Travis Dermott isn’t the kind of guy who wants to be kept guessing.
For the time being, the Maple Leafs defenceman doesn’t have much choice.
Signed to a one-year contract extension on Friday for the team-friendly sum of $874,125 US, Dermott knows he is going to be in for a fight to secure a regular job among the Leafs’ top six once training camp opens.
“I always like a good competition,” Dermott said on Saturday during a Zoom call with media. “We’re just going to be that much better with that much more competition. It’s going to get guys to push each other and really force guys to be the best versions of themselves and be really prepared come camp time.”
Dermott, 23, acknowledged that negotiations were “a little nerve-wracking” and though he didn’t get much of a raise after making $832,500 in salary the past couple of seasons, wanted it to be done quickly.
“You don’t like being on your toes, or at least I don’t,” Dermott said. “I like to keep everything certain. I knew I wanted to stay in Toronto and my options were limited. My agent (Jeff Jackson) knew I wanted to get it done pretty quickly.”
The Dermott signing ended a week of some integral housekeeping for the Leafs.
Winger Ilya Mikheyev signed a two-year contract to avoid arbitration and the club hired Eric Joyce, who had been the Florida Panthers’ assistant general manager, to be the club’s director of hockey strategy. What remains to get done is a contract for restricted free agent winger Joey Anderson, who was acquired in the trade with New Jersey for Andreas Johnsson.
Once one gets past the Leafs’ top three defencemen — Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie and Jake Muzzin — there’s a blender factor with how the rest of the corps will shake out.
Three of Dermott, Justin Holl and newcomers Zach Bogosian and Mikko Lehtonen will, presumably, fill out the top six for opening night, though Rasmus Sandin isn’t going to watch an opportunity pass without giving coach Sheldon Keefe plenty to ponder.
As general manager Kyle Dubas indicated last week, the club could go with a roster of 20 players to save money. Of the top eight defencemen, only Sandin and Lehtonen don’t require waivers to be sent to the Toronto Marlies. So Dermott is safe in that regard, but he knows he can’t assume a role is his, even taking into consideration he played in 120 Leafs games in total in the past two seasons.
“Keefer knows how I play when I’m at my best and I know how I play when I’m at my best,” Dermott said. “Anything less, there’s guys biting at my heels to get in and steal my job.
“(My best) is playing hard. It’s not playing tentatively, it’s using my feet, skating fast, but making sure my defensive stuff is done first.
“It’s what you build for yourself — a little portfolio of things you do well. It’s bringing that every night and trying to be as consistent as I can.”
Building the portfolio for the left-shooting Dermott could potentially mean a longer look on, if not a full shift to, the right side.
Brodie has one spot on the right on lockdown, but there’s nothing that says Dermott can’t try to knock Holl from another spot, and there’s the right-shooting Bogosian to take into account as well.
“If I was to be on the right side, I love the right side, I played a little right side in junior (with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League),” Dermott said. “There are a lot of parts of the game I like better on the right side, or I find easier. I’m not scared of that task.
“In the offensive zone, you’re more available for a quick shot from your D partner, some breakout stuff is easier because your body is more open to the ice.”
Bottom line, Dermott simply is glad his contract is done.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world and it can take its toll on everything and that’s what was explained to me from my camp, so it affected (his contract terms) a little bit,” Dermott said. “I wanted to be playing hockey and I’m honoured to be back.”
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