Why the Brad Treliving hiring by the Maple Leafs makes the most sense

Luke Fox joins The Jeff Marek Show to discuss Brad Treliving's opening tasks as Toronto Maple Leafs general manager, including whether to continue with head coach Sheldon Keefe, and Auston Matthews contract negotiations.

TORONTO – There is an irony in this succession tale too rich to ignore.

During Kyle Dubas’s final, fate-altering media conference at the Toronto Maple Leafs GM’s podium, the executive pointed directly to Brad Treliving’s most (in)famous trade in Calgary as the type of bold move that may be required three provinces to the east.

Of course, it is Bill Zito’s Stanley Cup Final–bound Florida Panthers who are reaping the immediate rewards of the blockbuster that sent Matthew Tkachuk south in exchange for two top-line skaters in Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.

Sure, the Flames’ “Top Gun: Maverick”–sized ’22 summer blockbuster failed to keep Treliving’s former team in playoffs. Underwhelming results make for fired executives. But who could’ve predicted that Huberdeau, the 2021-22 Art Ross Trophy runner-up, would suddenly experience a 60-point dropoff?

Point is: Treliving’s willingness to pull the trigger and deal a drafted-and-developed superstar for legitimate prime talent as soon as Tkachuk made it clear he wanted out is precisely the type of blockbuster experience that puts him in good shape to handle the job of Maple Leafs GM.

Treliving’s appointment happened Wednesday, with a formal introduction coming Thursday, as reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Yes, a few other names had been bandied about the fringes of Leafs president Brendan Shanahan’s third GM hire, for which he placed “experience” as the key qualification. A Marc Bergevin Zoom call here. A Doug Armstrong pipe dream there. But from the outset and from the outside, the post always appeared like Treliving’s to lose.

For there were few experienced, untethered candidates who were slam-dunk better options.

Some will point out that Treliving’s father, Boston Pizza czar Jim Treliving, knows Leafs co-owner Larry Tanenbaum well from the business world. Could not have hurt his case.

Yet Jim’s son has never been one to rest on the family coffers.

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Financially, Brad Treliving would be just fine without the Maple Leafs job, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need it.

Respected by his bosses, his employees and his peers alike, Treliving has one of the sturdiest reputations in the business. He’s friendly and forthright. He doesn’t hide from hard questions or hard decisions.

Flames president of hockey operations Don Maloney got emotional last month announcing Treliving’s departure from Calgary after nine seasons and three playoff series victories.

“Brad Treliving is a good friend, and I think a very good hockey man,” Maloney said. “He left us, for his reasons.”

Moments after the Panthers swept the Carolina Hurricanes and punched their ticket to the final, series-clinching goal-scorer Tkachuk thanked his former GM, unprompted.

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“I was very fortunate to deal with another unbelievable guy in Calgary in Brad Treliving, and we were able to get that (trade) worked out,” Tkachuk said on TNT’s post-game broadcast.

We can tell you that even before signing up his multi-year pact with the Maple Leafs, a contract that should extend Shanahan’s own current deal, Treliving reached out to Auston Matthews’ camp to open the lines of communication with the franchise’s brightest star.

Treliving and Matthews’ agent, Judd Moldaver, have a good working relationship, just as Moldaver and Dubas did.

Unsigned beyond 2023-24 and with a no-move clause kicking in July 1, Matthews’ next contract should be Priority 1 for Treliving. Matthews intends to re-sign, but he must buy into Treliving’s plan and put pen to paper the way Huberdeau and Weegar did.

A doomsday scenario would be Johnny Gaudreau 2.0, where Treliving and his staff walked 2022’s most coveted UFA out the door for zero return.

Complicating matters in Toronto are the uncertain long-term futures of star wingers William Nylander (UFA 2024) and Mitchell Marner (UFA 2025, with a full no-move triggered July 1).

Treliving also inherits 10 pending unrestricted free agents, most wanting raises; an intriguing RFA starting goaltender, Ilya Samsonov, hot off his best NHL season; an anchor in Matt Murray, still gobbling $4.7 million in cap space; and a lame-duck but good head coach in Sheldon Keefe, who just lost his assistant and his fiercest advocate.

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Because Treliving would be expected to hit the ground at full sprint — making calls on the coaching staff, prepping for the draft and free agency, and drilling into core’s true intentions — it helps that the 53-year-old Penticton, B.C., native is only days, not years, away from making moves.

Like any veteran GM, the man has his hits (Sven Baertschi to Vancouver for a second-round pick used on Rasmus Andersson; Boston’s Dougie Hamilton for three picks that never made an impact) and his misses (Sam Bennett and Tkachuk look like keepers; the draft picks that became Noah Dobson and Stuart Skinner were once Treliving’s).

Still, there is nary a free agent or a trade candidate that Treliving will not explore. He works the phones harder than a telemarketer.

And when he knows a situation is untenable — be it Tkachuk’s unwillingness to re-sign long-term, Adam Fox’s unwillingness to sign at all or a coach who’s not getting the group over the hump — he’s not afraid to pull the trigger. To adjust and adapt.

Whether Treliving is the right choice for the Maple Leafs remains to be seen.

But of the options available, it’s difficult to argue that he’s not fit for the challenge.

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