A lot has changed since May 4, 2004, the last time the Maple Leafs were in the playoffs.
Since then, the NHL has endured a year-long lockout, added a salary cap and adjusted its on-ice rules. As for the Leafs, they’ve had three different general managers, three different head coaches and a revolving door roster.
But for one of the few remaining Leafs from that 2004 playoff team, one thing has stayed the same: A focus on doing what’s needed to help the team win.
“I go out there, play hard, and try and score every shift,” says centre Matt Stajan. “It’s the mentality I’ve had since I started playing hockey.”
That attitude has helped Stajan grow into his role as one of the dressing room leaders.
“It’s just the person you are,” says Stajan, 25. “On our team there’s a lot of guys with leadership skills, and everyone has to use them and speak up.”
Despite being one of the team’s longest-serving players, Stajan doesn’t want to speculate about the possibility that he could fill the role of team captain.
“I don’t even worry about that stuff,” he says. “You can just go out there and be a leader even without having a letter on your shirt.”
Even without anyone wearing the C, Stajan, recently dubbed a “top-six forward” by Toronto general manager Brian Burke, says there is plenty to look forward to as he enters his sixth full season with the Leafs.
“There’s a lot of excitement around the rink and in our dressing room,” he says. “All the new guys are great guys. We’ve all really gelled together here early in training camp.”
He adds that with Burke and head coach Ron Wilson in place, things appear to be more stable in the organization going forward.
So, can Leafs Nation begin planning the parade route?
“Our goal as a team is to make the playoffs,” says Stajan. “It’s up to us players now to go out there and perform and put it all together and get us back where this team belongs.”
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