Kyle Dubas: 5 Takeaways on the Leafs most recent hire

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Kyle Dubas speaks to the press at the Essar Centre after signing on as the new GM for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Dubas is the youngest-ever GM in OHL history. Jim Egan photos.

July 22nd 2014, a date that will live in infamy.  The Toronto Maple Leafs hired Kyle Dubas, formerly the General Manager for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, former scout, agent, and fancy stats pioneer as assistant general manager.

While he rankles at the comparison to famed Moneyball GM Billy Beane, Dubas does have the statistical bona fides to change the way game is being played in Toronto.

Here are five key points from the hire:

The Leafs will use their analytics budget this year

Dave Nonis nearly broke twitter last season when he indicated that the Maple Leafs have had money allocated for use in advanced statistics over the years and have chosen not to use it.  What was most offensive about this statement – in the eyes of stats gurus and knowledgeable fans in general – was the cavalier approach to asset management displayed by Nonis.

The Maple Leafs are the richest team in the sport, and one of the 50 richest sports franchises in the world. The team paid Darcy Tucker $6-million not to play for them, and will do the same over the next four years for Tim Gleason.  It’s a bizarre juxtaposition to spend millions on buyouts and then nothing on this potential avenue to help improve the team.

The advanced stats present today are not the Rosetta stone to make a team fluent in on-ice success.  Dubas admitted that they are still in primitive stages right now during his inaugural press conference.

They are a tool, and like any tool they have both limitations and uses.  When all you have is a hammer, as the saying goes, everything looks like a nail.  The Leafs just added to the toolbox.

The old boys club is (almost) gone

Perhaps overshadowed in yesterday’s events, Dave Poulin (hired by Brian Burke in 2009) and Claude Loiselle (hired by Burke in 2010) were relieved of their duties.  It was a sudden – though perhaps not surprising – move, seeing as Poulin was on TSN 1050 hours before being let go.

For Loiselle, partial architect of the buyout-proof David Clarkson contract (that sees the Mimico native receive 75% of his $36.75-million contract in signing bonuses), the departure is long overdue.

As to Poulin, he’s an affable guy who has done good things with a patchwork Marlies squad the last three seasons (he served as the baby buds’ GM among other duties).  He also strongly advocated for the signing of Brett Lebda, and did media rounds towing the company line.  He was a loyal foot soldier for both Burke and Nonis, but ultimately he represented the cloistered, smartest-guys-in-the-room mentality that has plagued the club over the past decade.  If I had to guess, he won’t be unemployed for long.  If not Calgary in an executive capacity, he could get back into coaching.

Enter the fledgling Dubas, a few months younger than Tyler Bozak, with no NHL experience.  He doesn’t wear the same school ties, he’s not indebted to or enamoured with Lou Lamoriello.  He’s not going to advocate for a trade with Anaheim just because.

This is a merit-based hire, something that is both rare and needed in this nepotistic industry.  This new voice will beget more new voices as the Leafs seek to revitalize its beleaguered image and place in the NHL.

Brendan Shanahan puts his stamp on the team

Though he probably flubbed his first chance to improve the team by retaining Randy Carlyle, it’s become clear that Shanny has a clear direction for what he wants in this team. He’s removed subordinates sympathetic to Carlyle and promoted two guys in Spott and Horachek who might be better suited to coaching in the modern NHL.  He’s been quiet, methodical; and ultimately this departure from braggadocio-filled, hollow statements will stand him in good stead.

Along with the hire of Dubas, Shanahan has subtly reshaped the team in his image.  It’s also provided Shanahan with a loyal guy, his hire.  He’s removed Carlyle’s support base, he’s removed Nonis’ support base, and added to his own.  A very prudent move that shouldn’t be forgotten.

The Leafs (probably) won’t be that much better in the short term

Dubas, despite his accolades, is not a miracle worker.  There’s still plenty of room for improvement (the signing of David Booth notwithstanding) and piles of evidence to suggest that the Leafs are one Jonathan Bernier injury away from being a lottery team.

Dubas should be a boon to the pro and amateur scouting divisions, but the results won’t be instantaneous. There’s a lot that needs improvement in Toronto, and he’s not skating a shift or deploying the forward units.  There are still a lot of problem areas on the team, and the acquisition of talented coaches and players can be a slow and arduous process.

This is quite a promotion for him, but Dubas might need a lot of seasoning before he’s a mover and shaker.  Even Dubas said during yesterday’s press conference, “there’s no quick fix.”

This changes everything… maybe.

Dave Nonis should be looking over his shoulder.  Randy Carlyle should be looking over his shoulder.  Steve Simmons should be looking in the mirror.  Change, both culturally and executively, has come to the Toronto Maple Leafs and it will be felt in many ways.

The biggest change may not be in Toronto but throughout the league.  Generally speaking, it is cash-strapped teams that look to exploit market inefficiencies as they do not have the financial clout to compete with the big money teams.

With Dubas, the richest franchise in the NHL has accepted that there’s merit to a blended approach to analyzing hockey success individually and as a team.  What this doesn’t do is make the Leafs a playoff contender.  The games still must be played.

But there’s a new architect in Toronto, armed with infinite resources at his finger tips, who might just help build something magical.

  • http://mapleleafshotstove.com/ DeclanK

    FOR GENERAL CHAT AND OFF-TOPIC COMMENTARY, 

    PLEASE GO TO TO THE DAVID BOOTH SIGNING PAGE. 

    http://mapleleafshotstove.com/2014/07/22/leafs-sign-david-booth-to-a-1-year-contract/

  • Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

    Just in from work (loooong day).  Was very surprised to hear Loiselle and Poulin fired….especially after hearing Poulin on my morning drive into work.  Can’t say I’m all that surprised.  In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing some new, younger, fresh blood in the executive ranks.  We won’t see dividends from this move for a few years….but it’s a step in the right direction, imo anyways.

  • maximus_asinus

    great read, I’m glad someone else picked up on the Moneyball similarities. Only time will tell if Dubas is as successful.

  • Leafs2 Isles1

    I like the hire. It is a little risky, due to his lack of experience, but the Leafs need some fresh thinking.

    In conjunction with their other off season moves, I wonder if they’re going to change their approach to getting better.

    Over the last few years, they’ve let some pretty good players just walk away from the team when they could have been used to improve the team. They’ve also given some players a look for a low price who played above what they hoped.

    This makes me wonder if they’ll start trading some of these assets in the future. I can see them approaching free agents who have been passed over and telling them that if they play well and sign a decent contract, the Leafs will find a way of trading them to a playoff team. The same might go for Europeans.  

    Players would go for it because it might be seen as a way to improve their careers.

    This year, they’re signing a lot of players which means that they have more ways of maneuvering and they have the ability to trade guys away without having to get someone back right away to fill it. 

    For the Leafs, they could make a yearly habit of it in the hopes of always getting a few extra pics or prospects at the trade deadline. Picks and prospects can then be used in trades to improve (including moving up in drafts).

  • http://mapleleafshotstove.com/ DeclanK

    Bon Scott was a Leaf fan In terms of team makeup, its really, really hard to turn a team around on the year, but the biggest improvement where he can help is in the coaching. 
    The Toronto Maple Leafs had their awful system that conceded point shots (which lead to rebounds and 2nd chance opportunities) and scrambles in the d-zone. I think by have a traditional system with a better man-on-man coverage (vs the zone shit they were doing before) and looking at things like how to structure defensive zone faceoffs from a personal standpoint, who you deploy on your PP#1 and PP#2 using stats based on clean zone entries, as well as providing stats for the PK to show the coaches that their “gut” is not really cutting it, will make the leafs an infinitely better team.

  • djamon

    I was under the impression that Poulin assumed the Marlies GM duties when Burke was fored and Nonis took over. It had been Nonis prior to that.

  • LeafErikson

    Architect? He’s not the one running the team. Some of the narratives coming out of today are ridiculous. I like the hire, but people are getting much to ahead of themselves.

  • Burtonboy

    DeclanK Bon Scott was a Leaf fan I’m curious to see if the Leafs play more of a possession game actually carrying  the puck into the offensive zone rather then the dump and chase many team use . From what I can gather this is style Dubas prefers . How much influence will he really have I wonder ?

  • LeafErikson

    Bon Scott was a Leaf fan Wait, so you were, or weren’t surprised?

  • rustynail

    Burtonboy DeclanK Bon Scott was a Leaf fan not much influence this year I bet