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Kessel, Phaneuf want to return to Maple Leafs

by Mike Brophy / NHL.com

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs' two most central figures insist they want to return to the team for the 2015-16 season.

Captain Dion Phaneuf and right wing Phil Kessel made that very clear when Maple Leafs players met with the media for the final time this season at Air Canada Centre on Monday.

"I signed an eight-year contract last year and I love Toronto," Kessel said. "The fans have been great to me and I love the guys and love playing here. I want to be here. Like I said, I love Toronto and I don't want to leave."

"I expect to be back," Phaneuf said. "I signed here for seven years and I want to remain a Toronto Maple Leaf. It is an honor to play in this city for this organization."

The Maple Leafs fired general manager Dave Nonis and interim coach Peter Horachek along with his assistant coaches and other members of the front office staff and scouting staff Sunday. Team president Brendan Shanahan made it clear in his season-ending gathering with the media there will be player changes too.

Phaneuf said this has been the toughest season of his career and he has empathy for those who lost their jobs.

"When that happens in this game and you see people lose their jobs, as players we feel responsible," Phaneuf said. "I think it was a tough day on everyone."

Phaneuf said the Maple Leafs struggled with consistency this season, and although he wouldn't point the finger at any of his teammates, he was forthcoming in terms of assessing his own performance.

"This year, personally, I did not play well enough and my numbers reflect that," said Phaneuf, who had career lows in goals (three) and points (29) in a full season. "I didn't produce where I expected to produce and I feel that affected our team's success. I take responsibility for not playing to the level I expect."

Kessel led the Maple Leafs in scoring with 25 goals and 61 points, but had 12 fewer goals and 19 fewer points than in 2013-14.

"It was just one of those years when I couldn't get anything in," Kessel said. "I had some chances."

Kessel said he will take some time off and then, "I'll go and train hard like I always do. I hope to come back and be ready to go at the start of the year."

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