NHL

After frustrating Leafs tenure, Josh Leivo 'just happy' to be settled in with Canucks

As Josh Leivo explains it, the end of his Toronto Maple Leafs tenure came because of the situation rather than the personalities involved. Leivo played 84 games for the Leafs over six seasons before his trade to the Vancouver Canucks just over one year ago.

Forward, now in key role with Vancouver, doesn't blame Babcock for exit from Leafs

Vancouver's Josh Leivo celebrates a goal during a game in December. The ex-Leafs forward has notched 14 markers in 78 games since a mid-season trade to Vancouver last year. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

As Josh Leivo explains it, the end of his Toronto Maple Leafs tenure came because of the situation rather than the personalities involved.

Leivo, picked 86th overall by Toronto in the 2011 NHL draft, played 84 games for the Leafs over six seasons before his trade to the Vancouver Canucks just over one year ago.

The West Coast can be cool and damp, but Leivo has mostly found sunshine since the move to Vancouver.

"I was in a tricky situation [in Toronto]," said the 26-year-old forward. "I wanted to be out of there. I wanted an opportunity."

As a Leaf, Leivo was in and out of the lineup. His largest total of games played in a season was 27 last year before being dealt to the Canucks for Michael Carcone. At the time, he had four goals and six points.

Management was a revolving door while Leivo was in Toronto. The Leafs had three general managers and just as many coaches. Players came and went while Leivo tried to establish himself.

"I went through a lot of coaches," he said. "It was a whole process there. It was just tough. I had to battle."

Mike Babcock took over behind the bench in 2016, but Leivo denies he and the coach were on bad footing.

"I don't think it was even that," he said. "I was there when it was a different team. They had new bodies and stuff like that, different faces. When I came in it was older guys.

"I wouldn't say it was Babs at all. It was a big combination of everything. I'm just happy to get settled in here and keep it going."

Immediate spark

Leivo responded to the trade with four goals in his first nine games. He finished the year in Vancouver with 10 goals and eight assists in 49 appearances. The Canucks rewarded Leivo with a one-year, $1.5-million US contract.

"It was just excitement, seeing the team still believed in you, still wanted you," he said. "They added a lot of bodies. When you are part of that you feel good."

Leivo is deployed as a top-six forward in Vancouver. In Tuesday night's 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators, he played on a line with captain Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson.

In 29 games this season the six-foot-two, 192-pound native of Innisfil, Ont., has four goals and 10 assists. He scored in back-to-back games against the Edmonton Oilers last weekend, breaking a streak of 15 games without a marker.

WATCH | Leivo scores shootout winner for Canucks against Blues:

Josh Leivo tallied the lone shootout goal in Vancouver's 4-3 win over the Blues in St. Louis. 1:18

"I've shown I can score in this league," said Leivo. "That has to stay in the back of my head. I was still getting some points.

"There was a little frustration every now and then that would come out."

Leivo appreciated that even when he wasn't scoring, the lines of communication remained open between him and the Canucks coaching staff.

"The chances were coming, they saw that," he said. "They stayed on me, kept the pressure on.

"At the same time, they are there to support, show video, show good things. It kept me confident. Finally, that little drought broke and it started to turn."

Leivo, in a Nov., 2018 game with Leafs, is stopped on a breakaway by Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Even though he might not have been scoring, Leivo was still playing the style of game coach Travis Green wanted.

"We had some positive conversations, [we've] had some conversation that are sometimes a little harder," said Green. "He's a guy who likes feedback with his play. We try to give it to him.

"When he's on top of his game, he's an effective player for us. With so many injuries right now in our forward group, we need our guys to be dialed in and playing their best hockey right now. I think he's been pretty good lately."

Vancouver forwards Tyler Motte (upper body), Micheal Ferland (concussion), Brandon Sutter (groin) and Jay Beagle (lower body) are all out with injuries.

No criticism for Babcock

Since Babcock's Nov. 20 firing, stories have emerged critical of his coaching style and treatment of players.

Leivo was surprised by Babcock's dismissal but didn't offer any specific criticism of the coach.

"It's just the way it goes in the business," he said. "When a team is having a couple of struggles, sometimes things like that happen. It's just the business."

NHL coaching has come under the microscope in the wake of the Calgary Flames' Bill Peters resignation following allegations he used a racial slur against a former player. The Chicago Blackhawks are now reviewing the conduct of assistant Marc Crawford following reports of physical and verbal abuse.

Green didn't want to speak directly about other incidents but said he believes communication is the key to coaching.

"I have had a lot of coaches in my past that were extremely hard but also very caring," he said. "Caring for your players is important.

"Coaching is 'how do you get them to play their best?' It's different for every player. There are still times when you are going to be a little sterner with a player. That's probably never going to change. I'm a big believer in communication and talking to your players, being open and honest with them."

For Leivo, Vancouver has given him the sense of stability he lacked in Toronto.

"To be trusted... and feel like maybe a leader, another player a coach can rely on. It felt good. I tried to accept that and embrace it."

The Leafs visit Vancouver on Tuesday night.

"It's just another game," said Leivo. "We want to get another win."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.