Winning in Toronto “would mean everything” to Leafs’ Jack Campbell


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The call on whether the Maple Leafs re-sign Jack Campbell isn’t one for Auston Matthews to make.

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Yet if the superstar center were to look back at the Leafs’ crease at the season-opening faceoff in 2022-23 and see Campbell guarding the Toronto net, Matthews would be thankful.

Of the Leafs’ handful of unrestricted free agents this off-season, the retention of Campbell is most crucial.

Campbell demonstrated he is capable of being a No. 1 netminder and was able to put some struggles behind him to finish strongly.

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“He shows up every game, no matter what,” Matthews said on Tuesday. “He wants to be in there, he wants to compete. Throughout a season, you’re always going to have ups and downs, and I thought the way that he came out of those little dips was great. He had a really good last part of the season for us and played well in the playoffs.

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“We all love Soup. Happy guy, always makes everybody feel welcome and happy. It was really impressive to see him grow into that (No. 1) role and take it by the horns.”

Said captain John Tavares: “When I talk about the culture of the team, the work ethic, the commitment, there’s no one that buys in and wants to be as great and do everything he can more than Jack.”

What are Campbell’s thoughts on his hockey future? Since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in February 2020, the native of Port Huron, Mich., has become in love with Toronto.

“I haven’t had any time to think about it, I know it sounds funny,” Campbell said. “Winning here means everything to me. I love the city of Toronto, I love the fans, the support, my teammates are incredible, the coaching staff.”

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Would Campbell consider less money than what he might get elsewhere? He is due to a significant raise over his AAV of $1.65-million US the past two seasons.

“I’m still dissecting the playoffs,” Campbell said. “As far as I love the city and doing everything I can to stay here, that’s up to (agent) Kurt (Overhardt) and Kyle (Dubas) to discuss.

“The resources the organization gives us to make us the best player and person we can possibly be is unbelievable and there’s no excuse to not get better this summer. That’s where my head is at.”

Said Dubas of contract talks: “(Assistant general manager) Brandon (Pridham) will get to work in speaking with (the Leafs’ free-agent) representatives, get an idea of ​​what expectations are, we will begin to look at the marketplace and then make our decisions from there.”

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SPEZZA STUNNED

The dismay at losing Game 7 against Tampa Bay on Saturday remained evident with each player who met with media on Tuesday, but none more than veteran Jason Spezza, who spoke in a low tone and didn’t have his usual jovial candor.

Not only was it another missed chance for the 38-year-old to win the Stanley Cup, whether Spezza gets another shot as a player isn’t yet clear.

“It’s incredibly abrupt and difficult to end a season that we expected to be playing for much longer,” Spezza said. “You know that one of the two teams is going to lose the series, but we didn’t expect it to be us.

“It’s hard. It’s tough. It stings. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting yourself in the position to make the playoffs and to play in a series. The group has lofty goals and when it ends in the first round again like that, it’s jarring.

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“There’s no straight line to the top. If there was, everyone would try to do it. I’m very proud of the core group, the guys who have been here. They challenge themselves and buy into what is being taught. I really believed the team was going to break through.”

Does Spezza want to keep playing?

“I love the game,” Spezza said. “I’ve always maintained that if I can provide significance to the group, if I’m a contributor every night, then I want to play. There are conversations that have to be had with me and management and coaches, but this is the only place I would play.

“I’ve had to reshape myself as a player to survive, and I’m not the player that I used to be. I tried to contribute with everything I had every night. I think at times I really liked my game. At times I was frustrated with where my game was at.”

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Spezza is not sure how he will reset in the coming weeks.

“I don’t know,” Spezza said. “I’m a little lost right now, to be honest.”

LOOSE LEAFS

What caused Matthews to miss three games in April? “Little groin, little bit knee as well,” Matthews said. “Nothing serious, just the bumps and bruises along the way. Come playoff time, everybody is going through something and you just have to battle.” … Toronto native Mark Giordano didn’t say it explicitly, but the free-agent defenseman would like to return to the Leafs. “Everyone knows I’m from Toronto, I love it here,” Giordano said. “I don’t think it’s a secret I enjoyed my time here. I feel pretty good about my game. The way (the Leafs’ top players) battled and competed, I think those guys can push this team over the line.” … Jake Muzzin said he had “another upper-body injury,” believed to be a shoulder issue, that kept him out of six of the last seven games before the playoffs. “But I feel good now,” Muzzin said.

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