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Treliving’s Free Agent Signings and a New Brand of Leafs Hockey

The new brand of Leafs hockey isn't just high-end skill. It's a high-end skill that isn’t afraid to punch you in the mouth.

Free Agency opened on July 1st, and the Leafs seemed to get off to a bit of a slow start. But after the 2nd of July came and went, Leafs Nation suddenly had a lot to talk about.

Brad Treliving first re-signed some important depth pieces like David Kampf and Pontus Holmberg. He also identified some players that weren't coming back like Michael Bunting, Alex Kerfoot, Justin Holl, Luke Schenn, and Ryan O’Reilly. Then he pulled out his metaphorical Maple Leafs money cannon and went big game hunting on the open market.

It seems that Treliving’s primary goal with this team is to shift its identity both in the locker room and on the ice, and with these acquisitions, the Leafs’ overall tone has changed dramatically.

The Ryan Reaves Deal 

The Leafs signed 36-year-old Ryan Reaves to a three-year contract with an AAV of $1.35 million.

Reaves is by no means an offensively gifted player, especially this late in his career. Reaves is solely an enforcer, which is generally an odd choice given the way this Leafs team has been built.

Reaves had five goals and ten assists for 15 points in a total of 75 games played last season split between the Rangers and the Wild. While he certainly does not produce a lot offensively, he seems to produce a toughness and grit that is contagious to the rest of his team. Having a player like Ryan Reaves gives the rest of the Leafs greater confidence to play with some more swagger.

That being said, giving any 36-year-old a three-year deal is incredibly risky.

The Tyler Bertuzzi Deal 

Brad Treliving has certainly made a commitment to evolving the identity of the Leafs next season, with his main focus being on grit and toughness.

With this signing, the Leafs top six just got a major upgrade.

Tyler Bertuzzi, the Sudbury Ontario native and nephew of famous NHL enforcer Todd Bertuzzi has signed a one-year deal worth $5.5 million.

He was a huge deadline pickup for the Boston Bruins last season, and performed extremely well in their first-round loss versus the Florida Panthers, potting five goals and five assists for ten points over just seven games.

He’s an extremely capable top-six winger with a nasty side, not afraid to drop the gloves when necessary, and hits like a freight train. Essentially, he’s exactly what the Leafs needed in their top six after the departure of Michael Bunting.

The Max Domi Deal 

The Latest splash that the Leafs made in the free agent market was easily the most cathartic one. Son of Leafs legend Max Domi has signed with the Maple Leafs on a one-year deal worth $3 million.

Domi, along with Reaves and Bertuzzi, further contributes to the new coat of paint Brad Treliving is applying to his Leafs team. The Leafs are going to be much harder to play against in all areas on the ice, but most importantly, in front of their opponent's net.

In 80 games last season Domi had 20 goals and 36 assists for 56 points split between the Stars and BlackHawks. He can fill the hole that Alex Kerfoot leaves behind as a versatile winger who can play centre when necessary, but more importantly, he can get under the opponents' skin.

Players like Reaves, Bertuzzi, and Domi all play a key role in wearing down opponents not just with physical play, but with loads of verbal harassment. As an opponent, seeing Tyler Bertuzzi step off the ice after a long shift and then realizing that Max Domi is stepping on is mentally exhausting after hearing the endless chirping from both of them.

Make no mistake, that kind of intensity and competitiveness will be contagious in the Leafs’ locker room. And that’s exactly what Treliving wants out of these acquisitions.

The message is clear. This team won’t be pushed around this season. Making your team tougher isn’t just about going out and signing a few tough players, it has to be a full team mentality. Sheldon Keefe has likely been briefed on how the Leafs are expected to play this season. The new brand of Leafs hockey isn't just high-end skill. It's a high-end skill that isn’t afraid to punch you in the mouth.

Dave Felsbourg

Friday, July 7, 2023

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