Former Leafs forward Peter Holland attempts a return with Avalanche — why now?

Peter Holland was burned out. The journeyman forward had signed in Sweden for the 2021-22 season, his third in a row overseas. He hadn’t played an NHL game since 2018, and the spark he once felt while wearing the colors of his childhood favorite team — the Toronto Maple Leafs — had faded. On top of all that, Holland and his wife had just welcomed their first child, and COVID-19 international travel restrictions made it hard for family to visit.

So Holland retired, announcing his decision on the platform then known as Twitter.

“It just felt like I needed to come home and reset and recharge,” the 32-year-old told The Athletic this week. “At that time, it meant not playing hockey.”

He went back to the greater Toronto area, where he’s from and where he played 174 of his 266 career NHL games. The next year was a time of transition: one with good days and bad as he adjusted to life away from hockey. He participated in Maple Leafs alumni events and appeared on local radio stations to talk about the Leafs. And, as the year went on, he started to feel an itch to play again.

That itch turned into a plan, and on Tuesday, Holland agreed to a professional tryout agreement with the Avalanche.

If Holland — who has NHL experience with the Ducks, Leafs, Coyotes and Rangers — doesn’t show potential during training camp, Colorado can release him with no penalty. It’s a no-risk flier on someone who could provide organizational forward depth.

Holland spoke with The Athletic about his year away from hockey, his decision to return, if he’d consider playing in the AHL and more. (Some answers have been edited for clarity and length.) 

What changed over the past year to make you give hockey another try?

I found myself missing the game, and I didn’t want to wake up when I was 45 one day and look back and wish I tried. So I said, “What’s the worst that can happen?” My wife and I made a decision to give another kick at the can.

I spoke with Gary Roberts, who is a fellow Toronto Maple Leaf alum. I used to train with him back when he was just starting his offseason programs. One of the things he said to me was, “You’ll never know unless you try,” and that was kind of how I was feeling. He invited me back to his gym. He’s obviously got an amazing group of guys that work out with him, like Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos and Josh Anderson. I joined back up at Gary’s gym at the start of the summer, put in a hard summer’s worth of training and skating, and I feel very fortunate that this opportunity has come about with Colorado.

Was the beginning of the summer when you decided you were actually going to give this a real shot?

It actually stemmed back more into last hockey season. Back around December, I had actually started training a little bit harder on my own, just doing home workouts. I had even gone as far as renting myself some ice and getting back on the ice and seeing how it felt. I thought about (seeing) if I could join the team partway through the season. I decided at that time that I wasn’t ready to go back. It still felt like I was done.

And then it just kept sort of nagging me to give it a try. It was probably in the spring time when I finally made the decision to pick up the phone and call Gary and talk with him.

He’s hurt, but doesn’t Gabriel Landeskog train with that Gary Roberts in Toronto, too?

He does. I’ve gotten to know Landy a little bit over the summer, just from him being around the gym. Our history goes back all the way to our Ontario Hockey League days. He was on the Kitchener Rangers, I was on the Guelph Storm, which was a bit of a rivalry. This summer was the first time that we really got to chat. Now that I’ve signed the PTO, we’ve been chatting a little bit (more).

What’s the year away from hockey been like for you? 

A roller coaster, I guess you could say. Any athlete struggles a little bit when they leave the game they’ve known their whole life. There’s always that doubt of whether you make the right decision. I had some good days where I was content, and I had some bad days where I was like, “I should still be playing hockey. What am I doing?” Those are the days you lean on your family for support. I obviously landed on the fact that I wanted to try again. That’s where we are today.

What was it like moving into the media and radio sphere for a bit?

I did some stuff a couple years ago, then when I decided to step away from hockey and was doing it, it was almost too much hockey right away after deciding not to play. I stepped away from it for a little bit. The fact that I got interested in wanting to do that stuff again was part of my conscience being interested in the game again. I started enjoying it again.

Why did you choose the Avalanche?

I took a pretty deep dive down the rosters of all the NHL teams. I certainly wasn’t in a position of leverage to dictate where it was I wanted to go, but after looking at a whole bunch of rosters and depth charts, I highlighted roughly 10 or 12 teams. Colorado was on that list. It just so happened that Colorado showed some interest right away when my agent sent notes out to the teams asking if there may be interest for me to come to training camp on a PTO. I jumped at the opportunity.

What do you think you can bring to the Avalanche?

My first objective is to make the team. I like to think that on the ice I can bring work ethic. I’ve always been someone who’s prided himself on playing the game the right way. I can add some value on the penalty kill, I can add some value in the bottom-six, I can play up and down the lineup as guys may get injured. Ultimately, I just want to come with a with a clear head and take it one day at a time.

Obviously you want to make the NHL team, but would you have interest playing for the American Hockey League affiliate?

I have my sights set on wanting to get back and play in the best league in the world. That being said, if the right opportunity with an American League club came around, of course I would have to consider it. There’s a lot that goes into that decision. I have a young family. I have an almost-2-year-old daughter, and I have another one on the way right around the time of training camp.

It’s really just a case-by-case basis. If I feel like there’s opportunities to make it back to the NHL but that means starting in the American League, then I’m happy to chat about that. But it’s not as easy as being a 22- or 23-year-old single guy who can just pack his life up and move around. I’m 32 years old with a family I have to think about.

Will your family stay in Toronto until you get more clarity?

They’re going to be in Toronto, for a little while anyway. It’s one of those things where I could be there for a week or two or I could be there for a hockey season. They definitely want to wait for some clarity. Unfortunately, I’m going to miss the birth of my second kid, but that’s one of the sacrifices that sometimes you’ve just got to make to chase your dreams. My wife is on board with it. It’s just something that we’re going to do to see if we can make this dream a reality again.

(Photo of Peter Holland in 2016: Bill Smith / NHLI via Getty Images)

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