Seconds after the Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the underdog Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2021 NHL Playoffs, I immediately thought about the potential that Amazon's All or Nothing Docuseries and what it would uncover.
Much like how Toronto's run in the postseason ended, the docuseries will leave die-hard Maple Leafs fans with much to be desired.
WARNING: The following story contains spoilers
That's not to say you don't learn a few things as Amazon's film crew went behind the scenes with the club for the pandemic-shortened 2021 season. You learn a lot about Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas' day-to-day relationship with his staff and the players. You get a good look at Sheldon Keefe's coaching style. If you loved goaltender Jack Campbell, you're going to love him even more after this. You'll even want to hug him in consolation (more on all of this later). But one thing I did hope to know was how the team handled the hours that followed after that fateful Game 7 loss to the Canadiens.
That clip from August that first teased footage of Maple Leafs GM saying that his patience was "wearing thin." That's not in the final cut. I'm not a movie or television critic, but I'm told by people who are that using footage in a trailer that doesn't make the final cut is common practice.
But still, this was definitely one of the more viral, shared quotes from the trailer and it isn't addressed. It's not clear when this took place and it was left unanswered.
Much of the first episode serves as an introduction to the Toronto Maple Leafs, their history, and the story's significance told by Toronto-born narrator Will Arnett. The series will stream in over 200 countries beginning Oct. 1, so this sets up a primer (no pun intended) for the viewing audience. The series is mostly in chronological order and primarily tackles the first few weeks of the season.
There is a great introduction to all the new additions to this year's team, including Joe Thornton. The crew show him in a car listening to a radio segment on Sportsnet 590 The Fan where now Pittsburgh Penguins President Brian Burke questions if acquiring the veteran was the best use of their limited cap space. Thornton just continues to smile, seemingly humored while unfazed.
Following a 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 20, Keefe disagrees with star sniper Auston Matthews' assertion to the media that his team played too safe. Keefe and Dubas have a meeting about it in the GM's office about how to handle it best. Dubas says to tackle it head on and address it in front of the team and not let it linger. Keefe agrees but adds that he has to talk to Matthews about it first, which they do at practice. Everything appears to be civil in the on-ice discussion between player and coach.
In Dubas' office you see how his staff look at their roster and cap management. Every player has a magnet with their name, jersey number, height, date of birth, L/R shot, nationality, salary cap average annual value, contract type, waivers status, contract expiry and expiry status (restricted or unrestricted free agent). This becomes particularly useful as GM and coach discuss the taxi squad, a system of travelling players not on an active NHL roster.
Keefe is happy with his team's record ten games into the season (7-2-1), but not the one-goal game outcomes. While he appreciates there is progress from the previous year when they fell short in those contests, he wants to see his team demonstrate more offense. He's concerned that some of the younger players will feel that the coach is riding them too hard with a good record. He enlists the help of veteran Jason Spezza and shares his read on the situation. Spezza agrees that Keefe's read is correct. This is where you get a glimpse of Spezza's value to the organization and why he will probably be a coach someday if that's the path he chooses after his playing days.
This episode has a bigger magnifying glass on it after Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported last month that Ilya Mikheyev's agent requested a trade out of Toronto that wasn't granted. Dubas and Mikheyev have a chat where the Russian tries to express his lack of playing time and how he feels he isn't contributing in the way he'd like. Dubas tells the film crew that this happens at times with players all through the season and there where he steps in to take care of it so the player knows where they stand. Mikheyev appears to be ok with the response from Dubas. In a game against the Senators, Keefe watches some video between periods and is not pleased with Mikheyev's play on a shift. He grabs him aside after addressing the team and shows him the footage. He asks for Mikheyev to keep moving his feet.
In the midst of a scoring slump, John Tavares asks for a session with Leafs skills coach Denver Manderson. Tavares is learning that as his body ages, he has to adapt his game. He looks for advice from his legendary lacrosse uncle with the same name, who played until his late 40s and is the National Lacrosse League's all-time leading scorer.
Injuries start to hit the Maple Leafs. We see how Wayne Simmonds recovering from a broken wrist, Joe Thornton had a leg infection following his rib injury and Frederik Andersen has a knee issue. Campbell talks about the game against Calgary Flames where he tore his groin. After a collision in front of the net, a player asks if Campbell is ok and he replies with "I tore my groin three minutes ago but I'm going to try and finish."
There's a segment team's hairstylist that came to the rink for haircuts with the salons closed due to COVID-19. Campbell was so appreciative of the cut that texted him how much he liked it at midnight after one of his games.
Jimmy Vesey's struggled to find his game with the Maple Leafs. There's an on-ice conversation at practice between Keefe and Vesey where the coach says "we brought you here to make a difference and I just want to be sure you know that's it's been very vanilla". He implores Vesey to find something about his game that is going to be "his thing". Later in the episode Dubas delivers the news to Vesey that he has been placed on waivers. The following day Vesey's gear is packed up as the player is claimed by the Canucks. Leafs president Brendan Shanahan appears shocked at the claim.
There's a team leader's meeting with Tavares, Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner and Joe Thornton in Dubas' office with the GM and head coach shortly after the team's road trip through Edmonton and Vancouver in early March. Presumably absent with no explanation were Auston Matthews and Jason Spezza.
There is this odd comparison of starting goaltenders and ballerinas to kick off the episode and how the understudy is waiting to swoop in once the star makes a wrong move.
With the Leafs slipping in their game, Dubas addressed the team to stay on task and not slip up with the COVID protocols in place.
Leafs goaltending coach Steve Briere talked about the pleasure of working with Frederik Andersen. Later in the episode, when Andersen gave up four goals on 18 shots in a 4-3 loss to the Flames, Briere defends his goaltender on the type of goals that were let in, while Keefe is upset that Andersen couldn't stop one of the goals. It gets a little heated as Briere explains that if a goaltender has a bad day it also reflects on the goalie coach, too.
They never get into specifics about Andersen's leg injury and it appears he's not quite sure what it is. He says it could be little impacts in the leg that develop over time. But whatever the case, the plan is for him to not get on the ice until "he feels physically fit and able to do it."
This sets the stage for Campbell's 11-0 run to start the season. We get a series of new player introductions like William Nylander and Muzzin but you don't learn anything new.
The Alex Galchenyuk story starts in this episode. There is an on-ice conversation with Keefe about where he fits in. There is also a meeting in Dubas' office with Keefe and assistant coach Brandon Pridham about what their salary cap situation looks like heading into the trade deadline.
In Montreal, the team sets up camp in their hotel to make some deadline deals. You hear Dubas' side of the negotiations to land Nick Foligno from the Columbus Blue Jackets. You also hear Dubas' conversation with goaltender David Rittich, who was concerned about how he's going to get his dog to Toronto. While Dubas assures him they will take care of it, Rittich offers up the fact that the dog is named Alvin after Alvin and The Chipmunks. Dubas is laughing while not sure of how to process the naming strategy.
Things get more bizarre with Rittich on the ice when asked Briere to fire a couple of pucks as hard as he can at his head. He took a few shots off the mask in some sort of pre-game ritual. I'm kind of sad the Rittich era in Toronto wasn't a bit longer.
The episode closes with Zach Hyman's knee injury at the hands of Vancouver Canucks' defenseman Alex Edler.
The episode kicks off with Zach Bogosian FaceTiming his family. His daughter Mila is sad because the defenseman is going to miss her birthday party. He talks about growing up as a proud Armenian and gets emotional when talking about his grandmother who he asked to watch over him. Later they show Bogosian's shoulder injury sustain in Vancouver.
Foligno is in Columbus and is packing up his car for quarantine as he drives to his dad's home in Sudbury, Ontario. His daughter Milana makes a last-ditch plea and states that she's moving to Toronto, but is unsuccessful.
After quarantine, Foligno meets his new teammates in Winnipeg. He's humbled by the fact that Toronto made the best offer to acquire him. He meets Kyle and joking says Sudbury is "God's country and a lot better than The Soo."
The series tells the story about Nick's father Mike, who played for the Maple Leafs in the early 90's. In the game against the Jets, Thornton absolutely loses it on Nikolaj Ehlers accusing him of diving repeatedly. The officials try to calm him down in the penalty box but to no avail.
The season is winding down and the storyline shifts to Matthews' pursuit of the Rocket Richard Trophy.
Nylander organizes a day on the track with his teammates. Nothing eventful happens here.
The Leafs play a game in Montreal where Foligno gets hurt. He's on all fours in the hallway as his back has seized up. He's frustrated after having just arrived and missing time with quarantine.
Hyman is in recovery for his knee injury. He's asked by the crew about a 'secret club' that is emerging on the team called 'coffee gang'. Head athletic therapist Paul Ayotte explains that they have a separate trunk for the road that stores everything needed to make good coffee. Assistant athletic therapist Jon Geller is also right at the top of the 'coffee gang' list. Hyman and Marner are part of it. Rielly wants nothing to do with it. Neither does Campbell. "It seems a little intense for me," Campbell explains. "I just grab a cup of Timmies from the lounge." Foligno sneaks his way into the club because he brought in some fine roast one day and essentially bribed his way in. Bogosian was trying to get in, but did not appear to succeed. "
Andersen is back for one game. Shortly after his appearance, Keefe and Dubas agree that Campbell starts in the playoffs.
The final episode is all about the playoff series with the Canadiens. If you couldn't watch the footage of what happened to Tavares after his horrific injury in Game 1, this scene isn't for you. There is much more live audio on the ice as teammates were trying to get Tavares to calm down. You hear from the officials who tell the Leafs there was nothing to the hit from Montreal's Ben Chairot or the knee from Corey Perry.
We get a brief look at Spezza and his fascination with his sticks that we've read a lot about. In Game 2, you see Foligno's back act up again. Leafs win the game. With Tavares out, Spezza puts the winning puck into a puck rack in the shape of a Stanley Cup with 16 holes in it.
The Maple Leafs win the next two games to take a 3-1 series lead back to Toronto. Tavares is already on the ice skating on his own and hoping to be back for a potential second round. After losing Game 5 and getting badly out-played in regulation in Game 6, Keefe gives what could be the best pep talk of the series about taking the moment. It actually explains why the Leafs came out and dominated in the shot totals of that overtime session before Montreal went on to force Game 7.
Before the final game, assistant coach Paul McLean gives some good advice that it's probably a good idea to talk to Matthews and Marner to see where their head is at. They have yet to produce as expected offensively in the series. Dubas has a talk with Marner in his office just to make sure he isn't putting too much pressure on himself.
Before Game 7 starts, Foligno gives a pep talk to the team about how good teams excel when everyone does their job. When Montreal's Brendan Gallagher beats Campbell clean for the opening goal, the goalie says after the game that it shouldn't have beat him and that it was disappointing.
Now down 2-0 after two periods, desperation hits the room and every member of the leadership group chimes in to dig in more. The game ends, the Leafs are eliminated. It's a despondent group in the dressing room. Nobody is saying anything. Campbell is bawling and Spezza comes over to talk him down from presumably beating himself up over the goal he allowed.
The documentary ends with the same messages from staff about pushing forward and Dubas takes a marker to his lineup board and changes the year to 2021-22. This time, the board has fewer magnets up on the wall. Lots of positions are open as the journey begins again.
There was a lot to cram into just five episodes and perhaps there would be more if the team went on a deeper run. I think we could have learned a little bit more about how the team dealt with the next day and locker cleanup. They never addressed losing Aaron Dell to waivers early in the season.
The Leafs acquired defenseman Ben Hutton at the deadline but he's not mentioned at all. The show will have a tough time drawing in new viewers.
I think there could have been one more episode that deal with the 48 hours that followed elimination. The series just kind of ends abruptly.
If you are new to hockey and give this a try, it's kind of a massive spoiler to say in the opening minutes that the team lost again. For the diehards who follow this until the end, there's not going to be anything that reconciles what happened with the club.