The Toronto Maple Leafs introduced Brad Treliving as their new GM in a late-morning press conference Thursday – and the ease with which Leafs team president Brendan Shanahan spoke with concerning Treliving made it clear he was extremely comfortable with handing the reins over to Kyle Dubas’ replacement.
But that doesn’t mean the next few months are going to be smooth sailing. As always in Toronto, there will be no shortage of drama. For better or worse, the Leafs are the talk of the water-cooler circuit, and nothing will be left unanalyzed as Treliving settles into his new position.
Treliving spoke briefly about one area of drama – the contract status of superstar center Auston Matthews. The anxiety levels of Leafs fans has spiked in the wake of Dubas’ departure, but this writer still believes Matthews will sign a contract extension when he’s eligible to do so July 1; it may not be an extension for seven seasons, but a four-or-five-year deal will likely keep Matthews and agent Judd Moldaver happy, and set up Matthews for another massive payday in 2027 or 2028.
From there, the big question in Toronto will become what happens to the rest of the Core Four in Leafs Land – forwards Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander. Most people believe Tavares’ contract status will keep him anchored in Toronto until his contract expires in 2025. That leaves Marner and Nylander as most likely to be moved, but Treliving isn’t going to give away either player simply to effect change in his new workplace. He’ll have to be bowled over to move Marner, specifically, with a trade that helps transform the Leafs’ defense corps into a more difficult bunch to play against. Same goes for Nylander, whose $6.9-million contract (and single season left on his current deal) makes him the easiest big piece to move.
After Treliving decides what to do with his best players, the rest of the roster needs to be fleshed out. To that end, Toronto has to make key decisions on a slew of unrestricted free agents, including forwards David Kampf, Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Michael Bunting, Zach Aston-Reese and Alex Kerfoot, as well as defensemen Luke Schenn, Erik Gustafsson and Justin Holl. With eight roster spots open at the NHL level and only $9.1 million in projected salary cap space, Treliving is facing saying goodbye to many, if not most of those aforementioned UFAs.
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That number rises to $14.9 million if veteran D-man Jake Muzzin remains sidelined by an injury that could end his playing career and keeps him out of the lineup for the duration of the 2023-24 campaign. And if the Leafs choose to part ways with veteran goalie Matt Murray – either by a contract buyout or if he also is placed on Long-Term Injury Reserve – Toronto could have in excess of $19.3 million in cap space. That would make Treliving a major player in the off-season market for new talent.
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The Leafs have some complementary players in place that will help them out cap-wise next year: they have six blueliners under contract, and at forward, they’ve got very manageable contracts with youngsters Matthew Knies and Nick Robertson, as well as veterans Sam Lafferty and Calle Jarnkroc. We could see Robertson being moved in a deal for an above-average defenseman, but again, Treliving isn’t going to jettison assets just for the sake of change.
That said, the status quo isn’t an option for Leafs management. Their failure to be even remotely competitive enough against the Florida Panthers in the second round of the playoffs underscores how much work there still is to do in Toronto. Treliving doesn’t have much soft landing space to work with now that he’s working for the Leafs, with the draft only a handful of weeks away. Toronto’s management structure has been built to be bigger than any single person, so Dubas’ departure is not necessarily going to be greatly altered under Treliving. The best case for the most part will be to move ahead with a group similar to last season’s Leafs squad, unless an opportunity for a blockbuster deal presents itself sooner than later.
It’s been a rocky road in the past few days for Leafs fans, but they can rest assured that change is on its way. The only question now is the degree of change in Toronto. We will soon find out just how much of an imprint on the team Treliving intends on leaving very early in his tenure.