On the eve of the Maple Leafs’ season opener, GM Brad Treliving met with the media to discuss his expectations for the new season, Auston Matthews’ leadership, Easton Cowan’s return to junior after a strong training camp, signing Noah Gregor (one-year, $775k), Fraser Minten making the opening-night roster, and much more.
What are your expectations for this group ahead of a new season?
Treliving: I mean, you always have internal expectations. I think we will keep those internal. We have a good group. It sounds cliche, but we are focused on one day at a time. It is important for us not to get ahead of ourselves. We think we have a good team.
You build a roster in the summer. We are in the process of building a team now. We are going to go through that process.
We know the challenge ahead of us is great. It is a really good division — the strongest division in hockey, I think. Our focus is on a really good practice today, and a good game one tomorrow. We have to live day by day here.
We are really excited about the group. I am excited because the players are excited. We start the journey tomorrow.
What have you seen from Auston Matthews since you arrived here that you maybe didn’t know from afar?
Treliving: His commitment to being the best. There are people who have God-given ability, which he has. What nobody sees is the work that he puts in. I have seen it. I have had players come to me that are new to our team. The messaging has been very much the same. They are like, “Wow. I didn’t know how driven this guy is.”
With the work that he does away from what you see — before practice, in the summer, in the gym, out early, staying late — he is as driven of a guy as there is to be great. That has been — from the time I got here and got to spend some time with him — impressive to watch.
For someone who has already scored 60 in the league and won a Hart Trophy, how much greater can Matthews be?
Treliving: 60 is pretty good. That is a pretty good start.
Talking with Auston, he is going to score goals, and he is one of the world’s best players. When you get time with Auston, he doesn’t talk about that. He talks about team success. Everything, for him, is about taking responsibility for wins and losses and driving the group forward. How can we be better? It is not how I can be better.
That is just the evolution that great players take. He is special, special. Those players have an aura around them. He certainly does.
Where do you stand on William Nylander as a centerman? Did you want to see more of it than you did?
Treliving: Yeah, a little bit, but there were the circumstances, too, at the end of the day. I know we all read into anything, but the benefit that we did get — although it was a short period of time over training camp — is that I think it is something we can go back to.
He has had some time in there. He has played some games there. He has had a lot of practice there. He is more comfortable if we go back to it a week or a month from now than if we didn’t do it.
His attributes are some that I look at as a center. He has speed. It gets him the puck in the middle of the ice. If you look at a lot of centers now and how the game has changed, they come from underneath. Instead of starting out high, they come with speed underneath. He is a great distributor. He has great vision. He has lots of attributes.
He has also been a pretty good winger. To me, it is a luxury. You can never have enough guys that play center. Tomorrow night, I think there are seven guys — maybe eight — that could play center. I think that is important.
You can find wingers. The middle of the ice is really important. If he doesn’t start there, I don’t look at it as a failure or that it didn’t work. It is always something that Sheldon has got in his bag that he can go back to.
What do you think Tyler Bertuzzi has brought to the top line?
Treliving: I think we are going to need some time. With chemistry, you never know. With the ingredients you put in, it should taste really good. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. I still think it is a little bit of a work in progress, but I think the attributes fit.
He goes to the net. He is a dog on the bone with the puck. He keeps plays alive. He hunts pucks. He finds pucks in and around the paint.
One thing with Tyler that I think is underrated: He has a great short game, if we are using a golf analogy. He can make plays under sticks, through feet, and in and around the blue paint. He is playing with two guys who are pretty good at finishing off the short game.
It is early. They are building some chemistry, but if you look at it on paper, you think it could work. Now, we get to see it in real life and see where it goes.
When you were looking at the depth chart in the summer, where was Fraser Minten in the depth chart then?
Treliving: There was the ghost roster, Marlies, and “other.” He was in “other.”
My situation this year is a little different. I am learning everybody. Normally, you come into camp, and there are three phases. You see the big guys move around and sort of where they are at. And then there are the guys who have been in the organization — younger players, a couple of years pro. What steps have they taken? And then you look at the young kids and sort of say, “What do we have?”
He started in Traverse City. We talked about making an impression, and he built good day upon good day upon good day. It is rewarding when you can say, “Hey, work your way onto the roster.” The reality — especially when you are a good team — is that it is hard to get on the roster. It is like an exclusive club. It should be hard to get on it.
He forced his way onto the team. As I said to him and everybody, now it is just one day at a time. What he is going to see on opening night is going to be different than anything he saw in the preseason or in practice. It is a different level. It is a different strength. It is different rosters. It is the real deal.
He has put himself in a position to start. Now, we continue to watch and support him so he can be successful, and we just keep going. Good for him. It is hard to get to the stage he is at. In my mind, he is fully deserving.
What will you be evaluating in the next days and weeks with Minten?
Treliving: How is the pace? How is the strength? He is playing against men now. It is not boys. How does he keep up? At the end of the day, can he help us win?
The overriding question is what is best for him? Fraser Minten is going to be a really good player for a long time. We don’t want to do anything in the next week, month, or six months to impact what Fraser Minten is going to be for the next 10 years. That is what you keep coming back to.
It is very, very seldom — and I don’t say this with any disrespect — that a 19-year-old player comes in and helps you win. That is going to be a part of it. Is he getting enough minutes? Is it too much?
We will go one step at a time. We will keep looking at it daily.
What does it say about Easton Cowan’s camp that he stuck around right until the end?
Treliving: He will go back to London, but he is another guy who has done really well. He is here because he deserves to be. Every time he goes out on the ice, he has shown… Probably the biggest thing for Easton is that knew he was a hound on the puck and we knew he had a great motor, but the skill level is probably greater than I thought.
I think it has been a great three weeks or whatever it has been for him. He can bring those experiences back. I think it has been nothing but positive.
We have a real good player on the come.
How did Noah Gregor earn a spot and a contract (one-year, $775k)?
Treliving: He came in on a PTO and did everything he was supposed to do to grab a spot. He earned a job.
He is a guy who, if you look back through his career, was a prolific scorer in junior. He is still a relatively young guy. What we have talked to Noah about… I will never tell a guy not to shoot it in the net — keep doing that if you can, and that’s good — but now find some other parts of your game, right?
He is killing penalties. He has elite speed. Value some other things. Sometimes the ability to shoot it in the net gets you into the league. Now, what is going to keep you in it and make you a really important player? It is not always about goals and assists. It is wall play. It is getting pucks in. It is killing penalties. It is being a real stabilizing guy.
I think that line [with Kampf and Reaves] has a little bit of everything. I have been really impressed with Noah. He has earned a contract.
How do you think Jake Muzzin will evolve in his role as pro scout with the organization?
Treliving: I have been really impressed with Muzz when I came in here. It is unfortunate with his health and not being able to play. When I got here in the summer, Muzz was around a lot. He is a guy who players really look up to. He has a strong voice. He is a real student of the game. He has been really impressive.
He is a guy I really feel can add to the organization. He is going to play a good role in terms of scouting, but he is a real student of the game. He is a knowledgeable guy. I am looking forward to working with him.
Treliving: Totally. Hey, it’s Montreal-Toronto. Opening night. Leafs-Habs. Come on, seriously? We are all pretty lucky.
It goes back a long time. There are certain games. Dallas-San Francisco. I came from Calgary-Edmonton. Toronto-Montreal. That is pretty cool.
Any thoughts on the banning of the Pride tape?
Treliivng: Regardless of what is out there, this organization and myself personally have always been supporters of the LGBTQ community. Nothing is going to change with that.
I didn’t know all of the specifics of what is going on. I have been focused on trying to put this team together. We will figure out our ways to make sure we do the right things, support as we always have, and stay true to what we believe in. There are always challenges in the world, but that doesn’t affect how we support.