Brad Treliving sends his team a clear message following quiet trade deadline

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
Historically, Brad Treliving has never been much of a wheel-and-dealer at the trade deadline.
Look back to his time with the Calgary Flames for all the proof you need. The biggest deadline deal he pulled off in his nine years as Flames GM came during the 2021-22 season, a trade with the Montreal Canadiens to acquire forward Tyler Toffoli for a pile of picks and prospects. Other than that, outside of the odd trade for a bottom-pairing defenceman or a middle-to-bottom-six forward, the brunt of his moves came in the offseason. 
His first trade deadline as Maple Leafs GM was no different. He traded for Anaheim Ducks defenceman (and former Leafs deadline acquisition) Ilya Lyubushkin a week before the deadline after they were forced to use Mitch Marner on defence, and then followed that up with a deal for veteran defenceman Joel Edmundson for a pair of draft picks and forward Connor Dewar for a pick and prospect Dmitry Ovchinnikov. 
Nobody really knew what to expect from the Leafs at the deadline this season. Treliving’s history aside, the team’s inconsistent play led people to have discussions about whether or not they should stand pat at the deadline, with some even suggesting they’d be smart to sell off some of their pending UFAs like Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi. How much of that changed after the Leafs went on a seven-game winning streak leading up to the deadline, we might never know.
What we do know is that the Leafs had multiple holes going into the deadline and not all of them could be filled on March 8th. In a perfect world, they would have walked away with a top-4 right-handed defenceman, a strong, two-way, penalty-killing centre, and perhaps a top-six winger. Between the Leafs’ lack of high draft picks and a hesitancy to part with top prospects such as Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten, there simply wasn’t a match to be made to get all of those holes filled in a way that made sense. 
That’s not to say the Leafs didn’t address any needs this year – their penalty kill currently ranks at 22nd in the league out of 32, and all three players they added will help them in that regard. Sure, none of them are total needle-movers, but to say the team isn’t better than they were three weeks ago is false.
In Treliving’s post-deadline press conference, he summed up his belief on where the team was at pretty bluntly. 
It might not be the answer that trade-hungry fans wanted to hear, especially after last season’s trade deadline when they landed two of the biggest fish on the market in Ryan O’Reilly and Jake McCabe, but in complete honesty, he’s right – and I took it as more of a compliment to the team’s core than an insult.
The argument you can make for the latter is that Treliving doesn’t feel confident enough in the team as is to unload a truck bed full of picks and prospects on a list of upgrades like they did last season. While there’s certainly an argument to be made that, given how strong teams like Boston and Florida have looked and how much opposite-conference teams like the Vegas Golden Knights upgraded, they’d be better off keeping their top-end capital for the offseason, I didn’t take it as a negative. In fact, I think Treliving was sending a message that the players in the room are good enough to get the job done without a big-name upgrade.
Sure, trading a pick and a prospect for Toffoli this year would have helped the team. But, if the Leafs make a meaningful run this season, is anyone really going to look back and say “This team really wouldn’t be where they are without…Tyler Toffoli”. I doubt it.
In reality, there’s always going to be the argument that the Leafs, with the amount of talent in their core players, are good enough to make a deep run provided they get stable goaltending. But take a look at last season – they traded for a former Conn Smythe winner and one of the strongest two-way forwards in the league in O’Reilly. They traded for McCabe, who to this day logs tough top-four minutes for the Leafs and gives them a physical presence they’ve sorely missed since Jake Muzzin’s season-ending injury last year. They traded for Luke Schenn, who was both a feel-good story and probably the best-value addition from the deadline, giving Morgan Rielly a stable partner and allowing him to play his best hockey of the season when it mattered most. And sprinkled in there were a pair of useful depth forwards in Noel Acciari and Sam Lafferty and an additional puck-moving defenceman in Erik Gustafsson. 
And while it worked out in a sense, giving the Leafs their first playoff series win since 2004 and new-age fans a memory to last a lifetime, they only won one game in the second round, quickly falling victim to the momentum-driven Panthers in the second round. And if you look at each game from that second round, they didn’t get a single goal from Auston Matthews or John Tavares. They got one goal from Marner, and two from William Nylander. The rest of the contributions came from their depth forwards. 
Ever since the 2020-21 first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens, I think Matthews and Marner have done an okay job shedding the notion that they don’t show up in the playoffs. Matthews scored the game-winner in Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning to give the Leafs the series lead the following year, and he scored the first two goals of Game 4 last season to kickstart their three-goal comeback in Game 4 against the Lightning. He also opened the scoring in Game 6, the game that would eventually mark the end of the first-round curse. Marner had 11 points in those six games. 
Still, though, they didn’t make nearly enough of an impact in the second round as you’d expect them to given how much they’re paid. So that brings us back to Treliving’s quote. Sure, the Leafs could have used a Noah Hanifin, a Chris Tanev, or a Tyler Toffoli. But, in the end, if their star players are no-shows, or if their special teams don’t hold up their end of the bargain, or if they don’t get competent goaltending from one of Ilya Samsonov or Joseph Woll, then the addition of one of those three players or any other deadline castoff won’t help them whatsoever. 
I believe that getting out of the first round last year meant way more to that dressing room than people might think. Going up against teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round is tough enough, to begin with, but doing it with the expectation of breaking a 19-year curse for one of the most storied franchises in hockey only adds another wave of pressure on them. Going in this year, they know they’re capable of advancing past the first round. Maybe that changes things in the room, maybe it doesn’t, but in the end, they need a buy-in mentality from every member of that dressing room, and they’re far beyond the point where trading for a big name at the deadline is the thing that pushes them over the top.

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