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Treliving’s conservatism at deadline hinders potential Cup run for 2024 Leafs

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
Brad Treliving’s appeal was enveloped in the promise that he would be the diametric opposite of Kyle Dubas, who was maligned, unfairly or not, for taking seismic swings in trades with a propensity for player-friendly contracts. Treliving’s conservatism always appealed to Brendan Shanahan during the general manager search — if there was a genuine search to begin with, as Shanahan essentially telegraphed that Treliving was his guy. And in the midst of another crucial year of the Maple Leafs’ contention timeline with Auston Matthews and William Nylander reaching their apex form and the cumulative weight of crushed playoff dreams adding up, Treliving sat idly by with a triptych of pragmatic moves, while nearly a dozen teams genuinely improved at the deadline.
Toronto traded a 2024 sixth-round pick and a 2025 third-round selection in order to acquire Ilya Lyubushkin, an all-defense, no-offense right-shot option who offers Morgan Rielly a right-shot partner, even if he’s ill-suited to play against top-line competition. Treliving then traded for Joel Edmundson, who is best known for his vicious cross-checks in front of the net while proving minimal defensive impact due to the poor routes he takes to the puck, sending a 2024 third-round and a 2025 fifth-round selection to the Washington Capitals. And with minutes to spare ahead of Friday’s deadline, Treliving traded for Connor Dewar, who is best suited as a fourth-line centre, playing 11 minutes per game for the Minnesota Wild, in exchange for a 2026 fourth-round pick.
“It was a normal trade deadline day,” Treliving told reporters Friday afternoon after the deadline concluded. “There’s been a lot of activity leading up to today. Some of the things we were really looking to do coming into today, what may be considered bigger deals probably weren’t going to come to fruition. So now you’re with the staff and looking at how to improve, what areas may be out there. Credit to the staff, they’ve put in a lot of work, it’s a long few days leading up to the deadline. I would characterize it as a business-as-usual trade deadline day.”
The acquisition costs for each player aren’t prohibitive and in a vacuum, each trade is fine. But the NHL doesn’t operate in a vacuum and the Maple Leafs are worse off considering the scale of transactions their rivals made.
Florida and Edmonton, both teams boasting top-four offensive and defensive analytical profiles, went for the jugular, as the Panthers went after Vladimir Tarasenko, who can still score against top-six competition while admittedly featuring as one of the worst defensive forwards in the NHL, then solidified its bottom-six by acquiring former Buffalo Sabres captain Kyle Okposo. Edmonton picked up Adam Henrique, widely lauded for his hockey intelligence and secondary scoring in exchange for a handful of Day 2 picks. Tampa Bay added Matt Dumba and a seventh-round pick for a 2027 fifth-round pick — if there’s one team that realizes when to mortgage future assets for a better chance at a Cup, it’s the Lightning and they should’ve been the model to emulate. And if the NHL is a copy-cat league, look no further than the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights, who effectively said to hell with the thin imagination of the salary cap and acquired Tomas Hertl, Anthony Mantha and Noah Hanifin. Conservatism has no place in the trade market, even if it permeates the philosophy of the C-suite writ large.
Treliving clearly wanted to divorce himself from the remnants of Dubas’ regime and wanted to operate his own draft. One of the provisions of accepting the Maple Leafs’ general manager position was that Treliving was barred from the draft floor until the Calgary Flames made their first-round selection. Maple Leafs 2023 first-round pick Easton Cowan has lit the Ontario Hockey League on fire with a 30-game point-streak as a member of the London Knights. It was clear that Treliving had no intention of trading Cowan and wanted to make his own imprint on the roster.
“We’ve got some good young players and we’ve got to continue to add to that,” Treliving said. “Try to separate facts from fiction, fiction from nonfiction but our first-round pick, there were things that we would look at to put it in but it had to make sense. It just didn’t feel like it was something that made sense for us for the very short-term so it’s good to have that asset here. Now we move forward. You look at Easton, you look at the year Fraser Minten is having.
“Even with the Marlies, you look at Dennis Hildeby developing. Even coming in with a limited supply of picks last year, the (Noah) Chadwick kid is having a good year to the point where we signed him. (Hudson) Malinoski in Providence… that’s the role of our development staff to continue to work with them. Certainly, Easton’s had a heck of a year and he’s a heck of a player. There was no thought of moving Easton.”
Toronto’s roster construction has been laid bare, there are no surprises. It’s a top-heavy group featuring Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly, while Dubas, and now Treliving have scrambled to fill the ancillary parts of the lineup. Treliving’s first free agency haul barely received a passing grade as John Klingberg was an unmitigated disaster prior to injury, Tyler Bertuzzi’s analytical profile portends better results but few actual goals, Max Domi’s defensive shortcomings have often outweighed his offense, while David Kampf is now redundant as Dewar will file his nominal roles.
Treliving clearly believes in his group to the extent that it doesn’t bother him that the Panthers, Bruins, Oilers, Golden Knights, New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes all swung major deals to improve their chances at winning the Cup.
“We tried to make some moves to address certain areas but at the end of the day, a lot of the answers are going to come from the guys that are in the room,” Treliving said. “That’s the reality of the situation. We’ve got a group that’s driven, we got a group that’s hungry. But we’ve got a month here to go to put ourselves in a position where we earn a spot and in the meantime, continue to grow our game.”
There’s no room for conservatism in the modern NHL. Vegas has been richly rewarded for not caring about conventions like the salary cap or future draft picks and many contenders are following its lead. Tampa Bay went to three consecutive Stanley Cups on the premise of aiding its top-heavy, future Hall-of-Fame corps with seismic yet calculated deadline deals.
The deadline is imbued with more nuance than we permit executives, which is fine, but the optics of Treliving sitting back and making minor dents to a Maple Leafs team sitting third place in the Atlantic Division, increasingly desperate to break through to an elusive Cup, only to watch the rest of the league speed past him won’t sit well in Toronto. The future is just an abstract concept, tomorrow is all that matters and Treliving lacked the creativity, desperation and inventiveness required to elevate a good-but-not-great Maple Leafs team that relies too heavily on Matthews and Nylander’s tour-de-force performances. And now we have to wait to see if Treliving’s conservatism proves to be fatal.

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