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Treliving says meeting with Matthews his top priority as Toronto Maple Leafs GM

Brad Treliving spoke with family, friends and close confidants.

Every conversation ended in similar fashion.

It’s Toronto. It’s the Maple Leafs.

“Until you’re here, you don’t really understand it,” Treliving said of hockey’s biggest market. “It means something.”

The 53-year-old was introduced as the 18th general manager in franchise history Thursday, bringing an end to a wild stretch that included a long-awaited playoff breakthrough followed by the public waffling and ultimate dismissal of his predecessor.

“I sit in front of you today excited, humbled (and) looking at this as a great opportunity,” Treliving told reporters at his first Leafs press conference in the bowels of Scotiabank Arena. “But also know this is a great, great responsibility.”

There’s also a lot to do ahead of what could be an earth-moving summer in Toronto.

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And his No. 1 priority is clear — sitting down in Arizona with star centre Auston Matthews, set to enter the final year of his contract and eligible to sign an extension July 1.

“We’re not talking about a good player,” Treliving said. “We’re talking about an elite player in the world. Getting to Auston is a priority. But outside of the contract ? just getting to build that relationship.

“It’s not walking down and trying to arm wrestle about contracts. It’s getting down and me getting a chance to meet him. But more importantly, having Auston get a chance to meet me (and) know what we’re about.”

Treliving’s long list of chores for the Original Six franchise with a 56-year Stanley Cup drought encompasses looking at every facet, including the future of the so-called “Core Four” of high-paid offensive talent led by Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander.

“I’m not about coming in and making a statement,” Treliving said. “You can throw a body onto the tarmac and it might look good for a headline, but are you getting any better at the end of the day?

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“Just being different doesn’t necessarily make you better.”

Nylander can also sign a contract extension July 1, while Matthews and Marner will also have their full no-movement clauses kick in the same day. Nylander gets a 10-team list and Tavares has a full no-move with two years left on his deal.

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Treliving added Toronto can’t only be about an offensive quartet taking up nearly half the team’s salary cap.

“This is about the Toronto Maple Leafs,” he said. “It’s not about four players, it’s not about two, it’s not about one.

“We will look at all things.”

Treliving replaced Kyle Dubas — named president of hockey operations by the Pittsburgh Penguins some 30 minutes before his replacement met the media — after the latter was fired by Toronto president Brendan Shanahan on May 19.

The Leafs had finally gotten over a painful playoff hump with their first series victory since 2004 when they bested the Tampa Bay Lightning in April, but were then eliminated by the Florida Panthers in the second round.

Toronto’s GM since 2018, but without a contract beyond June 30, Dubas indicated at an emotional end-of-season press conference he was unsure of his desire to remain in the role.

After some back and forth, Shanahan ultimately fired the 37-year-old despite previously wanting to keep him, and Dubas eventually indicating he wished to stay.

“Kyle Dubas is a very close friend,” Treliving said. “He’s extremely smart. I think he’s talented at what he does.”

Shanahan was asked about the curious timing of the Pittsburgh’s announcement on Dubas.

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“I don’t think it was intentional,” he said. “Fully endorsed Kyle (to the Penguins) ? I’m very happy for him.”

The Hall of Fame winger, who’s “Shanaplan” is now on its third GM, has guided the Leafs to resounding regular-season success in his nine years in charge, but owns that solitary series victory in eight tries.

“I’ve felt pressure from the first day I took the job till today,” Shanahan said. “I feel it every day.

“This is not about whether or not I’m suddenly feeling pressure.”

Meanwhile, Treliving added he will sit down with head coach Sheldon Keefe to chart a path forward, but didn’t commit to him being behind the bench next season.

“Really good coach,” Treliving said. “My view is determining whether a guy is good, bad or indifferent, you have to work with him. You have to get to know him.

“I’m coming in with no preconceived notions.”

Treliving, who left the Calgary Flames in April after nine seasons as GM, pointed to Keefe’s 115- and 111-point campaigns, and his ability to get Toronto’s stars to tighten up defensively.

“He’s gotten top players to check,” Treliving said. “You can’t win until you check. You need talent, you need skill, but that skill’s got to play at both ends of the ice.

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“I’ve seen an evolution.”

An extremely busy period ahead includes preparing for the NHL draft — the Flames placed restrictions on Treliving’s influence because he was still under contract with Calgary before joining Toronto, but Shanahan declined to share specifics — and free agency, which could see as many as 12 roster players go to market.

“We’ll go pedal down here pretty quick,” Treliving said. “This is not the dating game ? we’re going to get right into pushing hard.”

“There’s a lot to do,” he added. “Clock is ticking.”

With wife Julie and their two daughters sitting in the front row at Thursday’s press conference, Treliving said that while Toronto is a “special, special place” in hockey circles, the real draw is the team.

“It’s led by world-class players,” he said. “There’s been heartache and there’s been some frustration in terms of where we’ve been in the playoffs lately. It’s a hard league.

“We’re going to try to keep putting ourselves in a position to keep knocking on the door, keep knocking on the door, keep knocking the door and eventually push through.”

That work — and there’s plenty — has already begun.

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