Johnston: Maple Leafs’ plan to ‘build smart and build slowly’ will result in Marner, Nylander playing outside the NHL

Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

From dampened tracksuits to potentially disastrous predatory offer sheets that failed to account for a pretty important CBA article, Sportsnet reporter Chris Johnston has broken all kinds of colourful, interesting, and controversial stories in his career. 

This month Johnston has got a new sort of challenge though: tour the country and host four live hockey-talk shows in four different cities in four nights. It’s called Puck Talks Live and when the cross-Canada portion of the tour is done, there will be another exciting show in Toronto! The event will take place at on Thursday, Sept. 24 and you can buy tickets here!

Anyway we caught up with Chris to talk about why culture matters so much to the Winnipeg Jets, and also about the upcoming Puck Talks Live event.

The Leafs Nation: Do you think either of the Maple Leafs’ top prospects – William Nylander or Mitch Marner – will play NHL games this upcoming season?

Chris Johnston: Mitchell Marner certainly not. Outside chance, I would say, for William Nylander.

The Leafs guys will tell you up and down that they’re not rushing prospects. They’ve said it. They’re on the record with it. And I would be very surprised given that there’s not a lot of pressure on this organization to win or even show signs of hope – quite frankly. So I don’t think they’ll rush those players along.
With Nylander he had a good half a season in the American League last season and I suspect he’ll start there again. He might get a shot as the year goes on if he shows signs of dominating in that league, but I’d be very surprised if either of those players spend a significant amount of time on the Leafs roster. 
And I think it’s the right move. When you’ve fallen as far as the Leafs have, when you’ve rebuilt your front office with people who aren’t attached to most members of the organization, you have the ability to build smart and build slowly. I think that’s what they’re going to try to do, and that means keeping those top picks outside the NHL for the time being.

CA: Chris, what do you like about the Puck Talks format?

CJ: The best thing about it is that you never really know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what the questions will be, and obviously we involve the audience a lot and that’s made for some funny moments in the ones I’ve been part of so far.

To me what it does is that, pretty much everyone who is a serious hockey fan or who is involved in the industry in some way (whether it’s media or players or whatever) – we all have to deal with Twitter. Twitter has a lot of benefits but some of it is a little bit cynical, even hateful, whereas I find by actually getting together and having these events, you strip away some of that.

You have opportunities for actual discussion from people who come from different backgrounds – whether you get the pro-analytics crowd, or some more traditional reporters, or some former players as part of the panels. To me it allows for more free discussion about hockey. It’s a really authentic experience. It has kind of taken on a life of its own with the ones we’ve done in Toronto and now we’re taking it across the country.


CA: How did you get roped into accompanying Puck Talks on its first cross-Canada tour?

CJ: I guess I’m the first loser or something!

I’m not sure what happened there, actually. I did the second Puck Talks show that they did, and then I did the third and the fourth. It seemed to work well, and I got to meet the owner Kevin Kennedy. I guess he liked what I brought to the format, and he asked if I’d do it and I said yes. That was before I realized it was going on on four nights in four cities, kind of like a touring rock band.

Now that we’re getting close to it I’m getting pretty excited…

CA: What are you most looking forward to about the trip?

CJ: Being yelled at by different people in different cities!

What’s perfect about it to me is that it falls on the first week that training camp opens in each city. I think that for a lot of us we’re just getting beyond the summer cobwebs, but the excitement is going to be back in each of those markets. To be in Edmonton the day that the Oilers break camp with Connor McDavid, I think that there will be an energy in that show in particular. But everywhere we’re going, people will be naturally excited about what’s going on with their hockey team and it’s an opportunity to exchange ideas that evening, and drink some beers together, and celebrate our sport.


CA: What’s your favourite puck talks moment so far?

CJ: My favourite moment is probably Ken Campbell losing his mind in the last show. Ken might have had a few adult beverages before taking the stage, I’m not sure. He actually made some good points, but he made them quite passionately, including one point after which he dropped the mic as if he were some rapper who had made his point sufficiently or something.

Awesome time with @PuckTalksLive live last night, highlighted by @THNKenCampbell ‘s literal mic drop. You’re a gem, Kenny! Never change.

— Ryan Dixon (@Dixononsports) February 26, 2015

That to me is what the whole thing is about. It’s about people who are excited about this thing and there’s room for some healthy debate about various topics, and you really don’t know, even when you put panels together, what side of people’s personality is going to come out when you put them on stage.

That was something that makes me chuckle months later, and at the time it was downright hilarious.

Chris and Puck Talks will take place in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 24! Buy tickets here!

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  • SEER

    I’m all for having patience and making sure that players are 100% NHL ready, before bringing them in… That’s been a real problem for the organization as a whole, in the recent past..: no patience..

    Our Marlies are going to dominate the AHL.. and the Solar Bears will also dominate the ECHL…, with all this talent on hand… It’s going to be exciting for all three teams…! (..and we have a whole slew of other prospects developing in the wings… : )

  • SEER

    Tonight’s the night, folks..! WOO-HOO…!!!!

    Here’s the LINK again for everyone in Ontario… and you should all check your local tv listings, if you live in other areas of Canada.. All games are Fri./Sat. & Sun… and all start at 7:30PM, Ontario time..


    (Scroll down to see all the areas) …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… TICKETS & EVENT INFO. LINK (Budweiser Gardens, London)


    EDIT: Also on LeafsTV

    ***EDIT: It’s a freakin Toronto-Ottawa repeat NHL game on LeafsTV.., but they are showing a replay of the games at 11:30PM… Suppose to be on ROGERS Channel 369.. province-wide..

    • SEER

      Wow! If someone’s avatar photo freaks you out, than you’d better stay at home, because the world will be a much scarier place..

      Give me (and Gary) a break, guy… “Infant ghost child”..? I think you’re watching too many of those ridiculous zombie shows, or something..?

      I really think that some of you just dump on us older guys, because we remind you of your parents..