As the Toronto Maple Leafs prepare to kick off their 2021-22 regular season, the story of their last campaign for the Stanley Cup title — which was played under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic and ended at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in yet another first-round playoff loss — is finally here with Prime Video’s docuseries All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs.
The series is narrated by Canadian actor (and lifelong Leafs fan) Will Arnett and is the the first to center on an NHL team. The five-part docuseries offers an intimate and behind-the-scenes look at the entire Leafs organization in a year where they became the first all-Canadian North Division Champions, with cameras capturing every moment from their spirited preseason to their heavily scrutinized postseason defeat to Montreal.
Via Zoom, Jack Campbell, the Leafs’ starting goalie, and Steve Mayer, the NHL’s Chief Content Officer, speak with Sharp about the international appeal of bringing the acclaimed sports series to professional hockey, the camera crew’s unprecedented access to the inner workings of a top NHL team, and their hopes for the upcoming regular season.
Steve, there have been many successful installments of the All or Nothing sports docuseries for other sports, so when did you start discussing the possibility of featuring an NHL team with the Prime Video team? Why did you decide on the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Steve Mayer: Years ago, we reached out to say, “Hey, we would be interested.” And it was Amazon that came back and said, “Hey, we would be interested if we could get the Toronto Maple Leafs.” And we started conversations. It took a lot of time — it was years before we finally agreed, the Leafs agreed, the players agreed.
We trusted the crew that would come into their lives. [But] not only for a few weeks — this was for an entire season, and it worked out amazingly well. We, at the NHL, are thrilled that we’re in partnership with Amazon. We think this is a great launch for Amazon Prime Video in Canada, and to be able to give the Leafs nation a glimpse to a full season and get to meet the players and meet the front office and see what happens during this entire season behind the scenes — when I say behind the scenes, we’re behind the scenes — was really cool. We’re thrilled with the way it’s turned out — not thrilled with the result at all. (Smiles.) But we couldn’t help the result. The show is really compelling for any sports fan — forget a hockey fan. For any sports fan, this is good stuff.
Jack, there’s a lot of talk in the first episode about all of the new additions to the team, and you were certainly one of them before the pandemic. How did you deal with the transition to Toronto and the pressure of playing for such a vocal and passionate fan base?
Jack Campbell: I think the biggest focus I have is just the confidence I have in my teammates. I know, really, on a small scale without overthinking anything, if I just go out and do my job, I know everybody else is gonna go out and do theirs, and that brings a lot of comfort. It just brings so much confidence knowing that I play on this team, with these guys, and how much they care and how much they care about each other. Then, ultimately, too, playing in Toronto is such a great hockey market, and our fans are amazing. I just think it’s exciting playing well here, and it just drives me every day to be a better goalie and person for them.
Steve, I was struck by the direction and storytelling style of this show, because it definitely is unprecedented in the sense that you really get to hear the players on the ice — you really get to see all of the action. So what do you think it is about this series that will really appeal to hockey fans, who think they’ve really seen it all when it comes to docuseries or just series about hockey in general?
Mayer: Well, first, I can speak to hockey fans: You haven’t seen it all until you’ve seen this. We’ve never shown how an actual trade happens, [or] waivers. There are things that are in this particular episode — the dynamic between player and coach and how unique situations are handled. I love this one scene in the first episode between Auston Matthews and Sheldon Keefe that shows the dynamic between player and coach and how things are handled in an organization, and that was very telling of what the Leafs are all about. Those are things that I think, again, become super unique.
And you mention audio, we mic all the players, [so] you hear stuff. Some of the language is probably not appropriate for children younger than whatever age, but yet, you hear things that you would never be able to hear. Everybody can tune in and watch a game. This series is [meant] to take you to the next level, to take you places as a fan that you would never go, and to give you a glimpse into an organization that you would never get. That’s what we set out to do with every one of these productions, and I truly think we accomplished it with this series.
Jack, you’ve played in the professional leagues for close to a decade now, so you have learned to deal with the obvious disappointment that came with last season’s finish. What do you think fans will be most surprised to learn about the team through this series?
Campbell: I think the biggest thing is just our true passion for winning and accomplishing our goal. It’s incredibly devastating to fall short of a goal and how much we truly care about winning and about one another. It comes out right away in the show and how badly we just want to bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto for the fans, for our teammates, for the coaches, for the management, everybody. So it really shines through on how much we truly care.
As a player, was it at all disarming to have a film crew around you for such a long time, especially during that tough finish in the playoffs? Did it create an extra sense of pressure or make it harder to stay focused?
Campbell: Honestly, I don’t think it was a distraction at all. You kind of get to know the crew and [they] kind of just fit in. They get to know our routine and stuff like that, and [there was] absolutely no distraction. If anything, it was just really nice to have them around.
Steve, what do you hope this docuseries will do in terms of not only growing interest in hockey but also growing business in Canada with more original programming?
Mayer: For us, at the NHL, we just want as many people to experience the NHL as possible, to experience the Maple Leafs, to experience our players, our personalities. We truly believe that if you’re a sports fan — but even if you’re not even a sports fan and you get sucked in — you like Jack Campbell because he’s cool, he’s the guy that’s in the series, and he’s the big star. You may watch a Toronto Maple Leaf game and if you watch a Toronto Maple Leaf game, you might really like the NHL. And you’re gonna come back for more and more.
We think we have incredible personalities. We have a great game, an amazing game. There’s gonna be ups and downs like any movie, like any book you read, like any TV show, but isn’t that what it’s all about? It might not have ended perfectly, but it’s the start of a foundation that we think could lead to success. And if it does lead to success, we’ll say that, “Hey, we documented that road to a potential Stanley Cup down the line.”
Jack, from a playing perspective, and Steve, from a content perspective, how are you both feeling going into the upcoming season? How are you hoping to rebound as we slowly move out of this pandemic and begin another exciting chapter of professional hockey?
Campbell: I think we’re still super cautious with Covid, and we still gotta do our part. But hearing that fans might be back in the building is incredibly exciting for everybody. We definitely missed them last season.
Mayer: Yeah, we’re really hopeful at the league that things will be back to normal in the North division, a full season, back to the schedule that everybody’s used to. We’re all cautious, we’re all hoping for the best, but to have fans back in the building — we missed them so much. And as the playoffs went on last year and fans started to return, you realized, Wow, that was a very missing piece. And to have them back, that’ll be awesome.
And fans love content! You can’t give them enough; they can’t get enough. Jack’s really a star!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs is now available on Prime Video.