TORONTO – Brad Treliving will start his new job by flying back to where his NHL career began.
Home of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ best hockey player and most pressing contractual concern.
“Auston is one of the elite players in the world. We’re not talking about a good player in the league. We’re talking about an elite player in the world. Getting to Auston is a priority,” Treliving said Thursday at his introductory press conference.
“That’s priority No. 1.”
Treliving wants Leafs Nation to know that he will not be getting into the nuts and bolts of any player contract negotiations publicly. (He took a similar tact in Calgary as Johnny Gaudreau embarked on his UFA season.) But he is aware that Auston Matthews’ full no-move cause and ridiculous leverage kicks in precisely one month from now.
Treliving has already been texting with the superstar and has a strong relationship with Matthews’ agent, Judd Moldaver.
Treliving’s goal will be to sell Matthews on his vision of the Maple Leafs, to convince the centreman to commit.
Personable and persistent, Treliving closed a similar deal with Jonathan Huberdeau in Calgary just last summer. Say what you will about the $84-million extension the winger inked; Treliving’s mission, following the Matthew Tkachuk blockbuster, was to sell a shell-shocked Huberdeau on life as a long-term Flame.
That Treliving did so just 11 days after yanking the star out of Florida is something. MacKenzie Weegar, the other prized piece in the trade, needed another month to think, but he too signed for eight years before playing a single shift under Treliving.
Urgency is in the air, and Treliving needs to close fast.
“We’ll go pedal-down here pretty quick. … We’re gonna get right into pushing hard here,” Treliving said. “There’s a lot to get done.”
The long-term futures of Matthews, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner – all of whom are due raises in 2024 or 2025 – must be mapped out so Treliving can begin filling in the fringes around the core. Or decide to carve into the “We Can, We Will” crew.
“We will look at all things,” an open-minded but noncommittal Treliving made clear.
That includes breaking up the band and singing the same song.
“You could throw a body under the tarmac, and it might look good for headline, but are you getting any better?” said Treliving, a Maple Leafs pin on his lapel.
“My job is to protect them, right? It’s to protect them. And I’m fiercely protective of my players. But this can’t be about the Core Four. This is about the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s not about four players or two guys or one guy. It’s about the 23 guys that we’re going to have in this organization.”
Excited and engaging, quick-witted and easy in the spotlight, Treliving brought his family — wife Julie and their daughters, Ryann and Reese — and an energy to his first meeting as a Maple Leaf that felt optimistic.
But also: vague.
Treliving has his ideas as to what has prevented a skilled Maple Leafs roster from breaking through on a meaningful playoff run, but will keep his cards close to vest until he does a deeper dive behind the scenes.
Fair enough, the man is still meeting his staff, reaching out to his inherited players, and catching up with the topics flying around his fellow GMs’ hot stove.
Treliving has yet to make up his mind on head coach Sheldon Keefe, with whom he has already spoken with on the phone but has no real relationship with or loyalty to.
If Matthews is Priority 1, firing or endorsing Keefe should be 1A.
“He’s in a unique situation. That’s the business,” Treliving said. “I think he’s a really good coach.”
Remember: When Treliving was hired in Calgary, he inherited Bob Hartley, saved his bullet, and watched Hartley win the Jack Adams Award in 2015.
“I look at how a group of really skilled players has gotten better at checking and defending and doing those things you need to win,” Treliving said of Keefe’s group. “So, we’re gonna sit down and we’re going to have a thorough process and try to do it as quickly as possible and come to a conclusion.”
The more Leafs president Brendan Shanahan spoke with Treliving — an early identified candidate after his firing of Kyle Dubas — the more the fit felt comfortable. Shanahan likes how Treliving treats people, appreciates his depth of experience (particularly in a Canadian market) and praises the man’s leadership skills.
Treliving signals the president’s third GM hire and, with only two years remaining on Shanahan’s own contract, potentially his last, should the team underperform.
Shanahan dismissed whispers that Treliving was brought in to be subservient to a boss between ownership, something the ambitious Dubas no longer must do with his newfound presidency of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Treliving will hold final say on hockey calls, according to Shanahan. Just like Dubas and Lou Lamoriello.
“Ultimately, the decision has to be made by the general manager — and that’s how I’ve always operated. That’s how I continue to operate. I think that Brad is a collaborative person,” Shanahan said.
“But ultimately, I really do feel that the role and responsibility has to ultimately come from the general manager, so that doesn’t change.”
What changes for Treliving, as he jets off to woo Matthews, converse with Keefe, and begin to shape his new team, are the stakes and spotlight.
As the 53-year-old consulted those closest to him and considered the opportunity to uproot his family and move east, he was lured by the logo now fasted to his suit jacket.
“We kept coming back to: It’s the Leafs,” Treliving said.
“It’s the Leafs. It means something. And so, to me, I sit in front of you today excited, humbled, looking at this as a great opportunity. But also know this is a great, great responsibility.”
Fox’s Fast 5
• Shanahan on Dubas being announced as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ president of hockey operations a half hour before Treliving’s introductory press conference: “I don’t think it was intentional timing. I’ve been in contact with the CEO of Fenway, Sam Kennedy. He and I are very close. We’ve talked over the last week several times about Kyle, so I think they need to get to work as well. I fully endorse Kyle. I told Sam that he would be great for the organization. And I’m very happy for him.”
• Treliving’s relationship with Shanahan harkens back to the executive’s tenure with the Coyotes, when he had multiple conversations with the former league disciplinarian on noted line-crosser Raffi Torres.
• Because Treliving is technically under contract with Calgary through month’s end, the Flames have placed restrictions on Treliving’s involvement in the draft.
Don’t expect the GM to be sitting at the Leafs’ draft table in Nashville. Head amateur scout Wes Clark will run the show as the Leafs hold picks in Rounds 1, 5 and 6.
• Treliving has already been texting with his long-serving captain, Mark Giordano.
“Gio — it’s good to see him still playing at 75,” the GM quipped.
• The future of Treliving’s inherited assistant, Brandon Pridham, will be fascinating to watch. Dubas would love to pack him in his suitcase, but Treliving is thrilled to get him.
Treliving’s relationship with Pridham traces back to when Pridham worked for the league and the league owned the Coyotes during Treliving’s time in Arizona: “One of the very best, if not the best, at what he does.”