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Leafs GM on deadline: ‘You need a dance partner’

TORONTO – Brad Treliving did some late-night shopping.

After addressing a glaring need on his blue line, the Maple Leafs general manager still has a long list of areas he would like to touch on ahead of the NHL’s March 8 trade deadline.

He’s also pragmatic.

Toronto reacquired bruising defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin in a three-team deal late Thursday evening that involved a couple of draft picks, salary retention gymnastics, and adds just US$687,500 to the team’s cap.

Treliving met with reporters some 14 hours later to discuss the swap for the right-shooting Lyubushkin — a much-needed addition to a battered defence corps that’s heavily left-handed at the moment — and the organization’s path forward with a week to go before GMs around the league put down their pens.

“We’re short on the right side,” said Treliving, whose club dressed six lefties on the blue line the last two games. “You look throughout the marketplace and No. 1 is determining what’s available.

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“There’s lots of names people want to bandy about, but you’ve got to separate reality from non-reality.”

Treliving said the concussion suffered by Mark Giordano early in Thursday’s 4-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes didn’t factor into the Lyubushkin trade because the deal was already well down the road.

But it helps a group also minus right-shot defenders Timothy Liljegren (undisclosed injury) and Conor Timmins (mononucleosis). John Klingberg, meanwhile, is on long-term injured reserve following season-ending hip surgery.

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Lyubushkin’s first stint with the Leafs lasted 31 games and one playoff round after former GM Kyle Dubas acquired the Russian from Arizona in February 2022.

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The dependable 29-year-old, who could play Saturday when the New York Rangers visit Toronto, provides almost nothing in attack, but developed good chemistry with Morgan Rielly last time around.

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“Extremely competitive,” said the Leafs No. 1 defenceman of his new/old partner. “Lots of guys in here that were excited to hear the news.”

Treliving, who took over last spring, said he leaned on head coach Sheldon Keefe and a couple of locker-room voices to gauge Lyubushkin’s fit.

Toronto goaltender Ilya Samsonov trains with his countryman in the off-season, but won’t be at the airport to greet him late Friday.

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“He’s coming at 10:30,” Samsonov said with a smile. “I will be asleep.”

Asked of the areas the organization would like to further address before next Friday’s trade cutoff, Treliving mentioned depth up front, more blue-line help, and the awkward, three-headed crease monster of Samsonov, Joseph Woll and Martin Jones.

“You need a dance partner that likes what you have and vice versa,” he said. “We’re going to try to be creative and see where we can help ourselves.”

Treliving said Toronto is open to trading a first-round pick — the Leafs have this year’s selection and their 2026 choice available — in the right deal.

“You’ve got to be careful with first-round picks for short-term help,” he cautioned. “But if it makes sense when you do the final analysis, if you think it’s going to have an impact, you have to look at every option.

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“As the manager you also have to look (through) not just the next-six-weeks lens.”

Treliving added Toronto’s recent seven-game winning streak — the Leafs are currently third in the Atlantic Division — hasn’t impacted his thinking with the deadline looming.

“We have a 50-plus games sample size,” he said. “There’s areas that we still need to address. Will we be able to address them all by the deadline? No, that’s just the reality. And not every team will. But is there a way that we can help ourselves between now and next Friday?

“That’s what we’re gonna try to do.”

TAKING NOTICE

Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves was asked about Rangers rookie Matt Rempe, a six-foot-seven forward already with three fights through six career NHL games.

“He’s coming in the league trying to make a name for himself any way he can,” Reaves, 37, said of the 21-year-old. “That’s how I came in. I wasn’t called up to add a scoring touch. It was to be physical and stick up for teammates and draw some energy … good on him.

“He’s got some attention and we’ll see how long it lasts.”

Any chance the pair drop the gloves Saturday?

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“I don’t have the game script,” Reaves deadpanned. “But you never know.”

SUPPORTING GIO

Treliving said Giordano will go on injured reserve after he crashed hard into the boards.

The 40-year-old defenceman was “out for a little bit,” but in better shape when the pair spoke Friday morning.

The injury ended an awful February for Giordano, whose father, Paul, died suddenly a few weeks ago.

“He’s been through the wringer,” Rielly said. “But he’s a warrior. He’s got a lot of people in here that really care about him. It’s on us to support him.

“It’s times like these where you need to be there for people.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2024.

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&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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