Brad Treliving, Toronto Maple Leafs GM
Photo: Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

Brad Treliving joined TSN Overdrive on Thursday night to discuss his emotions after joining the Maple Leafs organization, the criticism the Core Four receives, Sheldon Keefe’s status, and the rules for his involvement (or lack thereof) in the upcoming entry draft.

Was it always your plan to get right back into the game as a GM after the exit from Calgary, or did it have to be a situation like this one that presented itself in order to get back on the bus and keep running the show?

Treliving: There certainly was no master plan. It was difficult. I loved my time in Calgary. We got to that point where we moved on. When you are sort of wired to do this, all of a sudden, it is like doing the 100-yard dash in an 80-yard gym. It just stops.

I’ll be honest with you. There were a few days there where the stress level was down. There were no crises going on. I thought, “This is not too bad.” There was a “Help Wanted” sign at the little coffee shop where my wife and I go. When she was starting to get applications and hand them to me, I thought it was maybe time to get back going.

I was excited when Shanny phoned. All of these jobs are a privilege. It is a privilege to work in the game and in the league. But there are some that are different, and this is the Leafs.

You guys hear that a lot here, but when you come from the outside to this market, whether it is to play or scout, it is just something different. The opportunity and the responsibility, I am well aware of. I was excited to get back on the horse quickly.

With all due respect to the different places you have worked in the NHL, when you sit in the office and put the Leaf pin on, does it have that big-time type of feel to it?

Treliving: 100%. This is no disrespect to anywhere at all. But [O’Dog] knows it as a player. If you go from Carolina to here, there is no disrespect, but…

Going in there today and walking through the room, you see the logo, you look up, and you see the pictures. It hits you. I am usually a guy — and my wife will confirm this — who is not considered a really emotional guy with things like this, but this one hit me.

You think of people today. Today, I think of the late great Pat Quinn and the people that came before. You see that logo. You see the pictures on the wall, the people that have come, and the history. It hits you.

It hits different than anywhere else. It is real. It is exciting today.

Now that you are going to be behind the curtain and seeing everything up close and personal, what is the thought process behind confirming some of what you have, whether it is the talent level, some of the character of the guys, or the culture of the group in the room? Are these some of the things on your checklist to try to confirm early on in your tenure?

Treliving: For sure. You feel like you are drinking out of a firehose right now. There are a lot of things to do, but as we go along, to me, it is all about building the relationship.

The hockey world knows that this team has elite-level talent. That is really hard to come by. I say it all the time. If you look at the top, top guys, look where they were drafted. Look at the numbers where they were drafted. There is a lot of pain that you have to go through to get those types of players. They are hard to come by.

We have lots of talent. Now, to me, it is getting to know people. It is getting to know what makes people tick. It is them getting to know me. It is building those relationships. Once you have those relationships built and there is trust, then you can push people — maybe to points they thought they couldn’t before.

The big message for me right now… It is easy for me because I am coming from the outside. It is my observation. I was asked about the core four. For me, that is a big lure to take this job. Those are some of the best players in the world. It is hard to acquire them and find them.

Part of how I operate is that I am fiercely protective of my players. For those players right now, we are not putting all of the responsibility at the feet of the core four. Quite frankly, it is not about four. I don’t want to hear that term. This is the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is not about one, two, four, or five guys. It is about 23-24-25 guys on our team.

You treat everybody fairly but not everybody equally. There are certain guys who will bear more responsibility. For this group to achieve what we want to achieve, we are going to do it collectively. It is not just by the want and will of one or two or three or four guys. It is going to be the entire group.

That is my early [message] coming in here. Whether it rains or is sunny, it seems to be the core four’s fault every day. Let’s make sure everybody is engaged. Let’s make sure we have contributions from everybody. You need that to have ultimate success.

Brad Treliving, Toronto Maple Leafs GM
Photo: Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

Is that messaging directed to the other players within the room and the coaches, or is that directed toward the fans and media? There is so much focus on the core four, and if they are all going to be back, you probably aren’t going to eradicate that from a fan perspective. There is so much focus on the four guys. Is it about the 19 or 20 other guys in the room, or are you directing the message to the market?

Treliving: It is to the whole market. I understand there is frustration when a team that everybody wants so badly to achieve the result ultimately doesn’t. More often than not, there is nobody more disappointed than the players themselves. My job is to come here and help.

When I say this, it is a belief system for everybody. I know you are not going to come in here and change a narrative or a thought process just by making a statement, but to me, that is what we are going to keep driving home with our group both inside and out. This is about the Leafs. This is about the team. This is about our group.

We are so fortunate to have some top-end talent, but it is about 23-24 guys. My job is not to change a narrative just by words. It is on all of us to change whatever narratives are out there by actions. That is what we plan to do.

You probably have an idea from the outside looking in about what a team needs to do to win. Now, you are running a different team and have to put some of the thoughts into action with a salary cap and all of the difficulties. You knew what the Maple Leafs were, and now you have to put some of those thoughts into action.

Treliving: Absolutely. It is exciting to me. We all manage everyone else’s team better than us. We always talk, “I can fix your team. Nevermind mine. I have all the answers for you.”

To me, it is exciting. It comes back to the talent level that is here. The one thing I keep coming back to, and I know you get frustrated, but at the end of the day, I know John [Tavares] has been around the league a long time, but if you look at Auston, William, and Mitch, these are still young men. They are still coming into their own physically.

I was talking to Brendan [Shanahan] today. He was 28 or 29 when he won his first Cup. You can go throughout [the league]. Are there people who do it at an early age? Sure, but if you go back in history, whether it be our league or other leagues…

I am a firm believer that you have to build it properly. Once you have built it properly, you continue to tweak and continue to tweak, but you have to have multiple opportunities. You have to be back at the table year after year knocking on the door.

Here is the outsider talking about it. When I watched the playoffs — and I remember we were playing in Dallas last year in our first round, and we were on the off-day of the Leafs-Tampa series — I thought, collectively, Toronto played a better series last year against Tampa Bay and lost than they did this year when they won.

There is some randomness. There is luck. There is a puck that hits the post and goes in. The next year, it hits the post and goes out. We have a final with Florida — who has done a hell of a job — who were a Pittsburgh loss to Chicago away from not making the playoffs.

I bring all of these things up to say: If we keep knocking on the door and you make sure you are good enough to be there and give yourself a chance every year on a consistent basis — and you tweak the areas you need to tweak — eventually, it is not guaranteed, but you hope that when the luck is supposed to go your way, it goes your way. When the bounce is supposed to happen, you’re there. You are back there again.

That is what we have to keep in mind. I know there is a lot of frustration about being here before and not getting it done. We will continue to look at everything to try to make ourselves better, but you have to put yourself in a position each year to hopefully not only knock through the door but knock it down. That is what we intend to do.

You have inherited a coach in Sheldon Keefe. Does he have to pitch himself to you? How does this process work with the evaluation of a coach who is still here and you are the new guy on the block?

Treliving: We are all big boys here. I have talked to Sheldon about it. It is a unique situation. Maybe there is some discomfort, but that is what happens in the business here. We get lots of great things as a result of being involved in the league, and sometimes, there are things that are maybe a little bit uncomfortable.

We are going to go through the process here. I look at Sheldon, and I told him I am not coming in with any preconceived notions. It is out of the GM handbook: When a new GM comes in, he has to bring his own guy, right? It is sort of like saying, “I have to trade a guy for the sake of trading a guy.” If it is not making your team better…

It is easy to make a bad deal. You can do that any day of the week. I come in here and I look at Sheldon’s record. It is a pretty good record. In the last two regular seasons, what has he been? 115 and 111 points.

We haven’t had playoff success. Okay. Sheldon has four or five years in the league as a younger coach. To me, if Sheldon Keefe is on the market right now, he is at or near the top of the list of any of these vacancies.

We have to go through this process — and not just because Brad is coming in, Sheldon is here, and Brad didn’t hire Sheldon. I just don’t think it is always that you have to go bring in your own guy if the best guy for the job is sitting here. That is the process we are going to go through.

I am really excited to get to know him. We have to move through this quickly. We understand where we are at in the calendar. But we have to be pragmatic. We have to be thorough. We are going to go pedal down here and move through things as fast as we can.

I am coming in with no master plan other than that we want to get the very best coach for this team. I think we have a pretty damn good coach in place right now. Let’s just see where things go.

In terms of the limitations around your involvement in the draft, what are you allowed to do and what are you not allowed to do?

Treliving: Right now, that is probably a better question for Brendan. I know there have been some restrictions. We will try to clarify in the coming days what those are. Whatever they are, they are. I have full faith in the staff here in terms of their preparation for the draft.

I know everybody is sitting here going, ‘The draft is coming up, and the manager…” Wes Clark and his staff are prepared for the draft. We will see what is going on. If we have to bring out the fake afro and the rubber gloves, we will, but hopefully that can get straightened out in the coming days.

Surely, you don’t have to recuse yourself from draft conversations when there are meetings amongst your staff? 

Treliving: We haven’t had those yet. I have been doing the [media] circuit today. I am going to sit with Brendan, and I know he is hopefully going to have some clarification here once we get going tomorrow.