Maple Leafs GM’s First Question Will Be About Core Four

According to a report by Elliotte Friedman, Brad Treliving, the former general manager (GM) of the Calgary Flames, will be hired as the new GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The decision seemed pretty straightforward for team president Brendan Shanahan. Treliving was an experienced candidate; that’s what Shanahan wanted; and, he was available for the position.

Treliving has a decent track record with Calgary, winning two playoff series in nine years. And, he wasn’t even fired. The Flames ownership wanted him back, but because he had what was called a “deteriorating” relationship with then-head coach Darryl Sutter, he opted to leave when his contract expired.

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Overall, the move from Kyle Dubas to Treliving does not seem that major on the face of it.

Now, Assuming It Is Treliving, There’s a Job to Be Done

Look we get it. Ever since John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander stepped on the ice together seven years ago, in seven playoff appearances this team has one series win to show for it. If we went back and broke it down game by game, we could come up with a multitude of reasons for that.

Ultimately it boils down to the Core Four not performing well enough or consistently enough for this team to have any sustained success in the postseason. 

Related: 7 Cool Things About Jonathan Huberdeau

Although there have been a number of reasons or conjectures given for the Maple Leafs parting ways with Dubas, if those four players that he signed and nurtured would have performed to the same level in the postseason that they did in the regular season, Dubas would most likely still be employed by the Maple Leafs. They didn’t, and Dubas is gone. 

Now the New GM Must Do Some Heavy Lifting

The new GM will now be tasked with the job of picking up the pieces and trying to figure out the best way to move forward.  

Brad Treliving Calgary Flames
Brad Treliving, General Manager of the Calgary Flames (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If what we are hearing and reading in the media is correct, it seems the general consensus is the first step the new GM has to take is to blow up this core. Someone, maybe more than one, maybe even all of them, simply has to go.

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Although he can’t be moved, Tavares is over the hill and non-productive. However, Matthews is going to bolt to the sunny South. Nylander will sell his services to the highest bidder next season. And, Marner just isn’t built for the playoffs.  

What should the new GM do? The answer to that, while not easy, is very basic. 

Related: 7 Cool Things About Jonathan Huberdeau

First, he has to ignore the rhetoric. Second, while not ignoring or discounting the success and failures this team has had in the past, he has to take it all with a grain of salt. He will have to look at this team as it is presently constructed, break it down piece by piece, and figure out how to make it better. It all must happen – now.  

The Goal is to Win the Stanley Cup!

The goal of this team remains to win a Stanley Cup and win it now. They do not have the luxury of being able to afford another rebuild. 

If the new GM decides that any core players are in play, the return will have to be immediate. Draft picks, with maybe the exception of the Chicago Blackhawks’ first pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, are not a prime consideration. Neither are prospects with a potential that won’t be realized for a few seasons.  

If Matthews, Marner, Nylander, or Tavares are to be dealt, whatever pieces come back the other way will have to make the Maple Leafs a better team in 2023. The next few seasons – not 2025, 2027, or whenever – count not an iota.  

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Between Matthews, Marner, and Nylander, whoever stays, is in their prime now. Tavares, who is past his “best-before date”, is not going to be a better player in one or two seasons than he is now. Give him credit. He works hard and remains near a point-per-game player. So he’s far from being a waste of a jersey.

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: Comparing the Core Four’s Dollar Value

Deals, such as the one Florida and Calgary made in the offseason of 2022 that saw Matthew Tkachuk go south in return for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar are few and far between. Give Treliving credit for doing pretty well in a rotten situation.

Perhaps the Best Move is No Move at All

When it comes to the core players, the best move for this team to make is maybe no move at all. It might be that the off-ice changes at the top will be enough to shock this team and help them take the next step. 

The one thing we can say with the present construction of this team is they are a lock to make the playoffs. Any diversion from this group probably lowers these chances.

Auston Matthews Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews Mitch Marner (The Hockey Writers)

Major disruptions to the roster could have the opposite effect. The improvements the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, and Detroit Red Wings are in the process of making, and the potential regression of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins, are going to make the Atlantic Division closer, and more competitive. The Maple Leafs could just as easily find themselves on the outside looking in when the postseason rolls around in 2024. 

The Core Players Become Free Agents Soon

There are also the desires of the core players to take into consideration. All of them will be unrestricted free agents (UFAs) in one or two seasons. With no-movement clauses in their back pocket, they hold all the cards. They could be happy to just let their contracts run their course, and then skip town to the tune of millions of dollars coming from another team. Such moves would leave the Maple Leafs with nothing.  

Related: Maple Leafs’ Commentary: Spezza Was My Favorite Maple Leafs’ Player

Whoever takes over the helm of the Maple Leafs will have a huge minefield to negotiate. While the basic concept of making this team better now may be simple, the implementation of it will be extremely difficult. 

Breaking up the core of the Maple Leafs might not be the answer.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]