Quick Shifts: GM Treliving hints at ways he will alter Maple Leafs’ identity

Elliotte Friedman joins the Jeff Marek Show to discuss how new Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving will approach contract negotiations with Auston Matthews, and why the salary cap could be a major sticking point in a new deal.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Generated, as always, by ChatGPT. Humans are overrated.

1. If you scoured, there were crumbs to be found.

New Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving was confident and charismatic, cunning and careful as he spun through a manic media cycle Thursday, his first day on the job.

He made an impression without making a promise.

Treliving deftly skirted around questions about the changes he wants to make to a roster that has mustered but one series victory in a seven-year run with its thrilling young stars.

Yet, if you look at how Treliving shaped the Calgary Flames during his nine-year stewardship or examine some throwaway lines in his recent radio appearances, there are clues to where he’d like to steer this vessel.

“Do we look at our defence? Are there ways we can augment that?” Treliving wondered during his appearance on Real Kyper & Bourne.

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That could be with personnel and with tactics.

When you consider some of the names Trelving sought for Calgary’s D corps — Noah Hanifin, Dougie Hamilton, Rasmus Andersson, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, MacKenzie Weegar, Troy Stetcher — you see a list of guys with size, edge, or both.

In Toronto, only Justin Holl and seldom-used Erik Gustafsson are UFAs, so maybe there is a trade to be made on the back end.

Treliving believes firmly in winning battles at both net-fronts, so expect new personnel to thrive in those areas.

The GM also wants his players to initiate, not retaliate. To impose their style of play on the opponent, instead of getting too bogged down trying to crack the enemy’s code.

To force the other team into making mistakes by establishing a relentless checking team.

Harder forechecking. A willingness to grind out lower-scoring wins.

Look no further than the Vegas-Florida final for successful examples.

“There’s no flybys in the playoffs,” Treliving stated.

(Yes, the current Leafs have been guilty of a flyby or two.)

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So, while we don’t specifically know whom Treliving will try to acquire this summer, we do have an idea of the brand of hockey player he’ll go hunting for.

And while the conversation will continue to circle around the big names up front, the blue line may be where Treliving stamps his own mark on the next Leafs roster.

P.S. Dream for this, Leafs Nation: Elias Lindholm ($4.85-million cap hit) as Toronto’s second-line centre, allowing John Tavares to play the wing.

P.P.S. Nick Kypreos asked Treliving about the length of his contract. “I’m gonna keep you guessing on that one,” Treliving replied. “But we’ve been looked after.”

We’ll guess four years.

2. Asked about the future of coach Sheldon Keefe, Treliving was quick to reference Bob Hartley, whom the GM inherited in Calgary, kept and watched win the 2015 Jack Adams Award.

What Treliving did not mention was that he fired Hartley in May 2016, less than a year after Hartley’s trophy win.

Treliving’s easy play here would be to retain Keefe and pocket his fire-the-coach card, which he could pull out a couple of months into the season if the Maple Leafs are underperforming.

Maybe Keefe would thrive with a fresh perspective from above?

The snag to that plan is, Keefe has always been a great regular-season coach. His faltering has come head-to-head in spring — when it’s too late to make a change. Not unlike the Leafs core, that’s when he’ll really be judged.

Some have suggested Keefe be extended so he doesn’t enter 2023-24 as a lame duck and potential distraction. We can’t see that happening. He’s 1-4 in playoff series.

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Results should predate reward, and that’s long been an issue during president Brendan Shanahan’s regime.

If Treliving keeps Keefe, keep an eye on who replaces former assistant Spencer Carbery on the bench.

Does Keefe get to make that hire? Or does Treliving bring in a legit head coach candidate to look over Keefe’s shoulder?

Kinda like how the New Jersey Devils brought in Andrew Brunette last summer to work beside Lindy Ruff.

That move ended well for all involved, but it certainly stirred some early-season speculation and fueled a sense of urgency.

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3. Kyle Dubas is staking his reputation behind a new Core Four in Pittsburgh: Mike Sullivan, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

“I’m going to bet on them,” Dubas stated in Thursday’s unveiling.

Some have knocked Pittsburgh’s freshly minted president for endorsing a group now five years removed from its most recent playoff series victory, an aging core that failed to deliver in April’s stretch run.

But he has no choice.

The Malkin and Letang contracts are fresh and long. Crosby and Fenway Group don’t want to hear talk of a teardown.

So, if that’s the plan, even if it’s a flawed one, Dubas is probably the right man for the gig.

His biggest strength is uncovering value at the fringes in cap-strapped situations.

Who will be Pittsburgh’s Michael Bunting, David Kämpf, Ilya Samsonov and Jason Spezza?

Despite the president title, we fully expect Dubas to be much more hands-on with the daily hockey decisions than, say, a Brian Burke or a Brendan Shanahan in their presidencies. He’s a GM at heart.

The best parallel might be Jeff Gorton in Montreal.

Dubas said his face-to-face interactions with Sullivan and Crosby, in particular, were “paramount” in deciding to move his family and take on the role.

Crosby’s relentless competitiveness, Dubas hopes, still holds enough contagiousness to infect the rest of the roster: “His only intention and desire is to win.”

4. The top eight buyouts, in order, fans are calculating these days on CapFriendly.com: Matt Murray, Ryan Suter, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mikael Granlund, John Tavares, Jamie Benn, Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Seguin.

Buy out the final two years of Benn’s contract, and you still take a $8.83-million cap hit in each of those years, plus $333,333 in the following two. He’s not going.

5. The two conference finalists no longer playing, the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes, are tied for the most impending unrestricted free agents at 17(!) and thus could have vastly different supporting casts in 2023-24.

Now, this number is a tad deceptive because it also includes skaters who finished the year in the farm system.

But zeroing in on the Stars, GM Jim Nill has a handful of decisions to make on his forwards, with Evgeni Dadonov, Max Domi, Luke Glendening, Joel Kiviranta and Fredrik Olofsson all free to sign to the highest bidder. RFA Ty Dellandrea has also set himself up for a raise.

Domi stands out. He has now skated for six teams over seven seasons and wouldn’t mind a little stability.

Of his potential landing spots, Domi said, “I hope one of them is here,” after the Stars’ loss to the Golden Knights.

In 19 playoff games, his longest run, Domi put up 13 points, building on his first 20-goal, 50-point season since his peak with the Montreal Canadiens back in 2018-19.

6. Pretty fun to see 34-year-old Milan Lucic seize a late-career opportunity to wear the Maple Leaf and win a gold medal for Canada at the worlds.

He estimated 12 family members were overseas with him to celebrate the moment.

Lucic was a healthy scratch at one point this past season for the Calgary Flames and does not yet have employment for the 2023-24 season.

“I’ll spend the next month thinking about what the next step is in my career and what the best fit for me will be moving forward. Right now, the main part, I think, is just enjoying the win,” Lucic told reporters.

“This was really the only reason I came, to win a gold medal, and that’s why I reached out to ask if there was a spot for me. I just wanted to come and do whatever I could to contribute to the group. It was a long month, but it’s worth it now at the end.”

In April, Lucic asserted his desire to continue playing.

And following his golden moment, the Vancouver native told Rick Dhaliwal that he’d be open to the Canucks.

“It is every hometown boy’s dream to play for the hometown team,” Lucic said. “We will see what happens if they call.”

One year at $1 million?

7. Stat of the week, via The Athletic NBA columnist John Hollinger:

Boston became the first city to lose a home Game 7 to an eight-seed in both hockey and basketball in the same season.

8. My Conn Smythe power rankings heading into the Stanley Cup Final.

  1. Sergei Bobrovsky: Worth every penny of his $10-million salary this season.
  2. Matthew Tkachuk: More like Matthew TkaClutch, am I right?!?
  3. Jack Eichel: I don’t always make the playoffs, but when I do, I’m a superstar.
  4. Adin Hill: Third-stringer turned first-ringer?
  5. Jonathan Marchessault: Original Misfit is on a mission to right the wrongs of 2018.

9. Quote of the Week:

“We have 24 giveaways. I’m not sure you’re beating the Arizona Coyotes in January with 24 giveaways.” —Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy, following the Golden Knights’ Game 5 loss to Dallas

Yes, the punching-bag Coyotes haven’t played hockey in almost two months, and they’re still out here catching strays.

Cassidy later apologized for his comment. Perhaps after he remembered that the Coyotes beat his Knights 4-1 on Jan. 22. (For those scoring at home, Vegas had only two giveaways that night. Arizona had 18.)

10. The world championships took some flak for underwhelming rosters and an American collapse, but the tournament also gave us Team Latvia.

The underdog country upset Team USA in Sunday’s bronze-medal game, capturing its first-ever hockey medal and triggering a national party.

During a 10-minute session right before midnight, members of Latvian parliament unanimously agreed to declare Monday a national holiday — giving the whole country a sudden day off.

Simply a wonderful surprise that reminds us of the beauty and power of sports …

11. Coach-turned-GM Barry Trotz took some heat in Nashville for how he allowed his inherited coach, John Hynes, to linger in limbo for weeks while he sought out replacement Brunette.

For our money, Hynes did incredibly well to milk a winning record (42-32-8) out of a thin Predators roster that was a massive seller at the trade deadline (Tanner Jeannot, Mattias Ekholm, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund were all shipped out for futures), yet still remained in the wild-card hunt until the final week.

Hynes deserves another shot elsewhere.

As for Trotz, the Brunette hire clearly states a desire for more offence — long the Achilles heel in Music City.

And we love Trotz’s message to his scouting staff heading into a hometown draft with 13(!) picks, 10 falling in the first four rounds:

12. Not touching the conference championship trophy must be one of the silliest superstitions in sports.

Do you know how difficult it is to win three rounds?

Gabriel Landeskog’s Colorado Avalanche sure did, so they embraced the Clarence Campbell Bowl before going on to dethrone the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2022 final.

Before the Avs, the 2018 Golden Knights were the most recent team to touch the bowl. That they then lost the Cup to the Washington Capitals made the Knights attempt to reverse the curse and stay hands-off after their six-game defeat of the Stars.

“We touched it a lot the first year, and it didn’t work well for us. Hopefully, it goes around,” Marchessault said. “We’ve worked hard to be in this position, but that’s not the one we want to touch.”

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Give us the devil-may-care Panthers, who had their paws all over the Prince of Wales Trophy after upsetting three Eastern Conference threats.

“We’re the type of team, the last thing that we’re going to do is be superstitious about not touching it or anything,” Tkachuk said.

“Nobody said we were gonna make the playoffs, so I don’t know. I think it’s pretty cool to touch it and carry it around and take pictures with it. Like, we earned that thing and definitely didn’t do it the easy way.

“I feel like if you’re blocking shots, taking hits and doing whatever it takes to win a trophy like that, you might as well enjoy it.”


Imagine Latvia not relishing in its bronze because the country is still waiting on gold?

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