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
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.