The Brad Treliving era in Toronto officially began Thursday, as the Maple Leafs unveiled the 18th general manager in club history at Scotiabank Arena.
Fresh off a tumultuous off-season saga that ended with team president Brendan Shanahan announcing the organization’s decision to part ways with former GM Kyle Dubas — who was named president of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday as well — the Maple Leafs now turn the page from the front-office shuffling and will look to begin moving through their pressing off-season to-do list.
That list isn’t a short one. As Treliving gets acclimated to his new club, he’ll have to navigate some crucial contract negotiations, a potential coaching change, an NHL Draft that he’s barred from fully taking part in and setting in motion a big-picture plan to get Toronto to the next step after years of uneven post-season results.
Speaking with the media for the first time Thursday, Treliving shed light on how he plans to address the tasks at hand.
THE AUSTON MATTHEWS CONTRACT
A year removed from a 60-goal campaign that netted him the Hart Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award and the Rocket Richard Trophy, Matthews enters the final season of the five-year, $58.2-million deal he signed in 2019. As of July 1, he’ll be eligible to sign an extension with Toronto — as Treliving learned in Calgary, determining whether Matthews intends to re-sign is critical, so as to avoid the Maple Leafs suffering the same fate as Treliving’s Flames, who wound up losing star winger Johnny Gaudreau for nothing when they allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent. Complicating matters is the fact that Matthews has a no-move clause that will kick in on July 1.
TRELIVING: “I communicated with Auston via text. I know (his agent) Judd (Moldaver) — I’ve got a strong relationship with Judd. There’s a great personal relationship, Judd’s excellent at what he does. You’ll find from me, we’re not going to get into any public discourse about contracts. Obviously, we know where these contracts are at. 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. But outside of the contract stuff, No. 1 is just getting to build that relationship. It’s not walking down and trying to arm-wrestle about contracts, it’s getting down and me getting a chance to meet him, but more importantly, having Auston get a chance to meet me. To know what we’re about, and just talk a little bit. So that’s priority No. 1.
“We know all the things as it relates to all our players and their contract situations, and the timing, and all the challenges ahead of us, but we’re prepared to get after it. I’m excited to not only get a chance to meet him, but thrilled to be able to work with him.”
THE COACHING SITUATION
In the wake of a 2023 post-season that brought some long-awaited triumph in the first round and familiar heartbreak for Maple Leafs fans in the second, speculation has swirled around head coach Sheldon Keefe’s future. Some feel it may be time for a new voice to lead this group forward, particularly given the lack of tangible post-season progress aside from the club’s lone won round this year, while others point to the overall success Keefe has guided this core through since he took over as head coach three-and-a-half years ago. Adding fuel to the fire is Keefe’s close relationship with Dubas, and the question of whether the former GM’s departure means the end of the coach’s time in Toronto, too.
TRELIVING: “I have had a chance to communicate with Sheldon. I don’t have a relationship with Sheldon — we spoke a couple times years ago — but I’ve had a chance to talk with him. I’m going to get with him — there’s a lot of things that are priorities. Sheldon is as well. And as I said to him, it’s a little bit of a unique situation. We can call it whatever we want — we’re all big boys here. There’s been a change, he’s in a unique situation, but that’s the business.
“My outside lens of Sheldon, I look at a team — the last two years with him as a full-time coach — 115 points, 111 points, I think he’s a really good coach. My view is determining whether a guy’s good, bad or indifferent, you have to work with him, you have to get to know him. So we’re going to sit down and we’re going to go through it. I’m coming in with no preconceived notions. I went to Calgary nine years ago, Bob Hartley was there — I didn’t have a relationship with Bob. I think Bob was coach of the year my first year in Calgary.
“I think Sheldon has done a lot of really, really good things. I look at how a group of really, really skilled players has gotten better in checking, in defending and doing those things that you need to win. So we’re going to 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 FUTURE OF THE CORE FOUR
Perhaps the biggest question facing the Maple Leafs’ new GM is what to do with this current core, particularly the so-called Core Four of Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. Treliving’s predecessor was publicly adamant that Toronto could, and would, win with that core intact. But after years of limited playoff success, many among the Maple Leafs faithful have begun to wonder if it is time for a change, if a roster that has roughly $40 million of the cap tied up in four forwards is simply too imbalanced to win. Treliving’s history of swinging team-altering trades during his time in Calgary suggests he’s unafraid to pull the trigger on a blockbuster if he feels it’s the correct path forward. The question is whether he believes that is what’s best for his new club, or not.
TRELIVING: “You always hear these big words — ‘culture’ — and I sometimes think it gets overused and overplayed. The good thing here is we’ve got really good players. You look at where these players were drafted. You just have to pick the number where they were drafted — there’s a lot of pain to get good players. So, having those players excites me. They’re world-class players.
“We’re going to review everything. I want to stress strongly, I’m not about coming in and making a statement. You can throw a body onto the tarmac, and it might look good for a headline, but are you getting any better? At the end of the day, it’s about getting better. And just being different doesn’t necessarily make you better.
“The other thing I’ll say on that, and again I’m coming in with an outside lens, this idea of the ‘core four’ and all those types of things — my job is to protect them. 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, it’s not about two, it’s not about one — it’s about the 23 guys that we’re going to have in this organization.
“I understand the spotlight’s bigger here, I understand we’re so fortunate to have all you people that care greatly about this team because of the fanbase we have, but it’s about the Leafs. And the success of this team, or whatever challenges we have, isn’t because of four guys or two guys or one guy. It’s about the group. And for a manager coming in, I’m pretty lucky to have the talent that those four represent, as well as everybody else on this team.”
Treliving’s most recent blockbuster was one that had a significant impact on Toronto’s 2023 post-season, as the Flames general manager authored the deal that sent Matthew Tkachuk to Florida. Though praised at the time, the hockey world’s feelings on the deal have seemed to sour in the wake of Tkachuk’s dominant showing for his new club, and the struggles of Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in Calgary. For Maple Leafs fans, the trade seems both a sign of their new GM’s willingness to deal, and a reason to worry about how a blockbuster could affect their club. Treliving broke down how the trade came to be:
TRELIVING: “It was unique. Every situation, every team, every year, has got unique circumstances. Matthew came to us last year, which I was appreciative of, and said ‘It’s time for me to move, I’m not looking to sign long-term here.’ So you go into the market. And there were some challenges, no question. It felt like you’re playing with a two and a three in your hand and everybody else has got a pair of aces. We worked hard, we made an organizational decision on where our team was at, in terms of the growth of our team and the development of our team, and we wanted to look at opportunities to fit within the competitive window we were in.
“Matthew’s a great young player. … We never wanted to move Matthew Tkachuk. Let’s be very clear — this is not something that I just woke up one day and felt, ‘Let’s move Matthew Tkachuk.’ Circumstances present themselves, you deal with them as best you possibly can. He’s a top player, he’s a wonderful player. That’s the first chapter of that trade. … Time will dictate and tell how all things play out.”
THE NEW MANAGER’S AUTONOMY
Reports surfaced in the wake of Dubas’s exit from Toronto regarding one aspect of his negotiation with the Maple Leafs, with Dubas said to have requested a more streamlined decision-making process. The former Leafs GM has since moved on to become Pittsburgh’s president of hockey operations, a role that seems to come with more autonomy. That aspect of Dubas’s exit has some wondering what the setup will be for Treliving, Shanahan, and the rest of Toronto’s decision-making group, and how much autonomy the new GM will have. The club’s president addressed that question:
SHANAHAN: “I’ve always believed in process, and I’ve always believed that a general manager should have a good, strong process. We’ve been lucky here in Toronto — the two people I hired, which was Lou Lamoriello and Kyle Dubas, had good process. They drew information from the people around them. But ultimately a decision has to be made by the general manager, and that’s how I’ve always operated. That’s how I’ll continue to operate.
“I think that Brad is a collaborative person. I think he’s looking forward to meeting our staff and so many of the resources that we’ve built up here in Toronto, but I think he also has people in the hockey world that he relies on as well. And so Brad and I, our relationship will not be all that different from the very good one that Kyle and I had. But ultimately, I really do feel that the role and the responsibility has to ultimately come from the general manager. So, that doesn’t change.”
One area in which Treliving’s power will be restricted is the 2023 NHL Draft. Shanahan confirmed that Treliving will not be a full participant in the coming draft due to conditions from the Flames when they granted Toronto permission to speak with Treliving before his contract in Calgary concluded.
SHANAHAN: “Yes, there were some restrictions imposed by the Calgary Flames, but we’re not going to go into those details. I will say, and I’ve talked to Brad about that, we have an excellent head scout in Wes Clark. We have an excellent scouting team. We pick in the first, fifth and sixth round. They are still doing their job, they are preparing, that part won’t change — we have the utmost confidence in our scouting staff, but I won’t go into those details.”
TRELIVING’S TOP PRIORITY
With a number of pressing situations in need of resolutions as the club moves forward — aside from the above-mentioned key negotiations, the Maple Leafs also have 11 free agents to make decisions on — Treliving was asked what his top priority is moving forward into what is a crucial off-season for his new club:
TRELIVING: “There’s a lot of priorities. There seem to be a lot at the No. 1 spot. Obviously, we’ve got some contractual issues that we’re going to deal with, we’ve got to build those relationships. We’ve got Sheldon’s situation, we’ve got to get to know the staff, we’ve got a draft to prepare for. There’s the communication among the manager’s community — I’m a bit behind here. People have been talking and figuring out what they want to do.
“So we’ll go pedal down here, pretty quick. … No. 1, I’ve got to get out and see Auston. No. 1A is the other contractual issues — we’ve got a coach that we’ve got to get some clarity and meet with. … There’s a lot to do, and the clock is ticking.”