It’s not often that I get to put my University film studies courses to much use, but getting the chance to take an early look at All or Nothing feels like a brief opportunity to do so. And while the show is beautifully shot, edited, and scored, I’m sure that’s not the content most readers are looking for, and instead you’d like to dissect what the Leafs actually did. I’m going to follow the lead of the article from Nick Barden this morning, and at least try to limit what I share from the series, which I honestly believe is very much a worthwhile watch, no matter how you feel about the Leafs today.
I think it’s important to start with what All or Nothing isn’t. If you are looking for a gritty, unfiltered look behind the curtains of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you’re going to be let down. Nothing in the NHL’s history of partnering on series has ever been that, and All or Nothing isn’t going to be the start. The NHL Chief Content Officer is an Executive Producer on this, and the Leafs were very much involved in the process as well. With that level of control you can’t really call this a documentary, but instead it’s a cool taste of increased access that lets you see what the team is comfortable letting you see. If there is any doubt about the sanitization process, that should become clear when All or Nothing presents a very sanitized version of Sheldon Keefe’s job history in the first episode.
It’s also important to remember these are five episodes, around 40-45 minutes long each looking at the Leafs from training camp to Game Seven of the first round, that’s a lot of content to fit into that amount of time, and because of that a lot of things raised will only scratch the surface for diehards. You’ll see Kyle Dubas and Brandon Pridham discuss the salary cap, but while some of us would like that being an episode unto itself, this isn’t meant for that niche market, so we’re left wanting. Being left wanting is pretty much par for the course when it comes to the management and coaching side of things, but that’s not to say you’ll be disappointed. You’ll get a lot of really interesting tastes of what is happening.
Having Will Arnett narrate the series certainly adds to the experience as well. His strong traditional narration slipping into moments of fan reaction is a nice touch to the series, although I have to admit the use of “we/us” when referring to the Leafs did make me cringe a little, but sets the tone that this isn’t meant to be a documentary in the traditional sense.
Generally I’d say the first four episodes of the series have a fun feel, and give an honest look at the season. You see some players confronted about their play, and some of that might offer insight into why Ilya Mikheyev might not be happy in Toronto, and they use the season as an opportunity to provide a look at some of the key Leafs players and their families, and get a sense of the team relationships. Seeing Holl and Muzzin interact has changed my mind about that pairing being split up, as they are quite enjoyable as a duo. And honestly, while I liked how William Nylander was shown, I can understand why he might not have enjoyed being portrayed as the Leafs instagram star that doesn’t let things get to him. I think he views himself as more committed than that, but likes to let loose. That’s not a bad thing.
One of the main storylines throughout the series is the decline of Frederik Andersen and the rise of Jack Campbell. Again this seems like a safe decision for the Leafs to put this front and center because Freddie has left, but it does show how hard the season hit Fred, the genuine “aw shucks” attitude of Campbell, and the confidence the Leafs have come to place with Jack. The highlight of the series for me might be how Sheldon Keefe addressed Steve Briere’s attempt to defend a poor performance from Andersen.
That basically sums up the first four episodes. Episode five, the playoff episode, aged me ten years. As painful as it would have been, the playoff episode could have been almost the entirety of the series. Spend one episode on how they got to the playoffs, and then four episodes dissecting what went wrong in a painful seven game series. Instead, Amazon left themselves 45 minutes to recap seven games, including the Tavares injury, and the fallout from losing the series, and I can safely say the result was probably the weakest episode of the series, despite the one that should have warranted the most attention. The handling of the Tavares injury is one of the most interesting aspects of the episode, and while there were plenty of naysayers to Foligno’s decision to fight Perry right after the hit, the episode does show why the players felt it was important and needed. I’m not asking you to agree with it, but you’ll at least understand it (which this could be a running theme for All or Nothing.)
So where does that leave us with this series?
Well, you will be entertained. Joe Thornton is interesting enough that you’ll get a few laughs. While you aren’t going to get a crazy insider look at who else the Leafs were in on at the trade deadline, you will see enough of Kyle Dubas doing his job, and probably feel inspired to pick up a book on Bill Belichick to better understand the Leafs GM’s management philosophy. You’ll get to see Nylander doing Nylander things, you’ll get to see cute Leafs babies and puppies. And maybe you’ll get a bit of closure on last season.
I know for me rewatching the 2021 season it reminded me that while the Leafs did well on paper and in the standings, I wasn’t particularly confident in this team at any point, and especially towards the end of the season there was reason to doubt them in the playoffs. A 3-1 playoff series lead certainly gives you some of that confidence back, but this was not a team of destiny and arguably they still aren’t. All or Nothing does a good job of illustrating that, and five 45 minute sessions with your Prime account is cheaper than five therapy sessions, so I’d recommend giving it a watch.