was like being back in highschool and watching the game with your buddies, only that it was the Leafs watching the game.”
But when it came to getting some of those moments on camera, it might have been a challenge.
“They [the players] were all extremely cautious with us. They were always cautious with us, but they don’t want to be looked at as the guy who’s looking for acolades and attention.” Worsoff said when asked if any player wanted to be more on-camera. “They sort of keep it humble. And then every once in a while they gave you a little glimpse. When they knew that we were getting frustrated, they’d give you a little something.“
Another big decision was finding the narrator for the series. Will Arnett was eventually appointed to be that person. Throughout his career, he’s shown how much of a Leafs fan he is, whether that was going to games or supporting them on social media.
Although he’s the person chosen to narrate the series, Worsoff said “there were other Toronto celebrities that were in consideration” to be the ‘All or Nothing’ narrator. He didn’t mention who, though.
But in the end, they chose Arnett.
“Will [Arnett] made sense not only because he’s obviously so good at voiceover, and he’s such a good narrator, and he does that so often. But because he was the most ‘Leafs fan’. Like he’s a real Leafs fan.” Said Worsoff. “Every time we were talking about a game, he watched the game. So he knew what we were talking about. Most of the time, it’s phony, you know they say, ‘Oh he’s a Yankees fan’ and you talk to him, and it’s like — no, Will Arnett really knows his Leafs stuff.“
Narrating the series, for Arnett, meant reliving one of the most challenging losses that this core has faced — game seven against Montreal. But for Worsoff, he was in the room after it happened.
“[Auston] Matthews and [Mitch] Marner were fairly catatonic after that loss. It was a very strange energy throughout game seven in that locker room. Time seemed to fold in on itself.” Worsoff said. “I don’t know how to describe it, but the periods seemed to be two to three minutes long. The next thing you know, we’re back in the dressing room, and it’s like ‘what just happened?’“
Rielly utters the same expressions in the ‘All or Nothing’ series. He explains that the game goes by so quickly that you think, “where did the game go?”
But after the Leafs lost their fifth-straight series in the first round, I wondered if this would be the final time it happens. The man who spent every day around this Leafs team believes so.
“There was a profound feeling of ‘we’re never gonna let this happen again’ in that room.” Said Worsoff. “I actually do think there’s a good chance the Leafs might be different from here on out.“
If we were to predict that Toronto would finally get rid of their first-round woes, Mitch Marner would have to be at the forefront. His skill and personality bring a lot to the Leafs, and it’s likely a massive missing piece of the puzzle in the playoffs.
Is it possible that we could see a new-look Marner in the playoffs, though?
“I guess time will tell,” Worsoff said.