When Kyle Dubas was promoted to general manager of the Maple Leafs two years ago, he made an observation during the club’s news conference at what was then the Air Canada Centre. Read MoreTwo years after Dubas’ promotion to GM, truest evaluation of Leafs will come in playoffs — Toronto Sun
When Kyle Dubas was promoted to general manager of the Maple Leafs two years ago, he made an observation during the club’s news conference at what was then the Air Canada Centre.
“We enter into another part of our journey, which is to reach our ultimate goal of contending perennially to be fighting at this time for the Stanley Cup,” Dubas said. “Instead of sitting here.”
That was on May 11, 2018.
In the short time since, the Leafs haven’t had much of an opportunity to put some substance behind those words, losing in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Boston Bruins last spring before getting themselves to third place (again) in the Atlantic Division when the COVID-19 global pandemic caused the NHL to pause its regular season on March 12.
For Dubas and the Leafs, it’s about what comes next, even if no one knows when there will be an opportunity to play games again and what the outcomes of those games will be.
Fact is, Dubas has had the kind of initial run as an NHL general manager one might expect from someone who has not yet had his 35th birthday. There have been hiccups along the way, but Dubas hasn’t come untracked from his vision of putting together a fast, puck-hungry team that has possession at the top of its to-do list at each opening faceoff.
Within 16 months of taking over, Dubas charted the course of the Leafs with the signings (in order) of John Tavares, William Nylander, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to long-term contracts. The Nylander talks didn’t follow a smooth process, something Dubas lamented later; after signing with minutes to spare on Dec. 1, 2018, Nylander was a non-factor for the remainder of the 2018-19 season. That was forgotten by the prolific way in which Nylander played before the pause, scoring 31 goals in 68 games.
Matthews, who has the ability to take aim at 50 goals a season for the next decade, and Marner, whose playmaking talents have put him at better than a point-a-game pace for the past two season, are the envy of most teams across the NHL.
As captain, Tavares is the leader that binds the club. Point is, it’s a solid quartet of players to have as the majority of the nucleus.
The catch, of course, is to what extent the commitment of more than $40-million US to four players will impact the roster going forward. That was part of the conversation well before the coronavirus pandemic threw future schedules into question and the adverse effect the stoppage of games is expected to have on the salary cap.
Three integral players — goaltender Frederik Andersen, defenceman Morgan Rielly and forward Zach Hyman — will command significant raises once their current contracts expire. Andersen and Hyman are slated to become unrestricted free agents after the 2020-21 season while Rielly follows a year later.
The promotion of Sheldon Keefe to head coach last November after the firing of Mike Babcock crucially put Dubas in lockstep with his coach. There’s a shared vision now and count on Keefe, under whom there were steps forward, to have a greater influence once he can guide the team with a benefit of training camp rather than taking over seven weeks into a season.
Dubas probably wouldn’t mind another crack at certain decisions he has made in the past couple of years, but there aren’t many NHL GMs who would look back and claim to be completely satisfied.
The Leafs appear to have shored up their backup goaltending with the acquisition of Jack Campbell in February. The mess at the position had its roots in Dubas choosing to go with the unproven (in the NHL) Garret Sparks instead of Curtis McElhinney coming out of camp in 2018. Sparks didn’t last the season after McElhinney, a stalwart the previous year, was claimed off waivers by the Carolina Hurricanes. Michael Hutchinson didn’t excel in the role either.
Neither Tyson Barrie, who is likely to depart via free agency once 2019-20 is done, nor Alex Kerfoot were glowing in their initial months as Leafs after they came east in the trade that sent Nazem Kadri to Colorado.
A team that had just a three-point lead on a playoff spot when the season was halted, as the Leafs did on the Florida Panthers, remains a work in progress.
Any proper judgment of Dubas can’t be made until the Leafs have had chances to prove themselves, and to prove his construction of the team was the correct one, in the playoffs.
We do know that holding news conferences in late April or early May and trying to project what might come in the following season won’t be acceptable.