The captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs was asked what items he needed to have with him as he entered the bubble last summer. While a lot of other guys answered video games, phones and movies, John Tavares said books. He also said he was reading Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday. I bought the book that day and started reading. Now, nine months later, we see what Tavares learned from the book and how he is utilizing it.
The author’s message is clear; it’s the title. In three sections, mind, spirit and body, Holiday urges the reader to slow down and be still even in the most hectic times. The book references Marcus Aurelius, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Fred Rogers and Anne Frank among others to prove tranquillity in the most chaotic situation is effective.
It Ain’t Easy Being Captain in Toronto
It cannot be an easy job wearing the C for the Toronto Maple Leafs. A three-ring circus surrounds the team at all times. It doesn’t seem to matter if the Maple Leafs are winning or losing scrutiny is widespread. That’s why nearly every captain of the franchise, has their number in the rafters. In fact, the team went without a captain for three and a half seasons before naming Tavares the 25th in franchise history last season. Expectations were already sky-high since he signed with his hometown team on July 1, 2018.
Finding silence in that noise would be difficult. However, Tavares has done just that. Playing in his 12th NHL season, the 30-year-old is evolving himself, his game and even the curve in his stick. “I guess Willy is letting out some of my secrets,” Tavares said, referring to William Nylander when asked about his new stick. “I’ve used the same curve since minor hockey, so I just felt it was time to play around with some things try something out.”
Despite registering 815 points in 865 NHL games, including 194 points in 196 games with Toronto, the six-time all-star is still tinkering with the smallest degrees of angle in his stick. That small adjustment could only be realized through being still in a time of turmoil. Tavares has faced a lot of turbulence since coming to Toronto. After the Maple Leafs signed him to a $77 million contract, Toronto has not been any closer to winning a championship than before his arrival. He’s shouldering a lot of the blame for the two previous playoff disappointments.
This season had seen a few extended periods of struggles for the captain before his numbers picked up and a recent point streak. “There are a lot of ups and downs, not just in a season but throughout a career,” said Tavares, who is noted as being a hard worker. “Continuously try to adapt your game and prove your game and the challenges that you face.”
The challenge was issued by Sheldon Keefe after last season’s disappointing loss in the play-in series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Keefe wanted everyone to improve their 200-foot game. He looked to the leadership group, especially the captain, to lead by example. “John has delivered, and he’s taking it upon himself to do that,” said Keefe. “The growth of our team both with and without the puck in terms of responsibility and consistency, I think John really embodies that.”
Tavares Accepted a Challenge to Evolve His Game and Lead Others
Tavares, who is now a veteran in the league, knew he would have to evolve his skillset. He averages nearly a point a game in his pro career. However, the first overall selection from the 2009 draft is a career minus player. Not only was the challenge issued by his coach, but he could also see by the players around him, his offence would not be what the Maple Leafs needed. “We continue to see the emergence of Auston (Matthews) and Mitch (Marner) and how dominant they’ve become, to know things might change for me, not in a negative way,” he explained. With that kind of firepower in the lineup, it allowed him to focus on other areas. “Just in certain aspects of what your role looks like and how it’s being defined, continue to find the balance and be a leader in that aspect of being really good in all areas of the ice.”
His evolution has earned the trust of the Maple Leafs’ brass, who continue to lean on Tavares to lead by example with a defensive-minded structure. “He’s been just really solid for me all season long, and now he’s starting to produce,” said Keefe. “Some luck is starting to go his way offensively it’s been great to see, but the foundation defensively has been there right from day one, and that’s what we needed as a team.”
Tavares Offers his Own Words of Wisdom
Tavares said that he liked the process of developing and focusing on different facets of his skills, despite the early setbacks. “It’s just continuing to stick with that, I think believing in yourself and trusting your abilities,” he said and then added some lines that could be in Holiday’s next books. “Every day is a new opportunity. The right mindset, right work ethic and attention to details and eventually results will come.”
I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing Tavares read Holiday’s other books in the series: The Obstacle is the Way, and Ego is the Enemy. He used the trio of books to calmly reflect and develop a plan. He challenged himself to overcome boundaries, and he set his ego aside to do so. The Maple Leafs may want to send Ryan Holiday a thank you note or buy some of his books for the whole team to read.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.