Maple Leafs lose valuable pieces but add Reaves, Klingberg in free agency

Ryan Reaves joins the Hockey Central panel to discuss his new deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, what he can bring to their locker room, and how excited he is to play with the Leafs' big-name stars.

TORONTO – As the most frenzied hours of free agency rolled by, and the signings pushed well past 150, and the total contract dollars eclipsed $640 million, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ roster gradually got worse.

Now, that’s not to say the Maple Leafs will stay worse.

New general manager Brad Treliving — pressed by salary-cap constraints and drinking from a firehose of urgent situations with star players, his coaching staff and his own brass since accepting the gig one month ago — still has open contract slots, UFA targets and trade options to rebound from a sluggish, ruggish start to Toronto’s off-season.

Treliving is interested in edgy forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi, two of the best UFA options still on the board, and poking around the defence and depth scoring markets.

Yet the hole punched into the Maple Leafs’ roster on Canada Day afternoon was so violent it might as well have been left by Ryan Reaves’s fist. Eighty goals walked out the door; 15 came in.

Out go heart-and-soul centre Ryan O’Reilly; defencemen Luke Schenn, Erik Gustafsson and Justin Holl; 23-goal winger Michael Bunting; play-everywhere forward Alexander Kerfoot; and bottom-six fan favourite Noel Acciari.

In come offensive defenceman John Klingberg and 36-year-old fourth-line banger Reaves, who inked a three-year contract at a $1.35 million AAV.

“I’m not coming in to obviously score 40 goals for the team,” Reaves said on the Sportsnet broadcast. “I bring that intensity on and off the ice. You know, I try and help the young guys where I can, but for me, just doing my job, playing physical.

“Bring a little swag to the team and doing my thing.”

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It’s no secret Treliving wants to add grit and competitiveness to Toronto’s lineup.

The GM has been eyeing Reaves since his Calgary days.

“There’s a presence to Ryan,” Treliving told reporters at Ford Performance Centre. “It’s not about fighting and all the rest of it. I just felt both on the ice and in our room and around our team, we need a little bit more noise. Ryan brings that.”

Now Reaves slides in as the club’s next Wayne Simmonds: intimidating to fight, beloved teammate and leader, wants to win a Stanley Cup, makes everyone skate an inch taller.

Like Simmonds, there will be concern over the term of a deal that takes the veteran through to age 39 and, with any luck, Reaves’ 1,000th career game.

Our take: Love the personality. Not a fan of the price.

“You’d like them all short. But at the end of the day, you want to get the player,” Treliving said.

The Minnesota Wild tried to re-sign the player, he met with teams prior to July 1, and Treliving outbid Bill Guerin.

Reaves prioritized joining a Cup contender.

“They finally got over that first-round hump last year. I think that’s the first step,” Reaves said. “For me, it was a hard decision, but once Toronto started calling and after a couple of talks, it was a pretty easy decision.”

Renowned for his energy and intimidation, Reaves vows to keep pounding Red Bulls and working on his stride. He notes that he and Auston Matthews share a skating coach, and Reaves might make the trip to Arizona and train with his superstar teammate.

“Back when I first came in the league, I was in the gym, just throwing around 150-pound dumbbells, whatever it was, and just getting jacked so I can get ready to fight guys,” Reaves said.

“But now I gotta keep up with these young kids. So, [I’m] working a lot more on speed. I’m still not the fastest guy, obviously. But I’ve gotten faster over the years, believe it or not. I can keep up with these guys to be able to catch ’em.”

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What no Leafs role player will catch is the rising price tag of the team’s superstars, who are weighing down the books and stunting Treliving’s ability to pitch high-end talent.

Matthews and Mitch Marner’s no-move clauses have now been triggered. So, too, has William Nylander’s 10-team, no-trade list.

Treliving’s lack of clarity on Matthews and Nylander’s next deals, which can now be signed any day, has handcuffed his other business.

Those are his priorities — and a major reason for Reaves joining his first Canadian team.

“Well, look at the Big Four there. Those guys are unbelievable players, and I’m excited to see what they do in practice,” Reaves said. “I’m excited to cheer for them when they score. I can tell you, I wasn’t doing it before.”

The Big Four has no issue scoring, but when you look at the eroding supporting cast, the Maple Leafs may have a difficult time winning as much as their recent 115- and 111-point seasons.

That’s where Klingberg comes in.

Toronto lacked production from the back end in 2022-23. Timothy Liljegren led the Leafs’ D in goals with six. (Hence, the tire-kicking on Erik Karlsson.)

The 30-year-old, right-shot Klingberg arrives motivated on a reasonable one-year, $4.15 million bet on himself. Even in a decidedly down year with rebuilding Anaheim (and later Minnesota), Klingberg put up 10 goals and 33 points in 77 games.

Klingberg’s bomb from the point adds an exciting wrinkle to Toronto’s stacked power play, he’s deft in transition, and he arrives with 66 games of playoff experience.

“John would probably be the first one to tell you it didn’t go exactly the way he wanted it to go last year, but he’s a really good player in this league,” Trelving said. “He’s an elite offensive player in-zone.”

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More optimism: There is still scads of time before training camp begins. Bargains will be had on the UFA market. And potential trade partners (Calgary? Carolina? Philadelphia?) are still out there.

Talks with Matthews and Nylander continue.

This is not a finished product, and Treliving believes the relatively flat cap stretches the business window past July 1. He’s hunting for bottom-six scoring and banking on a breakout from Matthew Knies. Maybe Bobby McMann or a recovered Nick Robertson can surprise.

“I mean, five years ago, by July 2 you can hang the ‘Gone Fishing’ sign up. It’s done,” Treliving said earlier this week. “I think you’re gonna see an elongated timeframe…. You could see that [signing] period probably slip into later in July.”

Not a chance Treliving reaches for that rod and tackle box just yet.

He’s still busy trying to reel in his metaphorical big fish.

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Fox’s Fast 5

• Karlsson trade talks persist.

Busy bee Kyle Dubas had interest in the 101-point Norris champ at the trade deadline, so it’s no surprise his Pittsburgh Penguins are in the running. We maintain he’d make a great Leaf.

But the Klingberg deal fills the role of a puck-moving, power-play threat on the right side for now.

• Despite his divisive tenure in Toronto, we knew Holl would get a raise on the open market. That he did: three years at $3.4 million per season from the Detroit Red Wings.

We suspected Kerfoot might need to take a slight pay cut, but he maintains his $3.5-million salary in Arizona.

The Leafs also kicked tires on lefty Oliver Ekman-Larsson before he signed with Florida.

• Barry Trotz is overhauling the culture in Nashville.

Stress is on character and defensive responsibility with the state tax-free signings of UFAs and Stanley Cup champions Schenn (three years at $2.75 million per) and O’Reilly (four years at $4.5 million).

Toronto just lost two of its best and most vocal leaders (and a couple of favourite go-to conversationalists for us reporters).

“We had some goals walk out the door here today,” Treliving said.

With a dearth of centres on the market, I thought O’Reilly would rake in a higher AAV. Music City suits him. Yet, we wonder why he chose a resetting team over a Toronto return.

Happy to see Schenn get paid with some security. His past four contracts carried a cap hit under $1 million.

• The Maple Leafs qualified restricted free agents Ilya Samsonov, Nick Abruzzese, and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and will work to get them re-signed.

Marlies depth defencemen Mac Hollowell, Filip Kral, and Victor Mete were all left unqualified as Treliving prefers more size and edge on his blue line.

• With the Carolina Hurricanes committing two years and $15.5 million to prized D-man Dmitry Orlov, one must wonder about a possible trade involving right-shot defenceman Brett Pesce or left shot Brady Skjei before their contracts expire next Canada Day.

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