While it's untimely to write this article in the middle of offseason madness, it's also become more clear what the Leafs' priorities – and specifically those of Brad Treliving – are during this time. Treliving joined the Leafs with T-3 weeks until the Draft. In the days that have come and gone since we have learned what Tree has spent most of his time on.
What's Been the Priority
Auston and Willy
Speaking to Auston Matthews and William Nylander to discuss contract extensions. Matthews has decided to wait things out a bit, so Nylander negotiations are going hot like fire.
Behind the Bench and Behind the Scenes
Extensive talks with Sheldon Keefe, his staff, and the front office staff to organize everybody to do the work on the roster. Conclusions on talks with Keefe are that he's sticking around and work on replacing Carbery and the Marlies coaching staff will wait.
Making calls to other GMs and finding out who's available and for what. This is regular job stuff, but Treliving is famous for calling about everybody under the sun (and even some outside the solar system) just to keep tabs on the league.
One trade discussion that has seemed to most serious is connected to Travis Sanheim. The Leafs have a skill hole on their second pair (I'm sorry if McCabe-Liljegren does it for you) that will need to be filled alongside the forward gaps. That is likely where Treliving believes Sanheim would fit. It wouldn't surprise me if McCabe, Liljegren, or Timmins are moved, by the way.
Prepping for the draft, gathering intel on who might be available and when. This was done by Wes Clark and the rest of his staff because Treliving wasn't allowed by the Flames on the draft floor until an agreement was made on the day of the first round.
Multiple things have been going on simultaneously, but that is what has happened so far and in order of importance. That is quite a lot to do in 21 days for a new guy coming into a new situation.
What's Now the Priority
Willy and Auston
Getting Nylander and Matthews signed to extension for 2024-25. Reports are that Nylander's camp is farther away from the Leafs than they would like. I see that more as a time problem than a fit problem. The contract will get signed, it just won't happen as quickly as the Leafs would've wanted (July 1st, 12pm). It might take a few extra days or weeks to get down to the inevitable middle number.
Same goes for Matthews. His camp has smartly come out and said Matthews wants to help the team win and isn't going to demand the league max on minimal term. It sets expectations in a good place, unlike in Nylander's situation where everyone is shitting on him for not "just" taking the Meier deal already.
And just to mention this again, the Leafs don't need to know either player's number to conduct their work this offseason. Their contracts don't kick in for another year, which gives the team plenty of time to trim fat if necessary.
This isn't a high priority because it's important, only because the deadline is today when this article gets posted (hopefully June 30th). The Leafs haven't announced who they will be tendering qualifying offers to, and Treliving hinted that the list of non-QO'd players from other teams is an interesting twist during free agency. Ilya Samsonov was one such non-QO player last summer.
Free agency and trades. There is a hole (or two, depending who you ask) in the top six that needs to be filled from the outside. That's either in the form of a free agency contract or acquiring someone via trade. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Treliving spoke at the draft how salaries for players have been going up and agents keep finding teams to spend the money, while the salary cap has been flat for almost half a decade. To reconcile that, teams either need to trade away contracts for space to sign the guy they want, or accept the David Kämpf of it all.
The Leafs forward group currently looks like this:
Your Ad Here - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
York Ad Here/Matthew Knies - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Matthew Knies/Your Ad Here - David Kämpf - Calle Järnkrok
Who Wants a Promotion - Who Wants a Promotion - Sam Lafferty
Two real guys, and too many cheap UFA signings that'll get to see who is hated by Sheldon Keefe the most. Hopefully two make the cut?
Behind the Bench and Behind the Scenes
The Leafs need an assistant coach and a Marlies coaching staff. While a lot of work has gone into making the organization functional in the early part of the summer, hiring decisions need to be finalized. I expect this to happen in the latter half of July and into August.
Ben Groulx, who was let go by the Syracuse Crunch last week, is a prime candidate for either the Leafs assistant job or the Marlies head coaching job. He's an excellent coach who I recommend highly, having seen him work for almost six years in the AHL. Mike Vyn Ryan is also rumoured to be in the mix.
In-House Goaltending (Arbitration)
Hopefully once the targets above get completed the Leafs will have an idea of what they can do with Ilya Samsonov. The team haven't elected for arbitration, but the player can once they receive their qualifying offer (there's a deadline you can find on CF if you're so interested). It's expected the Leafs and Samsonov will go to Arbitration, and if the contract awarded is above $4,538,958, the Leafs can walk away.
Treliving did the smart thing in his press conference the other day when he said he's not yet convinced to keep or get rid of any of his goalies. Woll had a decent end to the year, but is he ready to be the full-time backup? Murray had an injury-filled year but was otherwise a good goaltender, is he worth keeping? What is the price-point to keep Samsonov? And should the Leafs manage to sign another goalie in free agency, how does that change everything else?
All of this can be figured out in late July, August, and even September if we're being completely honest. The Leafs aren't in a firesale to get rid of Murray's contract (they really aren't they have lots of space) and they'd get a better deal once a team who's missed out on their goalie targets needs a guy, not before that. Same goes for September when you never know which goalie is going to come out with a career-ending injury (always hoping not). Like a famous GM who has had a whole career post-retirement age always says, if you have time, use it, except when it's Johnny Gaudreau. Seriously, no one tell the French about Lou.
This includes Development Camp (beginning July 3rd) and other prospect events, fishing, and the Top 25 Under 25. While it's our top priority, we first need to have players to talk about!