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Tavares, Maple Leafs should embrace pressure, say Toronto alums

'When you're on a good team it's good to have high expectations,' Sittler says

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

HALTON HILLS, Ontario -- John Tavares joining Auston Matthews has exponentially raised the expectations facing the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.

And Maple Leafs Hall of Fame center Darryl Sittler said the players should embrace the added pressure that comes with such high hopes.

"I think when you're on a good team it's good to have high expectations and pressure on you because it will bring the best out of you," Sittler said at the NHL Alumni Celebrity Golf Tournament at Glencairn Golf Club on Monday. "There's going to be lots of expectations and there should be."

Toronto, which set a Maple Leafs record with 105 points last season, signed Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million contract July 1.

Signing the top free agent available puts extra pressure on the Maple Leafs, who have been eliminated in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons.

Sittler, who had 916 points (389 goals, 527 assists) in 844 games during 12 seasons with the Maple Leafs, feels the current players are equipped to handle it.

"With the leadership of (coach) Mike Babcock and his staff, who've been down this road before, that's their job to manage those types of things and I think they'll do it well," Sittler said. "There's lots of leadership too on the team within, and adding Tavares, that will add to it."

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Darcy Tucker, who had 319 points (148 goals, 171 assists) in 531 games during eight seasons in Toronto, played for the Maple Leafs the last time they reached the Eastern Conference Final, in 2002. He said being able to compete for a Stanley Cup should be embraced.

"These chances don't come around very often and they don't last for very long, as we can attest to as retired players," Tucker said. "Have fun with it. Anytime you are in a market like Toronto, there's always going to be pressure. But you've got to have some fun with it and enjoy it."

Bob Baun, a defenseman for the Maple Leafs when they last won the Stanley Cup, in 1967, said hopes rightfully are high given the success and development of their young core, led by Matthews, forwards Mitchell Marner and William Nylander and defenseman Morgan Rielly.

"The expectations should be great, and I think they are great, generally speaking, around the country when I've been asked that question this year. It seems a lot more than other years," Baun said. "I'd have to be excited about the team and I am."

The pressure on Tavares could be especially intense. He grew up a Maple Leafs fan living in Mississauga, Ontario, about 17 miles west of Toronto.

To Tucker, that means Tavares should be aware of what comes with playing for the Maple Leafs.

"You don't come here and take that opportunity if you don't want to be put in the spotlight," Tucker said. "Tavares is an amazing hockey player, there's no doubt about it. He as well as anybody knows what it's like to be in this city."

Tucker said he remembers the excitement in Toronto in 2002 when the Maple Leafs got within two of reaching the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. The opportunity brought pressure, but Tucker said it was the best experience of his career.

"That's what you play the game for," he said. "You play the game to have the opportunity to win a championship, and in doing so, when you have that opportunity, it comes along with the pressures you face. I clearly enjoyed and had fun with it and embraced that part of it. When the city is that enthusiastic about any of the sports teams it's great to be a part of it as a fan but even better as a player."

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