Solid Day’s Work by Treliving, But…

TORONTO (July 1) — At last, it appears the Toronto Maple Leafs have regained vision while considering the 100 feet of ice behind the center red line. During the administrations of Mark Hunter, Lou Lamoriello and, especially, Kyle Dubas, it was all about scoring goals; the nearsighted scheme fully endorsed by president Brendan Shanahan. Comparative blindness prevailed elsewhere. Drafted in consecutive years were William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews — unquestionably, three of the most–gifted forwards in franchise history. Added, expensively, as a free agent (in July 2018) was center John Tavares, a Toronto native. Prevention of goals was either an afterthought for Dubas… or a non–thought. As such, and as you are aware, the Maple Leafs have earned but a lone playoff conquest in the past two decades (over Tampa Bay in the 2023 opening round).

By no means did general manager Brad Treliving nudge the Leafs over the top, earlier today, when he signed veteran defensemen Chris Tanev and Oliver Ekman–Larsson. Almost never has a marginal playoff team become an instant contender with a blue line addition on July 1 (the exception being Vegas, which poached Alex Pietrangelo from St. Louis in 2020 and won the Cup three years later). Elite players at that position (Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Victor Hedman, Cale Makar, Roman Josi) are almost always locked up, long–term, by the clubs that drafted them. Neither have Tanev nor Ekman–Larsson, at any time in their careers, threatened to win the Norris Trophy. But, Treliving added size, experience and and puck–handling skill to the back end. Morgan Rielly, Tanev, Ekman–Larsson and Jake McCabe provide, if performing to standard, the best foursome of Maple Leaf defenders since the Pat Burns era (Dave Ellett, Jamie Macoun, Sylvain Lefebvre, Bob Rouse, 1993). Simon Benoit, Tim Liljegren and Jani Hakanpää (signed by Treliving late in the day, also from Dallas) round out the top seven.

The big question mark, however, continues to surround the most–important position on the club. Clearly, Treliving envisioned a goaltending tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Joseph Woll — the latter, disturbingly injury prone, counted on for perhaps 25 starts. By losing out on Markstrom, who signed with New Jersey, Treliving reverted to Plan B: restoring Woll in the No. 1 slot while adding back–up Anthony Stolarz from the Stanley Cup champion Florida Panthers. Thereby moving forward with goalies that have combined for a mere 148 National Hockey League games (109 belonging to Stolarz). If Treliving is anticipating that Woll can suddenly hold himself together, physically, for 55–60 games as the No. 1 stopper, he’ll wind up disappointed. As will Leafs Nation. It’s the reason Brad went hard for Markstrom. He knows that China Doll Woll is best–suited for the No. 2 job. The club, therefore, goes into next season — yet again — without any of us truly capable of predicting how the net position will evolve.

Not since Curtis Joseph (1998–2002) and Ed Belfour (2002–06) have the Leafs deployed a no–doubter in goal.

There are two other enormous issues facing the hockey club.

Though Treliving upgraded his blue line (for the next couple of years, anyway), he ended the day more than $900,000 in the hole. Or, above the now–$88 million salary cap per team (an increase of $4.5 million). Problem is, the Leafs still possess a crippling gap between their elite and support players up front. Having spent so much of the cap on Nylander, Marner, Matthews and Tavares, prior GMs have been left with scraps to fill out the roster. And, it simply hasn’t worked come playoff time — exacerbated, of course, by the perennial withering of the Core–4. Treliving smartly retained Max Domi, but couldn’t afford to keep Tyler Bertuzzi (who fled to Chicago). As such, the Leafs are saddled with nearly the identical cast of support forwards as last season. With no cap room left for essential upgrades. Leafs Nation can possibly envision Matthew Knies and Bobby McMann narrowing the production divide… even with a meager 72 combined points in the NHL. Before it actually happens, though, we’re talking hope, not expectation. And, Maple Leaf fans have gagged on hope for nearly six decades. Until largely improved, this element of the team will continue to hamper playoff designs. The clubs that truly contend may not possess the raw skill of Toronto’s forward nucleus, but they offer more balance amid three (sometimes four) lines.

The other issue — and how could we forget — is Mitch Marner; not because he warrants singling out among his elite buddies for playoff misadventure. But, simply because Nylander and Matthews were locked down earlier by management. And, any person that still fantasizes over the Big 3 draft choices lighting it up during the lengthy playoff slog as part of the same team… needs help. It hasn’t happened in eight consecutive chances (I still can’t believe I’m writing that); neither will it suddenly evolve in a ninth. Maybe on separate clubs, but not while skating together. So, the Leafs, in order to possibly capitalize on their upgraded blue line, must find another locale for Marner prior to the NHL trade embargo next March. Which, of course, isn’t possible without the player’s blessing.

In the end, we come back to the biggest franchise deficit of all — the ability to draft and develop goalies and defensemen. Since 1967, only Mike Palmateer and Felix Potvin have stood out for any length of time among netminders nurtured by the organization. Two goalies in 57 years! And, people still think there’s a mystery to the longest–ever Stanley Cup drought. Exacerbating this interminable chase is the lack of a franchise cornerstone on the blue line. If I were paid by the word for every blog I’ve written about the absolute necessity of a Norris Trophy type on a championship team, Jeff Bezos and I would be hanging together. And, while prior Leaf administrations deserve credit for raising such young bucks as Tomas Kaberle and Rielly, none have risen to the level of Borje Salming — the last–such player not acquired from another team. Salming contended for the Norris throughout the latter half of the 70’s. Up against such all–time opponents as Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe (Montreal); Brad Park (Boston) and Denis Potvin (New York Islanders). Salming finished runner–up to Robinson for Norris voting in 1976–77 (with 78 points) and 1979–80 (71 points). Though Rielly shows flashes, no Maple Leafs defender (drafted, signed or obtained via trade) has risen close to Salming’s level. And, he was procured by scout Gerry McNamara in Sweden 51 years ago. That’s a friggin’ long time without developing an elite blue–liner.

It’s the reason the Leafs need to scramble every year in free agency and at the trade deadline.

Nothing of significance will change until development becomes an organizational strength.

And, wouldn’t you know it? The NHL today reinstated Joel Quenneville. One month too late for the Leafs.


Prior to last week, I had never seen this tiny item — a 4½ x 3–inch booklet for the 1973–74 hockey season distributed (when it was still legal) by the Player’s cigarette brand. It contained pertinent details of the 28 professional teams that comprised the NHL and the second–year World Hockey Association. For three seasons (1973–74 to 1975–76) Toronto had two pro clubs (below): the Maple Leafs and WHA Toros, which relocated from Ottawa.

How many names do you recognize all these years later?


10 comments on “Solid Day’s Work by Treliving, But…

  1. Gotta hand it to Bill Zito, Florida Panthers. Best GM in the NHL wins the cup, then watches some good players walk away as free agents. But then he signs a couple defencemen as reclamation projects each under a million dollars and for only a year, Nate Schmidt and Adam Boqvist. He did a similar thing last year with Kulikov and OEL. He resigned Kulikov to a team friendly deal. Brad Treliving spent too much money on bad contracts, bringing back max Domi and signing tanev to age 40. Both teams are same as they were last year. Leafs may make the playoffs, Florida may win another cup.

  2. Why does it always feel like we are swimming against the tide with the shore getting further away rather than close.

  3. Howard
    Although I agree that most teams need a Norris Type Defenseman to win a Stanley Cup as you have said ad nauseum, who was that Player on the Florida Panthers, all were good defenseman but none would have been considered for the Norris.

  4. Howard,
    I’ve changed my mind about Berube…..and for that matter Treliving.
    Adding defense instead of offense was the right move to make. Toronto has a storied history of always exhausting every possible move before employing the right one. OEL was an up-and-coming defenseman at one time….Not sure what happened to him? He’s kinda like a scratcher. There’s an opportunity for him to come to Toronto and become the Numero Uno defenseman. The door is open.
    Berube is a hardass as a coach. Keefe was too soft. Berube has more in common with Lou Lamoriello. The Snore 4 didn’t respond to Coach Softie when it mattered. Even when it doesn’t matter, Toronto doesn’t compete hard enough for the president’s trophy.

  5. As much as I like Chris Tanev, I’m not convinced we aren’t due for another 5 years of mediocrity here. “Everything on the table” was obviously BS inasmuch as the real problem with this team was never going to be resolved. Whether they wouldn’t or couldn’t does not matter, the result is the same.
    In a nutshell, they have accomplished little or nothing since Berube was hired.
    Our goaltending problem was addressed with a wing and a prayer. The addition of Tanev will certainly help the defense but resigning Lilly and adding a bunch of old, limited and/or hobbled men is not the answer. I predict that LTIR will get a good workout this year. As for the forward group, they actually went backwards.
    The fundamental flaw with this team was not just ridiculous contracts for the big 5, but the ingrained attitude and work ethic amongst this group that manifests itself in inconsistent play and a disappearing act at the most important time of year. Worse yet, they are the ones wearing the letters.
    In the end, nothing has changed. Rielly will still turtle every time an opponent comes near, Nylander will still play when he wants to, Marner will still roam the ice and show off and Matthews will still believe that they have a good team.
    Does anybody really believe that a new voice at coach is going to change all that? To quote an old adage, a Leopard can’t change its spots. All hail Keith Pelley and the masterminds at MLSE.

  6. I was really annoyed to hear that Quenneville et al were released today. Only because he was my choice to replace Keefe. Now he’ll be lost to some other team. Today’s moves regarding the back end and in net were a nice bit of positive maneuvering and a relief from all of the negativity that has been hashed over and over again.

  7. Interesting Blueline additions that could turn out to be excellent. OEL is better than Morgan Rielly. Goaltending might be okay. They do have some prospects in net if they need them. Up front, the forward group is about the same. Overall, it is a good Canada Day for Brad.

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