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GM Treliving likes the blend as Leafs bolster blueline


Brad Treliving identified his team's defence, especially the right side, as an area that needed to be addressed in free agency and the Maple Leafs general manager is pleased with what he got accomplished after the market opened.  

"When I look at the defence right now, I think it has a good blend," Treliving said from Las Vegas where the Leafs management group hunkered down following the draft. "You have some puck movers. You have some size. You have some penalty killing. We have lefties and righties. Defencemen are so hard to get. It opens up different options for us as we move forward in the summer. It certainly gives the coaching staff a lot of options with a lot of different guys who can do a lot of different jobs."

The biggest addition is Chris Tanev. After acquiring his rights from the Dallas Stars on Saturday, Treliving signed Tanev to a six-year deal with a $4.5-million annual average value. There's a lot to like about the 34-year-old.  

"There is the ability to play hard minutes against top players, and his penalty-killing ability," said Treliving while also highlighting off-ice attributes. "He is the consummate pro."

He's also a local product, who knows what to expect from the hockey-mad market. 

"I'm from here," Tanev said. "I grew up here. I grew up in East York so I'm a Toronto kid and definitely excited to raise my family here ... second child on the way in a couple months so being able to be close to home, being around grandparents is important." 

Tanev led the Stanley Cup playoffs in blocked shots while helping the Stars reach the Western Conference final. He sees potential for the Leafs to go on a long run soon. 

"The main thing is I think this team is really good," he said. "It's not like I'm leaving Dallas to go a team that hasn't been successful over the last number of years. There's a ton of elite talent and a new coach [Craig Berube] coming in, Stanley Cup champion, and he's going to bring a different aspect, different game style maybe to how we want to play here. Super excited for all of that."

Tanev played with Toronto's top blueliner, Morgan Rielly, at the 2016 World Championship when Canada won the gold medal. 

"Great player, great person, so I think we got along well," Tanev recalled. "Talked to him over the last day and a half about his thoughts about playing with me and being a partner with me. I think that can potentially be a good fit for sure." 

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The Leafs also lured another right-shot defenceman out of Dallas by signing Jani Hakanpaa to a two-year deal with a $1.5-million AAV. 

"He is a penalty killer," noted Treliving of the 6-foot-7, 222-pound Finn. "One of the areas that we wanted to address, looking back at last season, is our penalty kill. That is an area that Jani really shines in. You saw that in Dallas over the years, and specifically this past season."

Hakanpaa averaged three minutes and 16 seconds of shorthanded ice time per game for the Stars' eighth-ranked penalty kill (82 per cent). 

The Leafs penalty kill finished 23rd overall (76.9 per cent) and got burned for six goals in the seven game loss to the Boston Bruins in the playoffs. 

Hakanpaa missed the end of the regular season and the entire postseason due to a knee injury, which required an arthroscopic procedure. He last played on March 16. 

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Fresh off a Stanley Cup win in Florida, the Leafs signed veteran blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a four-year contract with a $3.5-million AAV. 

"Oliver has the ability to play both sides, left and right," Treliving said of the southpaw. "He moves the puck. He is competitive and long [6-foot-2]. He can play on both special teams. We are excited about bringing him into the fold."

The Swede scored nine goals in 80 regular season games, which would've led the Leafs defence. He will give the team an additional option on the power play. Toronto's man-advantage unit struggled down the stretch and managed just one goal on 21 attempts in the playoffs. 

Ekman-Larsson is 32 and will hit the 1,000-game mark this season. So, why did Treliving give him four years? 

"Ultimately, to get the player," he explained. "We would all like them at one year and $400k. That is not the reality ... You work to see what deal it is going to take to get the player." 

Treliving knows Ekman-Larsson well courtesy his time in the Arizona Coyotes front office. 

"He is a smooth player," Treliving said. "He moves well. Good legs. The first thing to go on a player is the mobility or the skating. He is a fluid player. At the end of the day, we were comfortable with the four-year term."

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After listing off all the contracts signed, Treliving was reminded by a reporter that he forgot Timothy Liljegren.

"I knew I was going to do that when I started rambling on," the 54-year-old executive said with a smile. 

Liljegren, who was eligible for arbitration, signed a two-year extension worth $3-million per season.  

"We still think there is so much upside with Timothy," Treliving said of the right-shot defenceman. "We had a pretty good idea of what the arbitration case would look like. I know everyone looks at the qualifying number, but the QO and the arbitration number are two different things."

Liljegren put up 23 points in 55 games last season. He missed time with a high ankle sprain and then an upper-body injury later in the year, which he felt slowed his momentum.

"I grew a little bit offensively last year, took more responsibility offensively, and maybe got a little sheltered defensively," the 25-year-old said. "I want to mix those two together, be a good two-way defencemen, be trusted in both offensive situations and defensive. So, just trying to work on being a complete two-way defencemen is the focus for me."  

Liljegren, who dressed in six of seven playoff games against the Bruins, is hoping Tanev will mentor him on the defensive side of the game. 

"Toronto was always the place I wanted to be," the Swede said. "I'm happy we got it done."

With Jake McCabe, Simon BenoitConor Timmins and Cade Webber also in the mix, the blue line is a busy place for the Leafs. 

"I would rather have too many than not enough," Treliving said. "We will try to sort this out in the coming days. Today is a day to add players, but you build your team over the course of the summer."

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Another area that Treliving looked to address early in the free-agency period was goaltending. Joseph Woll, who has never started more than 23 games in an NHL season, was handed a three-year extension worth $3.66-million. 

"We have a lot of faith in Joe," Treliving stressed. "We think Joe is going to have a really good career and a really good, important season ahead of him. It was a priority for us to see if we could get ahead of that. Joe was excited to engage, so we are excited to get Joe done."

Woll appeared to grab the No. 1 job early last season before sustaining a high ankle sprain. In the playoffs, again, Woll appeared set to take over the crease before being felled by a back injury on the final play of Game 6 and missing the decisive game against the Bruins. 

"He doesn't have a lot of experience, but we think his development curve and upside are tremendous," Treliving said.

On locker clean-out day, Treliving indicated the team would work with the 25-year-old on injury prevention, but he struck a different tone on Monday. 

"It shouldn't be taken that we thought Joe had to train harder or differently," Treliving clarified. "We just wanted to do a deep dive. He has had some injuries. Sometimes injuries happen, right? Sometimes they are unavoidable. You can say it is bad luck. When you look at some of the things that he had, if we go back to this year, he had a high-ankle sprain. It had nothing to do with what he did or didn't do training-wise. Those things do happen. He cranked his back in Game 6 in the playoffs. Again, nothing that I would say is preventable in terms of his preparation or anything like that. Some of these things are bad luck."

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The Leafs completed their goaltending tandem by signing Anthony Stolarz to a two-year contract worth $2.5-million. 

"For most of his career, he has played as a backup to some top-level goaltending," Treliving noted. "There wasn't a lot of net there. There wasn't going to be a lot of starts."

In fact, Stolarz has never started more than 24 games in a season during an eight-year run in the NHL. He's only started 83 games overall. But the New Jersey native is 6-foot-6 and posted a .925 save percentage in Florida last season. 

"He is big," stressed Treliving of the 30-year-old. "He is athletic. Goaltenders, as we all know, take some time to mature in their game. I think he has done that. He has been around an elite-level goalie with [Sergei] Bobrovsky. Although he hasn't been in the net, he has been on a real good team. He has been through those experiences. He is really technically sound."

Matt Murray, who missed all of last season after undergoing double hip surgery, signed a one-year extension worth $875,000. 

"We wanted to have depth at the position," Treliving said. "We certainly don't forget about [Marlies starter] Dennis Hildeby as a young, developing goaltender. We think we have added some depth there."

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The Leafs didn't make a big move up front, but they did ink Max Domi to a four-year extension with a cap hit of $3.75-million. 

"Getting Domi back was a priority," Treliving said. "Max is a versatile player and one that, all along, wanted to be in Toronto. It was just about finding a deal that worked for both sides."

"I had a dream of winning a Stanley Cup from as long as I can remember," Domi said during a Zoom call from Italy. "[From] whenever I started playing hockey and long before I knew anything about cashing a paycheque. That dream hasn't changed and whenever I had that dream I was always wearing a Leafs jersey ... I chose to be here. I want to be here, and I believe in this group."

This is Domi's longest contract since his three-year entry-level deal. He broke the news on social media by using the "I'm not leaving" scene from The Wolf of Wall Street movie. 

"I've had that idea for a while," he said with a grin. "It's tough to throw that video out when you're on a new team every year. First time I've gotten the stability I've been looking for." 

Domi ended the season on the top line beside Auston Matthews. The 29-year-old spent most of the year at centre. Domi piled up 36 assists in 5-on-5 play, which ranked fifth overall in the entire league. He led the Leafs with 118 penalty minutes. 

"He is just a competitive kid," Treliving said. "We all know Max. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He is able to jump around the lineup and do different jobs."

Domi's father, Tie, spent 12 seasons in Toronto where he became a fan favourite due to his pugnacious play. 

"Carrying on that legacy that he started and created is something that means a lot to me," Domi said. "I was prepared to do whatever it took to make this thing work."

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TSN Hockey insider Chris Johnston reports that Nick Robertson, who is a restricted free agent, doesn't plan to sign with the Leafs and has requested a trade. 

"I have certainly known that there was some frustration with Nick, but we look at Nick as an excellent player," Treliving said. "There is great opportunity for Nick here. We need him to be a good player for us. I am not going to get into any speculation or public back-and-forth. We will just leave it at that and continue to move forward."

Robertson scored 14 goals and added 13 assists in 56 games last season. Despite that production, the 5-foot-9 winger struggled to stay in the lineup. He was a healthy scratch in Game 7 against the Bruins. 

Robertson, who will turn 23 in September, is not eligible for arbitration. 


After watching Tyler Bertuzzi leave for Chicago, Treliving acknowledged he's still looking to add to his forward ranks. 

"Today is just one day," he cautioned. "We have added some players on the back. We have added depth in goal. You are not going to get everything done in one day. We will continue to look at ways to augment the forward group."

The team doesn't want to simply hand jobs to promising youngsters Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten

"We think we have some young players coming, but we certainly don't want to start jamming young players in if they are not ready," Treliving said. "I know everybody gets excited about the Cowans and Mintens ... At the end of the day, they have to show they are ready to play in the men's league. That is what training camp is for. We think they are great young players, but we certainly don’t want to put them in a position to fail. We have lots of summer left." 


Last year at this time, Treliving made it clear that signing Matthews and William Nylander to contract extensions was a top priority. 

This year, Mitch Marner is eligible to sign a new deal, but there hasn't been any clear indication from the team about what the future holds for the star winger. 

"There is no update there," Treliving said when asked about the 27-year-old. "Mitch is training, preparing, and getting ready for the season."

Treliving pointed out that Berube mentioned at the draft that he's excited to coach Marner. 

"I appreciate the question, but I think Craig alluded to it in his last press availability," Treliving said. "He is excited to coach him. We move forward."

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The NHL announced the home openers for every team on Monday. The Leafs will welcome former general manager Kyle Dubas and the Pittsburgh Penguins to Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 12. 

The Leafs kick off the campaign at the Bell Centre against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 9 before heading to New Jersey to take on former coach Sheldon Keefe and the Devils on Oct. 10. 

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The Maple Leafs will open a development camp for the organization's prospects on Wednesday.