It’s a familiar feeling for the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team started their 2019-2020 season on Thursday at the Ford Performance Centre in Etobicoke.
Seventy-five players were invited to participate in the team’s training camp in St John’s, N.L., but the main focus of the day was about who was noticeably absent from the group.
Last season’s leading goal scorer and restricted free agent Mitch Marner was not present as he remains in a contract dispute with management, something the team experienced with winger William Nylander in 2018. Kyle Dubas, the team’s general manager, gave no indication whether the two sides were close to a deal.
“We won’t have anything from our end until there is a solution to the matter one way or the other. Until we have something finished beyond that it will be radio silence from us,” said Dubas.
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With the team getting set to kick off training camp on Friday and the regular season on Oct. 2, Dubas wouldn’t say which side is to be blamed for the holdout.
“Mitch is a great player. He’s a great person that comes in here every day and brings great energy and enthusiasm,” Dubas said.
“He’s obviously had a great three years here, so we’re just focused on trying to bring it to an end and always keep that in mind regardless of what the noise is around the situation.”
Dubas, who was involved with a similar contract stalemate with Nylander last season, said there were lessons learned and are hopeful they can get things resolved before the start of the season.
“I’m optimistic that we will. You don’t want to envision the team missing players at any point and we’re hopeful to get it done,” he said.
Head coach Mike Babcock, who chose not to put too much weight on the dispute, said his main focus was working with the current roster in front of him.
“Well we only have one guy not coming so far, right? I’m optimistic every day. We’ve been through all that over and over again and we’re gonna figure it out as we go here,” said Babcock.
And Marner’s teammates echoed Babcock and Dubas’s sentiments.
“Mitch not being here is unfortunate but there’s nothing we can do about it right now. We have talked to him, we’ve reached out and he’s doing what he has to do and the team is doing what it has to do in order to get him here,” said Morgan Rielly.
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“As players we have to look after this room and look after this training camp and make sure it’s competitive and make sure that come opening night we’re ready with or without him so we’re taking care of our own business.”
Nylander, who didn’t resolve his contract dispute until the Dec. 1 deadline, said he has reached out to Marner and has given him some advice on the process. He said he believes a deal will be reached between the two sides.
So while Leafs nation awaits a resolution, they can only hope that things won’t drag on as long as it did last season.
The team will begin its on-ice sessions on Friday and will play its first preseason game against the Senators on Tuesday.