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'Not here to sell jerseys': Pelley injects urgency as Leafs contemplate core changes


Leafs management held their end-of-the-season media availability on Friday at the Ford Performance Centre. 

The presence of new MLSE president and CEO Keith Pelley injected a sense of urgency into the proceedings as Maple Leafs management addressed another disappointing playoff performance. 

"Good is simply not good enough," Pelley told a packed room at the Ford Performance Centre. "I can assure you that is the collective position of ownership."

Pelley, who took over on April 2, noted he's "still assessing, evaluating, and learning." He doesn't plan to make it a habit to be a part of these team news conferences, but the Toronto native felt it was important to be at the podium on Friday to set the tone for his tenure. 

"The fans here not only deserve but demand a championship," Pelley said. "There is no complacency. We are not here to sell jerseys."

The Leafs haven't hoisted the Stanley Cup since 1967. 

"We are here to win," Pelley stated. "Winning is winning the Stanley Cup."

The Leafs haven't gotten close in this era. The franchise has celebrated just one series win since 2004. 

"Our playoff results have not been good enough," acknowledged president Brendan Shanahan, who has been on the job since 2014. "That is on me." 

Pelley just wrapped up a nine-year stint as CEO of the European Tour Group, which administers the DP World Tour, Challenge Tour, Legends Tour, G4D Tour and the Ryder Cup in Europe. 

"I cannot comment on what has transpired over the last number of years," Pelley said, "but I can tell you that chemistry and unity are the critical components that add to skill in order to be successful." 

Pelley highlighted Europe's Ryder Cup win in 2023. 

"We came in as underdogs," the 60-year-old said. "The bottom line was that under the guidance of [captain] Luke Donald, we had chemistry and unity that exceeded that of the Americans."

ContentId(1.2118621): 'We need to win, nothing else matters': Pelley says good hasn't been good enough for Leafs


Despite the seven-game setback to the Boston Bruins, Pelley liked what he saw from Shanahan and general manager Brad Treliving during the playoffs. 

"The two gentlemen beside me showed me that the chemistry and unity is being built at the highest levels," Pelley said. "In the midst of facing adversity down 3-1, I got a full glimpse of the chemistry and unity that Brad and Brendan have."

And yet, for the sixth time in the last eight springs, the Leafs lost a winner-take-all game in the playoffs. 

Shanahan has overseen an influx of talent into the organization with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander all drafted and developed into key contributors under his watch. John Tavares was wooed home in free agency back in the summer of 2018. 

But it hasn't translated to playoff success. So, why is Pelley sticking with Shanahan?

"I understand the results, but I can only evaluate what I have seen," the new boss said. "Brendan Shanahan is the president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is a champion. He is a three-time Stanley Cup winner."

When Shanahan, who won his Cups as a player with the Detroit Red Wings, signed his most recent extension in May 2019, the club announced he was under contract through 2024-25. When asked directly on Friday, he declined to clarify if that is still the case. 

"I am not going to get into the details of my contract and what is correct or not correct," Shanahan said. "I will say this, it is not a focus for me. From the day I was hired in the spring of 2014 to today, I wake up every day with the goal of trying to find a way to add and make the Maple Leafs better. My last contract was not addressed or renewed until a month before it expired. It was not a distraction to me then. My contract status will not be a distraction to me or the team now."

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Over the years, Shanahan has staunchly supported the team's core players and repeatedly expressed confidence that they would push the group over the hump in the playoffs. But on Friday, for the first time, the president appeared open to a significant shake up. 

"Everything is on the table," the 55-year-old declared. "I do believe there is a time for preaching patience. I do believe there is a time when you have to examine some of the patterns that persist."

It won't be easy to make big changes. The team's five highest-paid players – forwards Matthews, Nylander, Marner, Tavares and defenceman Morgan Rielly – all have a no-move clause in their contracts. Matthews (four years) and Nylander (eight years) have new extensions kicking in next season. Rielly is just two years into an eight-year deal. 

"They are dedicated to getting it done here," Shanahan said. "I don't question their dedication, but I do question our ability as a group to get it done in those difficult times. That is why we have to make some changes."

Marner and Tavares both have one year remaining on their current deals. The pair of local products both expressed a desire to stay during Monday's locker clean-out day. 

"I don't think it serves the Toronto Maple Leafs well to get into any specifics today," Shanahan said when asked about approaching Tavares and Marner about a potential move. 

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Pelley's presence and Shanahan's shift created a different vibe even as the Leafs confronted a series of familiar issues. Again, the offence dried up in the playoffs. Toronto has now scored two or fewer goals in 13 of 14 postseason games. Again, the other team had the edge in special teams. The Leafs power play went 1/21 in the series against Boston. 

"It has happened too often," Shanahan acknowledged. "It is a question of coaching and messaging. It is also a question of personnel."

The Leafs finished second in goals per game in the regular season (3.63). They ranked dead last in the playoffs (1.71). This despite the fact Treliving identified the issue of playoff scoring last summer and brought in forwards like Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi to try and remedy it. John Klingberg was added on defence, but played only 14 games before undergoing season-ending surgery. 

"We seem to be turning the other team's goalie into the first star every night," said Treliving. "We have to find a way, systematically and personnel-wise, to score more in the playoffs and score those goals that are scored in the playoffs."

"There are regular-season goals, and then there are playoff goals," said Shanahan. "I am a firm believer that sometimes playoff goals come from playoff structure and defensive structure by limiting opportunities against and forcing teams to open things up against you."

Leafs players have constantly lamented a lack of finishing luck in the playoffs, but the issue is deeper than that. 

"There is not just one magic point here," said Treliving, who was hired last May. "We have to find a way to do the hard, unsexy things longer. Those things don't require skill. There are some things in our sport, especially at this time of the year, that are not related to skill but help you win."

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In this year's series against Boston, Jeremy Swayman outplayed Ilya Samsonov.  

"We certainly have to try to put ourselves in a position where we don't have the second-best goaltender in each of these series," Treliving acknowledged. "I think it is a function of both sides, not just our goaltending but also what we do to make things difficult on the other team's goaltender."

Swayman posted a .950 save percentage in six starts while Samsonov was at .896 in five games. 

Joseph Woll changed the dynamic in the series by winning two starts with a .964 save percentage, but then sprained his back on the final play of Game 6 and was unable to dress in the decider. 

"I have faith in Joe," Treliving said. "Like everybody else, there are questions. The biggest question with Joe is that he has gotten injured a lot. We have to dig into that. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes bad luck happens. Is there a training issue we have to deal with? Do we need to change something in his off-ice routine? All of those things are what we have to dig into."

Woll emerged as the team's No. 1 option early in the regular season after Samsonov faltered, but sustained a high ankle sprain in December and never really got back in a groove. He's under contract for one more year while Samsonov is a pending unrestricted free agent. 


Treliving provided clarity on what kept the team's leading scorer out of Game 5 and Game 6. 

"Matthews, at the end of Game 2, became really sick," Treliving said. "Our original thought was that, with as sick as he was, there was maybe a food poisoning of some description. It was a virus that stuck with him throughout Game 3."

Matthews then took what he termed "a weird hit" in Game 4. The Arizona native declined to go into greater detail on Monday. 

"Don't know if it was a combination of the sickness and the hit, but he was presenting head-injury issues," Treliving said. "We pulled him. We weren't going to clear him until those things cleared, which they did on the morning or afternoon of Game 7."

Matthews played in Game 7 and assisted on Toronto's only goal in the 2-1 overtime loss. He finished the series with one goal in five games. 

Treliving also revealed forward Connor Dewar was set to have shoulder surgery on Friday and is expected to be ready for training camp. 

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The Leafs fired coach Sheldon Keefe on Thursday. Shanahan and Treliving made a point of thanking the Brampton, Ont. native for his service during their opening remarks. 

"Sheldon had a difficult job," Shanahan said. "He addresses the players every single day. He addresses the media two times, sometimes three times a day. I just want to say that in that entire time with us, Sheldon has done it with dignity, with grace, and with professionalism."

"I don't question that we had a really good coach here," said Treliving, who signed Keefe to a two-year extension last summer. "Unfortunately, sometimes in this business, over a period of time, the message, I don't want to say they stop listening, but the message stops hitting home. That is not just a coaching issue. In player personnel, we have to look at those things. It is not just changing the personnel but understanding why a message may not be getting through."

The process of hiring a new coach is expected to move relatively quickly. 

"We want to be thorough, but we also understand there are other openings," said Treliving. "This isn't something that will be done hastily, but we certainly know there are some quality candidates out there and want to get to them as fast as we can."

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