Kyle Dubas did not settle the healthcare crisis in Ontario, did not bring peace to the Middle East, and has as many Nobel Prizes as he has Jim Gregory Awards as general manager of the year in the National Hockey League.
In other words, none.
And yet, the over-the-top mourning for Dubas continues, as though he is irreplaceable and world-changing with the Maple Leafs, as if they won’t or can’t find anyone like him again. Because he treated people so well, the story goes. Because he was so loyal and so thoughtful.
Because the Leafs front office was all about ice cream and candy and almost everybody loves that.
But almost everybody didn’t love the past year in Leafland from the inside where there was more inner turmoil than there had been in Dubas’ previous four seasons as GM. He let pro scout and former director of hockey strategy Eric Joyce go midway through the season without explanation. That’s unusual. He oversaw the firing of the Marlies coaching staff at the end of the season. He took a well thought-of NHL executive and demoted him out of the front office and into the Marlies operation. His emotional outbursts in the box during games were unlike his actions in any other season.
That’s how nice he was in his final season in Toronto. You know who else was nice? Dave Nonis treated his staff wonderfully well, as did Cliff Fletcher with the Leafs. Both got pushed out because it was time to push them out. Not because they were nice people, which they still happen to be.
Big picture, Dubas took over a Leafs team five years ago that had Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown and Freddie Andersen. Did that roster get better five years later?
Dubas got little for Kadri and Brown, and lost Hyman and Andersen to free agency. The big signing, John Tavares, then strangled the Leafs from a payroll perspective, not to mention the captain was slowing down in a league that is speeding up.
Dubas did some nice work bringing in Jake Muzzin, Luke Schenn and TJ Brodie, trading for Ryan O’Reilly, developing Timothy Liljegren and Michael Bunting, signing Mark Giordano on the cheap. But he also did some less-than-ordinary work, trading a first-round pick away for Nick Foligno.
This is what GMs do. The margin for error is thin. They have good and bad drafts. They make great and terrible trades. The nice guys do the job. And the not-so-nice guys do it as well.
This is not the end for the Leafs. This is another new beginning. The mourning over Dubas really needs to stop.
THIS AND THAT
Does Doug Armstrong have any interest in being GM of the Leafs? So far, he hasn’t said yes and more importantly he hasn’t said no. Whether the Leafs have approached St. Louis ownership about getting permission to talk to Armstrong is another matter entirely. Can’t believe Brendan Shanahan will find a GM with better credentials than Armstrong … A phone call I would make if I were Shanahan: Hello, Jon Cooper. Any interest in being a GM? … Dubas has not made a public statement since being let go but he did release a rather meaningless written statement from ‘The Dubas Family’… Strange thing, though, either he or his close followers are leaking these days like a bad faucet. Information and misinformation being spread at record speeds … One person who has said nothing about the Dubas circumstance, except by his action, is Jason Spezza, who basically spent the year interning under Dubas. When Dubas was let go, Spezza immediately resigned. Asked for clarification by text as to why he quit, he chose to remain silent … Old story: When Shanahan wooed Lou Lamoriello out of New Jersey to come and work for the Leafs in 2015, he had been doing GM interviews prior to the hiring. Near the top of his list at the time was Los Angeles executive Mike Futa. My belief then: If he didn’t get Lamoriello, Futa would have been the Leafs GM … Shanahan, by the way, was best man at Sean Burke’s first wedding. Burke is the goaltending coach in Vegas. It doesn’t appear as though he has gotten any consideration for the Leafs GM job, which is where Burke had hoped to be in the future … Since entering the NHL, Matthews has scored 299 goals, Matthew Tkachuk, picked sixth overall, has 192. In that time, Tkachuk has 299 assists, Matthews has 243. The playoff version of Tkachuk, being everything you need him to be for the Florida Panthers, has nine goals and 21 points in 16 games. It is this kind of dominance the Leafs have hoped for from Matthews at playoff time since he came to Toronto … An off-beat question for the new Leafs GM: Is Brodie in decline or did he just have a difficult season on defence? Rielly had a troubling year and a fabulous playoffs for the Leafs. Can Brodie return to his old level of strength and safety?
HEAR AND THERE
How is it that every year that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins put together what looks like a championship-calibre team and then the season begins and the flaws seem everywhere with the Blue Jays. This year seems worse than most. The starting pitching has been spotty except for Kevin Gausman. The bullpen is more than erratic. They don’t play defence particularly well. They haven’t run the bases well. They don’t hit when there are runners in scoring position. It’s a bad combination of mistake-filled baseball. Sunday is the one-third mark of this season. Shapiro and Atkins talked at the beginning of the season about winning 95 games and challenging for the World Series. My buddy Rob Longley writes that you can’t blame manager John Schneider and I agree, sort of. If this team fails to make the post-season at a time when six of 15 teams get in and another six teams are terrible, someone smarter will have to explain why … What to do with Alek Manoah? Last year, he had 25 quality starts, second-best in the AL. He was third in earned run average, and fourth in WHIP. Today, he’s third-worst in quality starts, third-worst in ERA, and last in the league in WHIP. And he’s only 25 years old. How do you fix this? … The Jays’ final 12 games of the regular season are against Tampa Bay and the Yankees. They may be out of the playoff race by then, but those final games could end up deciding so much for the struggling Jays.
SCENE AND HEARD
I feel for Sheldon Keefe. Today, he is still the coach of the Leafs. Tomorrow, he doesn’t know if he has a job. Odds are the new general manager will want his hand-picked coach. Masai Ujiri chose to keep Dwane Casey with the Raptors under similar circumstances. For a while, that worked out well. The challenge with Keefe is no different than the challenge with replacing Dubas. You need to find someone better at the job. Is that someone even out there? … The belief when Shanahan took over the Leafs: We are the Maple Leafs, we need to have the best of everything. The best coaches. The best front office people. The most progressive thinkers. You can’t consider Marc Bergevin, Peter Chiarelli or Jason Botterill to be the next GM if you’re still thinking that way … The Stanley Cup final could well be Vegas versus Florida — Bruce Cassidy, first year with the Golden Knights, vs. Paul Maurice, first year with the Panthers … Brandon Montour is living proof of why you never give up on a player. This is his seventh NHL season, his first playing like a star … In the end, the Carolina Hurricanes suffered from not having Andrei Svechnikov and Max Pacioretty in the lineup while playing with a barely ready Teuvo Teravainen. That would be three of their top four offensive players. The Canes scored only six goals while being swept by Florida … The Dallas Stars have two more years of Jamie Benn at a salary cap hit of $9.5 million a season … I voted for Miro Heiskanen in the second spot on my Norris Trophy ballot. If I got to change my vote now, I think I’d place him first. He’s been the best defenceman in the Stanley Cup playoffs … The remarkable borderline Hall of Famer Joe Pavelski continues to amaze. He has scored 18 game-winning goals in the playoffs. The only people who have scored more: Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Claude Lemieux and Joe Sakic. Pavelski has more winning goals than Mike Bossy, Glenn Anderson, Phil Esposito and Mario Lemieux … A surprise on the list, Steve Thomas has 11 playoff-game-winning goals in his career. Another surprise, Ondrej Palat also has 11 … Didn’t you expect Jake Oettinger to be better than this in the playoffs?
AND ANOTHER THING
Batting titles used to mean something big when they were won by Rod Carew, George Brett, Tony Gwynn or even John Olerud. Today, not so much. Yet, Miami’s Luis Arraez is a fascinating study. This year, he is running away with the National League batting crown. Last year, he led the AL in hitting. No player in big league history has ever won back-to-back hitting titles from both leagues … LeBron James is the last player still active in the Association from the 2003 NBA draft. Third pick Carmelo Anthony just retired. Fourth pick Chris Bosh is already in the Hall of Fame, and fifth pick Dwyane Wade is heading that way in August. Marc-Andre Fleury was the first pick in the NHL draft that summer. He’s still playing, as is Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Corey Perry, all of whom have had to change their roles in recent years … Nothing has me changing channels faster than a hockey announcer talking about F2 and F3. Yep, me and my friends talk about F2 and F3 all the time … In the sweep of the Lakers, Denver’s Jamal Murray, the kid from Kitchener, averaged 32.5 points a game. In his best game, he finished with 37 points. Murray averaged 20 points a game during the season … Five of the past seven winners of coach of the year in the NBA are out of work today. Among them are Nick Nurse, Mike Budenholzer and Monty Williams, who is still my choice to coach the Raptors next season … Calgary’s Mike Soroka has been out of the big leagues for almost three years. He is expected to return to the Atlanta Braves in the coming days … Happy birthday to Jerry West (85), Kirk Gibson (66), Jose Berrios (29), Ron Wilson (68), Errol Thompson (73), Mark Howe (68), Ed Van Impe (83), Terry Crisp (80), Frank Thomas (55), Eric Bischoff (68), Michael Oher (37) and John Tory (69) … And hey, whatever became of Tim Bezbatchenko?
JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH
I started covering the NHL in 1980. In those days, you just assumed Canadian teams would play for the Stanley Cup.
Why wouldn’t you? In my university and high school years, the Montreal Canadiens won four Cups in a row. In 1982, the Vancouver Canucks played for the Stanley Cup, Then came the Edmonton Oilers, who lost in ’83, won in ’84 and ’85, and probably should have won in ’86. That year, a rookie named Patrick Roy led the Canadiens to another championship, beating the Calgary Flames in the final.
The Oilers won again in ’87 and ’88 before the Wayne Gretzky trade was made and without Gretzky, they won in ’90. In between that, the Flames won their only Cup in ’89.
So, if you do that math from 1982 to 1990 — nine seasons in all — Canadian teams won seven Cups and played in all nine finals.
And now, nothing. No titles. No true contenders. No Canadian teams a minute away from a championship celebration. Since the Habs’ win in ’93, I can think of only one Canadian team that should have won the Cup since then and that was the 2011 Vancouver Canucks, with a 3-2 lead in the final against the Boston Bruins. They were the best team in hockey — just not when it mattered most.
The simple answer for why Canadian teams don’t win championships any longer? Mostly, they’re not good enough. Ottawa made a Cup final and was taken apart by Anaheim in 2007. Both Calgary and Edmonton made finals with so-so teams and high-end talent but couldn’t win the last series in the end. And right now, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Calgary are all trying to figure out who they are while the top-talented Toronto and Edmonton teams haven’t been able to figure out playoff hockey.
This isn’t about taxes, salary caps, fans, and pressure about all the convenient reasons why Canadian teams don’t win. This is about getting better. This is about having a plan and a strategy and building a foundation. I saw Canadian hockey at its best in the ’70s and ’80s. The Oilers or the Maple Leafs could become one of those title teams. Or become like the 2011 Canucks, living a lifetime of what-if.
Shanahan should pay attention to Panthers’ success
These are troubling times for MLSE