Even before knowing the outcome of the series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bob Hartley was in awe: Ryan O’Reilly was the most important acquisition in the NHL before the trade deadline .

The question had been put to him at the dawn of the fifth game by his interlocutor: which player would he have dreamed of obtaining between Patrick Kane and O’Reilly?

“O’Reilly, without even thinking about it,” replied the former head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, Atlanta Thrashers and Calgary Flames, in an interview with La Presse.

“He’s a playoff player. Patrick Kane is an opportunist. You won’t see him in the game, but you give him the puck near the opposing net and you know where it will end up. O’Reilly brings a lot more: the face-offs, critical situations in advance, his leadership, goals at crucial moments. »

O’Reilly was shut out in Game 6, where John Tavares played heroes with a somewhat lucky goal in overtime, but a goal that still got the Leafs past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004. even had an abnormally low success rate of 15% on face-offs during this encounter.

O’Reilly was nevertheless the Leafs’ most used forward in this encounter after Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. In six games, the 32-year-old had seven points, including the tying goal and assisting on the game-winning goal in Game 3.

“Where was he on that tying goal late in the third period? In front of the net, where you get kicked in the ribs, says Bob Hartley. Not everyone wants to go in front of goal…”

We can also guess the importance of his leadership in critical moments, after the first game of this series, among others, where Toronto was crushed 7-3.

“People often say the game isn’t in the locker room and it’s true. But it starts there, for example. Mark Giordano doesn’t have much playoff experience, but his leadership is worthy of a Stanley Cup winner. I had it in Calgary, it was me who gave it the “C” after the departure of Jarome Iginla. O’Reilly won in St. Louis. Despite the presence of Matthews, Marner and company, I am convinced that the room belongs to these two players. »

But O’Reilly and Giordano could never have had such an ascendancy on the team if they hadn’t had a leading role on the ice.

“When your veterans have an important role, they don’t mind getting up in the locker room,” our man continues.

Bob Hartley likes the way O’Reilly, winner of the 2019 Conn-Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, behaves in front of reporters.

“Not only does he lead by example, he speaks well. You see his ease with the media. If he talks like that in front of the microphones, imagine him in front of the players. And that, to me, is important. I saw the Bourques, the Roys and company. That’s what we lacked in Atlanta. »

Bob Hartley isn’t sure if Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe shares his philosophy, but once the playoffs started he tried to get as far away from the locker room as possible.

That’s why he was happy to have strong leaders like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy and Raymond Bourque when he won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2001, and why he would have dreamed of an O’Reilly in detriment of Patrick Kane if he had led the Leafs.

“The locker room belongs to the players. I try to go there as little as possible. I go say hello to the boys in the morning, then we meet in the video room. I go around the gym, the medical room to find someone to chat with. But I don’t want to be in the bedroom. It is their sanctuary. »

Our Franco-Ontarian from Hawkesbury has also always avoided throwing tantrums in front of his players in the playoffs.

“It’s too late to do that. If you are to bet on crises, place your pawns in season. We each have our recipes, but me, in the playoffs, with games every two nights, I had to show my players that I had immense confidence in them and keep a positive attitude. »

Blame in the locker room and shouting matches on the bench have never worked well in the playoffs, says Bob Hartley.

“You’re going to do ‘x’s and ‘o’s, but your body language is important, on the bench, in the locker room, between games. You congratulate the fourth line player who blocked three or four. It’s not talent that makes you win in the playoffs, but emotions, the desire to surpass yourself.

“You look at the guys at the medical clinic, you can’t believe they can play the next day, and they’re at their post. If you start yelling at guys, there’s something you don’t understand. »

Either way, players don’t have to get whipped by their coach once the season is over.

“I remember when they gave it to me in the hands on the ice at the Pepsi Center… I lifted it, bins, on the streets of Hawkesbury imagining it was the real Cup. I was Serge Savard, Guy Lafleur or Ken Dryden when I was a goalkeeper. »

Now let’s see if the Maple Leafs and their new leaders will help in the coming weeks to bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto for the first time since… 1967.