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Treliving not ready to do off-season ‘play-by-play’ on Marner, Tavares

Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving addresses whether there’s any off-season or negotiation news on Mitch Marner and/or John Tavares, says we do our business behind closed doors, and our focus right now is the draft and free agency.

TORONTO — If there is reason to believe that the Toronto Maple Leafs are shaping up to dress a better roster next fall than the one that finished third in the Atlantic Division and bowed out in the first round, it starts at the back end.

General manager Brad Treliving made it crystal clear heading into July 1’s first $1-billion spending frenzy that his top priority was his blue line, and instead of making the big splash, he made three veteran additions that could improve the corps.

Chris Tanev instantly becomes the top-pair right shot whose hardnosed defensive game should complement Morgan Rielly’s well.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson — not 24 hours removed from a Stanley Cup parade — brings versatility (the lefty can play his off side), experience, and another power-play option.

And low-cost righty Jani Hakanpää (two years at $1.5 million) should aid a penalty kill that fell to 23rd overall last season (76.9 per cent), second-worst among all playoff teams.

That the Leafs also re-signed Timothy Liljegren, who Treliving believes hasn’t played his best hockey, means they suddenly have seven or eight NHL-level D-men under contract.

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“I’d rather have too many than not enough,” Treliving said Monday, via Zoom from Las Vegas. “When I look at the defence now, it’s got a good blend.

“It certainly gives the coaching staff options.”

Certainly, the 34-year-old Tanev (six years) and 32-year-old Ekman-Larsson (four years) got overpaid in security, but such is the UFA game on the day the cap ceiling enjoys its highest spike in six summers.

“I’ve got a history with Oliver. He’s a smooth player. He moves well, good legs,” said Treliving, who was in the Coyotes front office when OEL was breaking franchise scoring records for a D-man. 

“The first thing to go on a player, usually, is the mobility, skating. He’s a fluid player, so ultimately, at the end of the day, we’re comfortable with a four-year term.”

Four years is how deep Treliving went on a Max Domi extension, which left no budget to retain Tyler Bertuzzi and a top-six hole on the left wing.

“Getting Max back was a priority,” Treliving said. “Competitive kid. We all know Max. He wears his heart on his sleeve, is able to bounce around the lineup, do different jobs.”

Despite being high on prospects Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten — a projected 3C who would benefit from a season in the AHL — Treliving continues to root around the bargain bin and explore trade options up front.

“We certainly don’t want to start jamming young players in if they’re not ready,” Treliving said. 

“At the end of the day, they’ve got to show that they’re ready to play in the man’s league, and that’s what training camp is for. We think they’re great young players, but we certainly don’t want to put them in a position to fail.”

Every member of Toronto’s affordable-yet-questionable new goaltending trio is positioned to improve upon their 2023-24.

It’ll be Joseph Woll‘s net to lose in his Age 26 season, but he’ll need to play double the 25 games he was healthy enough to log last season, when he was set back by a high-ankle sprain.

“We think Joe is going to have a real career in front of him and a real good, important season in front of him,” said Treliving, who signed the drafted-and-developed netminder to a three-year extension on the first day possible.

“We’ve got all the faith in the world in Joe.”

The GM said the Leafs conducted a “deep dive” into Woll’s injury history, the most recent and frustrating being the “cranked back” in the dying moments of Game 6 that forced Ilya Samsonov back into the net for Toronto’s season-ending OT goal in Game 7.

Treliving maintains that the flexible Woll is a highly conditioned athlete who has fallen into some bad luck: “Nothing that I would say is preventable in terms of his preparation.”

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In case more bad luck strikes, however, the Leafs targeted one of the NHL’s most technically sound backups for support. (And reupped third-stringer Matt Murray for less than a million bucks — a guy who should be motivated to prove himself after double hip surgery.)

True, 30-year-old Anthony Stolarz has never appeared in more than 28 games, but he was excellent as Sergei Bobrovsky’s No. 2 and picked up on the Vezina winner’s work ethic during Florida’s Cup run.

“He’s big. He’s athletic. I think goaltenders, as we all know, they take some time to mature in their game,” Treliving said. “He’s done that.”

It took Treliving some time to seriously address Toronto’s blue line, but he’s done that.

And while the deals made on Canada Day may not age well, we believe the Leafs now have a bigger and deeper, more versatile and more experienced D corps.

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Are there question marks around the superstars up front? Sure.

Is the goaltending plan based on some hope and good injury luck? Yep.

But short of cutting into an impenetrable forward core — no-trade clauses for everybody, remember! — Treliving did what he could to fill the gaps.

And he’s not turning his phone on silent.

“We don’t play till October. Happy with what transpired today. But it’s Day One, so we’ll continue to chip away,” Treliving said.

“We’ve got lots of summer left.”

Fox’s Fast Five

• If Treliving doesn’t like the trade market for Nick Robertson, who wants a fresh start, the GM can press the RFA to re-sign and play for the club that owns his rights.

Robertson’s other option is to withhold his services.

“Certainly, I have known that there was some frustration with Nick on his behalf. But we look at Nick as a as an excellent player, and there’s great opportunity for Nick here, and we need him to be a good player for us,” Treliving said. 

“I’m not going to get into any speculation or any public back-and-forth. We’ll just leave it at that and continue to move forward.”

• Also not up for public comment are the situations of core forwards John Tavares and Mitch Marner. 

Both have full no-move protection. Both became eligible to re-sign extensions Monday. Both have begun training in preparation for the coming Leafs season.

“I’m not going to get into any contract discussions we may or may not be having,” Treliving said.

• The Maple Leafs have yet to trade a player this off-season, but they explored that option over a busy week in Vegas, knowing that free agents typically demand an overpay in dollars or term.

“You’re always looking at the trade market,” Treliving said. “We had lots of discussions. Those go on every day.

• New coach Craig Berube was heavily involved as the management team hunkered down in Vegas and worked through its roster moves.

“It’s counterproductive just to show up and hand the coach a bunch of players,” Treliving said.

• Toronto has already hit the maximum roster size (23/23) and exceeded the increased $88-million cap, according to the soon-to-vanish CapFriendly.com — without signing Robertson or fellow RFA Connor Dewar.

Don’t panic: Teams are allowed to exceed the cap by 10 per cent in the off-season, and the Leafs’ bloated roster doesn’t account for cuts at training camp.

Toronto has only used 40 of its available 50 contract slots.

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