What a regular season the last was for Alexander Kerfoot. The Maple Leafs forward fit in nicely wherever he was placed and put up the most points of his NHL career.
Then came the playoffs – where the errors he made contributed significantly to Toronto’s first-round loss to Tampa Bay.
In Game 6, with the Maple Leafs on the verge of winning their first series in the postseason in 17 years, Kerfoot had a turnover that resulted in one Lightning goal and a penalty that led to another.
Toronto fell in overtime and then lost Game 7 at home – its ninth straight defeat when it had an opportunity to eliminate an opponent.
“You never want to be on that side of things,” Kerfoot said on Friday after a training-camp practice session at the Ford Performance Centre. “It’s different in a team sport than an individual one.
“In an individual sport, you can live with those mistakes a little easier because it is all on you. In a team sport, you make a mistake like that and it impacts the group, the organization and the fan base that cares so much about the team.
He is 28 now and entering the final year of a four-year deal. His value lies in his versatility – but it is unlikely the club will extend his contract at US$3.5-million a season.
He will make a tidy sum wherever he ends up next season, but it would be shame to see him go.
Kerfoot is not as edgy as Auston Matthews, as aloof as Mitch Marner or as stylish as William Nylander. He is smallish for an NHL player and looks like he could fit in carrying a briefcase on Bay Street – which befits a fellow who majored in economics at Harvard.
Something that stands out about him is that he cares a lot and carries a heavier load than others. It is hard to be good at so many different things that you can’t shine at just one.
“It’s good to be back,” Kerfoot said after he and his teammates completed their second practice sessions. “When you get to camp all you are really focused on for the first couple of is getting through the tough stuff.
“Once you get over that, you can focus on playing games.”
The Maple Leafs play their first two of seven exhibition contests with split-squad skirmishes on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Arena. Toronto’s first game of the regular season is Oct. 12 at Montreal, with its home opener the next night against Washington.
Acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in a trade on Canada Day in 2019, Kerfoot is respected in the locker room and beloved by coaches for tackling every assignment no matter how hard. He can play centre and either wing and is effective as a penalty killer.
On Friday, he reflected on the Game 6 loss and then another blown opportunity a couple of days later.
“The series didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but once the season is done, it’s done,” Kerfoot said. “You just have to focus on getting better.
“I care a lot about this game, this sport and this team, and want to do my best. I just have to continue to do that day by day.”
He didn’t have unkind words for the referee that called him for a critical high-sticking infraction and praised the Lightning.
“They won fair and square and are a really good team,” he said.
He has been a part of three losing efforts in Toronto now during the postseason although he has played quite well overall. The gaffes he made last spring were out of character.
“It takes time to process a loss like that,” Kerfoot said. “But it was really no different than the last couple of years. You try to flush them away as quickly as possible.
“There is still a lot of belief in this group. We are as excited as ever coming into this camp. We just have to put one foot in front of the next and work toward the season.”
The Maple Leafs set club records for wins and points during the regular season. Kerfoot had 13 goals and a career-best 51 points. But when you lose in the playoffs, that stuff is kind of left laying on the cutting-room floor.
“We proved we are a good team throughout the course of the regular season,” Kerfoot said. “The regular season does not mean nothin’. It is important.
“It is hard to win a playoff series in this league. We know that better than anyone right now. You try to learn from the experience, but it doesn’t count until you get over the hump.”