TORONTO — Toronto Maple Leafs incoming general manager Brad Treliving got straight to the point at his introductory news conference Thursday by addressing potential contract extension talks with star Auston Matthews.
The team’s top center is about to enter the final season of his five-year, $58 million deal and is eligible to re-sign with Toronto as of July 1. Treliving has been on the job less than 24 hours but already made time to connect with Matthews.
“I communicated with Auston via text,” Treliving confirmed. “I know [his agent] Judd [Moldaver], there’s a great personal relationship [there]. We’re not going to get into any public discourse about contracts but obviously we know where these contracts are at. Auston is one of the elite players in the world. We’re not talking about [just] a good player. Getting to Auston is a priority.”
Treliving said visiting with Matthews in his home state of Arizona is “No. 1” on the agenda now that he’s up and running with Toronto. The two didn’t cross paths while Treliving was general manager in Calgary from 2014 until he left the organization last month, and fostering a strong relationship with Toronto’s marquee skater — who has a full no-move clause kicking in July 1 — is the goal.
“It’s getting down [to Arizona] and me getting a chance to meet him and more importantly, Auston getting a chance to meet me,” Treliving said. “And [for him to] know what we’re about and just talk a little bit. That’s priority No. 1. We’re prepared to get after it. I’m excited to get a chance to meet with him and thrilled to work with him.”
Matthews is coming off a fourth consecutive 40-plus goal season and is one year removed from a 60-goal effort that earned him a Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. The 25-year-old added five goals and 11 points in 11 playoff games for Toronto this season as the Leafs advanced to the second round for the first time since 2004. The Leafs’ postseason ended there with a thud as they fell in five games to Florida.
An ongoing lack of playoff success has, once again, put Toronto’s so-called core four of Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares under scrutiny. Former GM Kyle Dubas — who left the organization in May and was announced Thursday as president of hockey operations in Pittsburgh — had staunchly refused to trade any of the Leafs’ key players. Treliving was less dogmatic about taking the same course.
“We will look at all things,” he said of trade possibilities. “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 on the tarmac and it might look good for headlines but are you getting any better? At the end of the day it’s about getting better. Being different doesn’t necessarily make you better. This can’t be about the core four; it’s about the Toronto Maple Leafs [and] the 23 players we have in this organization.”
Treliving’s responsibilities extend beyond managing those on the ice, to the person behind the bench as well. Coach Sheldon Keefe was brought on by Dubas to replace the fired Mike Babcock in November 2019. Keefe and Dubas previously worked together at both the AHL level with the Toronto Marlies and with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Treliving admitted he doesn’t “have a relationship with Sheldon” although they have talked since Treliving took over the GM role. Keefe’s future with the club will be determined from here.
“There’s a lot of things that are priorities; Sheldon’s [status] is as well,” Treliving said. “As I said to him, it’s a unique situation. We can call it whatever we want. There’s been a change [in management]. He’s in a unique situation. That’s the business. I think he’s a really good coach. My view in determining whether a guy is good, bad, indifferent, you’ve got to get to know him. I’m coming in with no preconceived notions.”
If Treliving didn’t have concrete answers to provide on day two of his tenure, there did at least seem to be a plan for how he’d approach the next weeks and months. One wrinkle for Treliving will come in how involved he can be with the Leafs at the NHL draft later this month. Leafs’ president Brendan Shanahan confirmed — without providing details — that “restrictions” were imposed on Toronto by the Flames when Calgary gave the Leafs permission to speak with Treliving ahead of his contract officially expiring June 30. The draft is set for June 27 and 28.
Regardless, Treliving will be busy working through a lengthy to-do list this summer that should have his fingerprints all over the Toronto franchise.
“We’re going to build relationships,” Treliving said. “We’ve got Sheldon’s situation [to deal with], we’ve got to get to know the staff. We’ve got a draft to prepare for. No. 1, I’ve got to get out and see Auston. No. 1A is the other contractual issues; we’ve got a coach we’ve got to get some clarity [on] and meet with. There’s a lot to do, and the clock is ticking.”
New Leafs GM Brad Treliving: Re-signing Auston Matthews top priority