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trust, respect and friendship spurred Brad Treliving's reunion with Shane Doan in Toronto

Craig Morgan Avatar
February 21, 2024
Brad Treliving (right) and Shane Doan have been reunited in Toronto.

I asked Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving for an anecdote that illustrates his friendship with Shane Doan. With 17 years worth of material to peruse, he only had to backtrack a couple of days to find one.

“We were going from the press box back to the office after a game the other night and somebody, I think it was an usher, says ‘hello’ in the hallway,” Treliving said. “I say hello and I keep walking. I’m talking, cracking jokes, yapping on because I think Shane’s right beside me. 

“I look back and he’s 150 yards back. He has stopped. He’s having a conversation with this person and he’s completely present.”

It didn’t bother Treliving in the least that his recently hired special advisor had abandoned him. He had seen this scene a thousand times before when Doan was the Coyotes captain and Treliving was the franchise’s assistant GM.

“I can’t remember how many times we had a 10 o’clock bus or a 4 o’clock bus or whatever-time bus and he’s out there signing every autograph and having a conversation,” Treliving said. “He’s not just signing and moving on to the next one. He’s engaging with people until they’ve had their fill.

“It happens every day with him. A lot of people will say, ‘Hey, how ya doin’ today?’ Shane actually means it. He takes a genuine interest in people. There’s an authenticity to him; a realness that you just don’t come across very often.”

That ability to connect with people was a key element in Treliving’s desire to bring Doan aboard the Maple Leafs train in June. Treliving wanted someone who could serve as management’s liaison to the coaches and players, much as Treliving had done when he was the Coyotes assistant GM from 2007 to 2014.

“He just told me to be myself,” Doan said.

Doan built a reputation as one of the league’s greatest captains because of his ability to manage, relate to and inspire myriad personalities in the room. With Arizona youth hockey products Auston Matthews, Matthew Knies and former Coyote Max Domi on the Maple Leafs roster, Doan arrived in Toronto with instant street cred despite a six-year absence from the on-ice game.

Treliving knew that Doan wanted to be “on the front lines,” learning the tools of the trade in hopes of one day managing a team of his own. Doan has already gained valuable experience by working for the league, working in management for Hockey Canada, working on the business side of Coyotes management, and serving a short stint as an assistant coach last season under André Tourigny after Cory Stillman took a leave of absence for personal reasons.

Treliving is giving him every opportunity to build out his résumé by involving him and giving him a voice in every facet of hockey operations, from contracts, budgets and staff building, to analytics, scouting the World Junior Championship and scouting the NHL. 

But this hire wasn’t a one-way street of opportunity. Doan has had numerous offers to leave the Coyotes — both during his playing days and in retirement. Despite the Coyotes’ considerable and continued issues, he never wavered in his loyalty to the franchise that drafted him. This was just too great an opportunity to pass. First, he had the chance to work in the best hockey market on the planet. Second, but just as important, he had the opportunity to do so with a trusted friend.

“If you had a chance to become a part of the management team in Toronto when the team is on the way down and having to rebuild, that’d be a really hard job to take. But to become part of it when it’s at the top or has the ability to be at the top, that’s a special, special thing,” Doan said. “Then, on top of that, you put Tre in the center of it? To me, that’s huge because I think he’s really, really good at his job. Having Tre there, that’s a game changer for me.”

Shane Doan was the Coyotes captain from 2003-2017. (Getty Images)

The two had never met before former Coyotes GM Don Maloney hired Treliving, but Treliving was already familiar with Doan’s work. When the Western Professional Hockey League, which he was running, merged with the Central Hockey League in 2001, Treliving became the president of the new league. Its offices were in Phoenix.

The Coyotes were on the rise when Treliving joined the organization, with recent draft picks such as Keith Yandle, Martin Hanzal and Peter Mueller starting to make their mark. Treliving made his own mark inside a room that Doan had been guiding for four seasons since his appointment as captain in 2003.

“One thing I remember about him back then is all the support staff loved him,” said Doan, who calls head equipment manager Stan Wilson his best friend. “Tre was always connecting with those guys and that spoke volumes to me. It was not just that he was good to them. He liked them.

“The other thing you learn about Brad is he’s humble and genuine beyond belief. He’ll point out every mistake he’s made and everything that he’s done wrong. He works as hard as anyone and he’s really good at his job, but he cares more about people than about what they can do for him. That’s him in a nutshell. It doesn’t matter what position, who it is, or what you’re doing. If you come across Tre, he’s going to connect with you.”

The other key facet of Treliving’s personality for which Doan gained an appreciation — a facet that anybody who gets to know Treliving will appreciate — is his sense of humor.

“He’ll be the first one to point out all of his flaws and point them out in hilarious ways,” Doan said. “It’s not like he’s trying to be self deprecating. He just doesn’t take himself so seriously that we can’t enjoy what we’re doing. 

“I don’t want this portrayal of him to be too silly, but at the same time, his humor is a big part of him. That’s what draws people towards him. Sometimes in the most intense situations, he’ll say something that brings levity to the whole situation. His delivery is bang-on and his laugh just gets you rolling.”

Treliving likes to tell a story from his playing days in the Western Hockey League with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Craig Heisinger, who later worked for the Winnipeg Jets, was Brandon’s equipment manager at the time.

“Brad tells the story like this: ‘I go out on the ice. Ding, minus one. Next time I go out there, ding, minus two. Both times it’s my fault and I’ve been on the ice for like 25 seconds. Coach looks down at me and says, ‘Sit down.’ For the rest of the game. He’s done; doesn’t get another shift.

“In the first period, a guy gets hurt. Zinger runs out onto the ice because not only is he the equipment guy, he’s also the medical guy. He gets the guy off the ice. Halfway through the second, another guy gets hurt. Zinger runs out there and gets that guy off the ice. Before the end of the second, he does it again and when he comes back, he’s standing behind Tre and he goes, ‘Man, what’s it feel like when your trainer has more shifts than you do?’ Tre loves to tell that story. He thinks it’s the funniest thing ever and it’s all about him getting benched.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs hired Brad Treliving as GM in May, after he spent nine seasons as Calgary’s GM. (Getty Images)

Over the course of their 17-year friendship, there are few topics off limits for Treliving and Doan, especially since Doan’s playing days ended and the two no longer had to worry about the boundaries that exist between players and management.

“We had lots of conversations about what he wanted to do and I’d offer my thoughts. And then I’d pick his brain about a player or roster building,” Treliving said. “One of Shane’s greatest strengths is he finds the good in everyone. Where that applies to hockey is this: Sometimes the biggest mistake we make in this business is we talk about all the things a player can’t do. Shane always approached it differently. He’d see what a player could do, and he could see certain things that maybe others couldn’t.

“If we thought this player couldn’t do this, he would turn it around by saying ‘Yeah, but he’s a good thinker, so he can play with better players.’ Or, ‘Have you tried him in a penalty-killing role?’ His view was always so much about the team and how a guy could contribute to a team. It’s an element that sometimes some of us don’t see.”

Despite the trust and mutual respect they have for one another, and despite the hundreds of hours they have logged in conversation, there is one subject that Treliving tries to avoid at all costs.

“Horses,” he said with mock disgust. “He got my youngest daughter, Reese, into riding when she was really little and now I own a couple horses. I blame him for that.”

Doan used to own a horse ranch in Arizona; one that became the subject of many news stories and anecdotes. Reese learned to ride there.

“Unbeknownst to me, my wife (Julie) would talk to Shane about horses back then and he somehow was involved in suggesting we buy these horses,” Treliving said. “Whenever they’re together and they start talking, I just know that it’s going to cost me money so I’m trying to eliminate those communications as much as I can.

“He’s obviously got a real passion for it and he’s been awesome with Reese, but I really hate it when he starts the conversation with her by saying, ‘Well, just tell your dad you should get this or that.’ I tell him, ‘You know what? You can shut up any time now.'”

Jokes aside, Treliving is quick to pivot to his elation at being reunited with his old friend. As soon as he got the job — and even before — he knew that he wanted Doan by his side as the two try to do something that no Maple Leafs management team has accomplished since 1967: win a Cup.

“Having him here is huge,” Treliving said. “He’s got such great insight, you trust him explicitly and I think he’s such a valuable resource. It was a big part of the equation when I came here and I think it’s a big feather in the cap of the organization.”

Top photo via Getty Images. Illustration by Greg Esposito

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