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The Leafs can’t afford to have Brad Treliving double down on his mistakes

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Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
3 months ago
The departure of former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and the subsequent hiring of former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving created a summer’s worth of soap operas. While the circumstances surrounding the former’s departure are still very murky, it felt inevitable that somebody was going to fall on the sword. Despite breaking a 19-year curse and finally making it out of that ever-so coveted first round, they only won two extra playoff games than they normally do. Not good enough for a team in year seven of this core.
From the moment Treliving met with the Toronto media for the first time, he set his sights on the vision for his new team. He emphasized the need for “snot” and “piss and vinegar”, highlighted by the signings of Ryan Reaves to a three-year contract, as well as Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi to one-year contracts. He also signed John Klingberg to a one-year contract, looking to add a right-handed offensive threat for a team that got next to no offence from their back end last season. 
With the departure of key penalty killers like Justin Holl and Alex Kerfoot, it was clear that the Leafs were going to suffer defensively, but the idea was that the added offence would make up for what they lost defensively. Bertuzzi was coming off of a 10-point playoff performance in seven games and scored 30 goals in 2021-22, Domi had 56 points last season. Even Klingberg, despite struggling for a few years now, has demonstrated elite power play quarterbacking ability in the past. The chance to play alongside some of the best offensive players in the league and run their top power play unit should have been a golden opportunity to get his career back on track.
It’s been well-documented how much the new additions have struggled so far. While Bertuzzi and Domi are both starting to show signs of life, both Reaves and Klingberg have been bad enough to the point where they’re actively costing the team games. It’s not ideal for anybody, especially only 13 games into the new season, but it’s time to have the conversation of moving on from these two before things get even worse. 
Kyle Dubas was one of the most polarizing figures in the league when he was Toronto’s GM. You had people on one side who thought he was a boy wonder who could do no wrong, you had people on the other side who believed he was nothing more than a glorified calculator, and you had people in the middle like myself who acknowledged the many good moves he made as well as the bad ones he made. 
One trait Dubas had as Leafs GM that I really respected, and I think most people would agree whether you liked or hated him, was that he never doubled down on his mistakes. If he made a bad trade or a bad signing, he wouldn’t sit there and try to squeeze everything out of it to save his dignity. We saw him trade Nick Ritchie to the Arizona Coyotes after he managed only two goals in the first five months of the 2021-22 season. He unloaded Petr Mrazek’s contract to the Chicago Blackhawks after only one year after it was apparent that he couldn’t be trusted to stop pucks on a consistent basis. After the trade for Nick Foligno in 2020-21 didn’t work out, he let him go to Boston rather than re-signing him just to prove a point. 
If the Leafs want to be a playoff team this year, Brad Treliving has to follow that same mentality. 
The Klingberg-Giordano pairing was a minus-three yesterday, and the former only has five assists on the season over 13 games. Signing him was always going to be a gamble, but 13 games in or not, five assists for the adventures he subjects the team to in his own zone is not good enough. It wouldn’t be good enough for a defenceman making league minimum, let alone $4.1 million. Even if it’s only for one year. 
Meanwhile, Reaves has done nothing but skate around and look lost on the ice. On opening night, he flexed his muscles when he was introduced at Scotiabank Arena. Later that night, he fought Canadiens defenceman Arber Xhekaj. The following game, he dropped the gloves with Wild forward Marcus Foligno. 
Since then, it’s been radio silence. 
I can forgive the lack of fights from Reaves. That’s obviously what he’s here to do, but jumping on the ice and dropping the gloves for no reason is pretty useless. That said, he had a golden opportunity to live up to his contract last week against the Boston Bruins. Their star player injured his teammate, an up-and-coming young defenceman, and there was no response from him nor the rest of the team. If you’re not standing up for your teammates in moments where a response is not only expected, but encouraged, then what are you here to do? 
It’s even gotten to the point where the Leafs can’t trust Reaves to play the same minutes as Noah Gregor and David Kampf, the other members of that fourth line. He rode the bench on Monday against Tampa Bay in the second half of the game, and we saw Calle Jarnkrok double shift with those two a couple times. At this point, the Leafs are paying him over a million dollars a year to sit on the bench and look mean, which is flat out not good enough. 
If Treliving’s going to take anything out of Dubas’ playbook, it has to be the ability to recognize mistakes and correct them; not double down on them to prove a point. Normally, 13 games wouldn’t be enough of a sample size to make a decision like this, but the Leafs are essentially operating on three forward lines and barely two defensive pairings. They can’t trust Klingberg on the ice at all unless they’re in the offensive zone, and Reaves drags that fourth line down more than I’ve ever seen a player do so. 
The Atlantic Division is not going to wait around for the Leafs. The Boston Bruins are clearly no different than they were last season, the Detroit Red Wings are showing signs of a step forward, and the Florida teams can never be taken lightly. If they continue to allow 4-6 goals a game, other teams will pass them no matter how much the core four scores. Missing the playoffs immediately after signing your franchise centre to the most expensive NHL contract in league history is a great way to immediately lose your fanbase, and if he insists that Sheldon Keefe continues to roll out this team, a simple playoff berth could be in question.

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