TORONTO (May 31) — Come on. You didn’t expect Brendan Shanahan to make a bold hire, did you?
Brad Treliving has the experience Shanahan was seeking in the “new” general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Given, however, the assuring phone call Brendan made to his precious nucleus of forwards, Treliving needed to answer “yes” only one question: “Will you throw yourself at the feet and mercy of Auston Matthews and his negotiators?” Looking for re–employment in the National Hockey League, and with likely his only offer, what was Treliving to say? “No, I’m going to make every effort to trade Auston before July 1 so he doesn’t become the de facto GM of this team?” A strong applicant with a self–mandate to shake the Leafs out of their playoff doldrums might have replied in such a manner. Whereupon Shanahan would have said: “Thanks. Don’t call us. We’ll call you.” A hand–me–down candidate with a spotty record in the NHL would take no–such chance.
So, the Maple Leafs have their successor to Kyle Dubas. A manager receiving a second opportunity in the bigs whose team in Calgary missed the playoffs four times in nine seasons while failing to escape the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament. A GM who lost, last summer, his two best players: Matthew Tkachuk to a hands–tied swap with Florida and Johnny Gaudreau to Columbus in free agency. Does it sound familiar, Leafs Nation? Is this an example of your beloved team possessing a courageous and resolute long–term plan to finally challenge for the Stanley Cup? Or, one that assures a path of least resistance toward retaining Invisible Auston and his running mates for an unprecedented eighth consecutive chance to wither early in the playoffs? You answer the question.
Don’t look for any help in the local or national media. It took only minutes, late last night, for TSN hockey analyst Frank Corrado to affirm (alongside the venerable Jay Onrait) that Treliving “checks many boxes” as GM of the Leafs. That the hockey club is co–owned by the parent company of TSN (Bell Canada) wouldn’t enter the equation, would it? You can expect similar platitudes from such other Leaf wall–flowers as Chris Johnston, Kevin McGran, Luke Fox, Mark Masters… heck, maybe even James Mirtle and Jonas Siegel, if they are no longer sitting shiva for Dubas. Steve Simmons, Cathal Kelly and Dave Feschuk offer hope for some reporting balance, but they’ll be trounced by the talking heads who gush over Treliving in the coming days. We live in an era of media “branding”, not one of critical analysis. So, expect an easy path to the podium for the former Calgary manager.
THE BULLETIN ON TSN’s WEBSITE EARLY THIS MORNING; NEWS ALMOST OFFICIAL.
This is not to imply that Treliving will fail here in town. From all reports, he’s a good man who knows the game and the business. He deserves a full chance… even if the 16th GM of the Maple Leafs since 1967, following Punch Imlach (twice), Jim Gregory, Gerry McNamara, Gord Stellick, Floyd Smith, Cliff Fletcher (twice), Ken Dryden, Pat Quinn, John Ferguson, Brian Burke, David Nonis, Lou Lamoriello and Dubas. Given that Gregory (1969–79) and McNamara (1981–88) consumed 17 years of the post–’67 era, the other 14 existed in a span of 39 years. Or, just more than one for every three seasons. Hardly a mark of franchise stability. The biggest threat to Treliving is that which I mentioned off the top: remaining fully subordinate to Matthews, who erupted with a clutch and colossal zero goals in the five–game playoff duster by Florida, continuing a seven–year interval of ineptitude when the stakes increase. A strong–willed GM, working for a new president with fresh ideas, might challenge Invisible Auston’s hold on the franchise, which becomes all–consuming a month from now (July 1), when his celebrated no–movement clause kicks in. But, a conveniently recycled GM operating under a Teflon president with one playoff–round triumph in nearly a decade isn’t likely to stand in the way of vaunted No. 34. Particularly with the raging love affair toward Matthews in the soft and mushy Toronto hockey media. Really, it’s a slam–dunk scenario.
Matthews and his reps will likely toy with the Leafs, coercing the club into either a max–term (eight year) contract, or a “bridge” deal of three–to–four years, at max salary and cap constraint. After all, no player on Earth can sub for Invisible Auston, especially after mid–April. Right? To retain Matthews, the Maple Leafs may need to offload perhaps their most–gifted performer of the 56–year Stanley Cup famine. But, there’s enough anti–Mitch Marner bias amid the fan base for Shanahan and Treliving to make the ultimate mistake. Even if that becomes nearly impossible once Marner’s no–move privilege takes effect, also on July 1. That Mitch still has two years remaining on his current pact — compared to one season for Matthews — could open the door for a bad trade.
But, Marner will need to offer his approval if not moved by Canada Day.
So, Leafs fans, as long as you’re content with Invisible Auston running the show, you’ll be happy with the combo of Shanahan and Treliving. But, you’ll also continue to watch other teams compete for hockey’s biggest prize.