Kyle Dubas joined Brady and Walker earlier this afternoon to discuss the Toronto Marlies, the lottery results, the management dynamics under Brendan Shanahan, the upcoming 2015 NHL draft and the NHL playoffs.
On the Marlies making the playoffs after their great run:
Especially because of who the players are that have really pushed the team forward in the second half; particularly after the trade deadline at the NHL level, the team has been really driven by Connor Brown, William Nylander, Brendan Leipsic, so on and so forth. It’s been really nice for us to watch from a management perspective as our young players have pushed it ahead. We’ve gotten great efforts from Matt Frattin, who has really been on fire down the stretch here, and bodes well; he’s got another year left on his contract and that’s a strong sign leading into the offseason for him. It’s an excellent opportunity for these players in the playoffs to go in against an extremely talented Grand Rapids team and show us where they really stack up against an elite organization in Detroit and Grand Rapids. It’s a great opportunity for everybody.
On the benefits of an AHL playoff run versus a long offseason to train:
As an organization we’re really trying to shift to make sure we’re doing all we can in season. The narrative, we dealt with it a little bit in Sault Ste Marie, was that the player is to come in in excellent shape and we try to just make sure he doesn’t fall off too much from a strength and conditioning standpoint during the season. One of the things you try to build in there, there is a lot of opportunity through the year to not only build and prevent injuries, but also maintain and build on their strength base. With us having so many young players there, being the youngest team in the AHL, we realize a lot of the players do have a lot room to grow physically and need to mature physically. The onus is partially on the player, but as the organization we have them in everyday. It falls on us to make sure we’ve got the proper programs and nutrition and strength and conditioning in place so that the players can get stronger during the year. The games that are played, I think it’s an excellent opportunity for the players to really take ownership of the Marlies and have a real stake in our organization. If it were a team that were built like your proverbial quadruple-A baseball team, that had a lot of guys whose NHL prospects had ended but they’re really good minor league players, I think we’d feel differently about going on a long run the playoffs. Because of the players that are driving the bus here, I think it only serves to enhance their development as players. The games are obviously going to become a lot more difficult and a lot more challenging. As young prospects, if they can continue to maintain their level of output, to me that’s a great sign for the future of our organization and for the hockey fans in Toronto.
The lottery results:
I was in Rockford with the Marlies in the coaches’ room watching it. Very honestly, I wasn’t anxious about it at all. In fact, we had the greatest chance of ending up picking 5th, so once Carolina’s came up, at fifth, I said, “that’s a little bit of good fortunate either way.” The way I looked at this draft, I knew we were going to get a good pick, we weren’t going to pick lower than 5th, but the focus for us and where we have to begin to really become a great organization is on the second pick, the Nashville pick that we got in the trade for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli. We have to make a good pick and hit on that one. That’s where a lot of our focus has been. We know it’s going to be in the mid 20s, and that’s where myself and Mark Hunter have been spending a lot of our time, is tracking those players that are in that range. Making sure we find a player that fits the identity of where we’re going as an organization and we’re certain is going to be a guy who has a good chance of becoming in and being a big time player, be it a forward, D or goaltender; someone that we’re confident can be not just someone that’s a safe pick that will play low in our lineup, but a really good player. You look at a lot of the organizations now, they’re able to find real good players late in the 1st and that’s what we want to become. Having that pick is a great opportunity for us.
The fourth overall pick:
You’ve got to narrow it down to a few players. I don’t believe in going through the whole song and dance and saying, ‘we haven’t had our meeting yet and we don’t know where we’re sitting.’ We’ve spent a whole year scouting these players. Our scouting staff has been in the rink since early August at the Team Canada camp, trying to narrow it down to the to players. As the year goes along, you add to your sample size and viewings, and you really get down to a few guys, especially where we’re picking at four, you kind of know who the first two picks are going to be, and you know who the players are coming up behind them. I think everyone knows who they are – you’ve got Noah Hanifin, Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse, Mitchell Marner, Pavel Zacha, Mathew Barzal, Ivan Provorov. It’s focusing on that group of players and more and really starting to break them down and be as certain as we can about each one and selecting the one we think is best for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On the management dynamic under Shanahan:
It’s evolved through the year. I’ve been here since middle of July; Brandon Pridham came on a month later. Reid Mitchell has been here longer than anybody and he brings a lot of great value and experience to our staff as well. We had myself, Brendan, Dave, then we brought Mark Hunter in late October. Especially over the last few months, I’ve talked to Mark 2 or 3 times each day; we talk about players, we talk about trades, we talk about players we’ve seen for the draft. We talk about free agents and college and so on and so forth. We take that and present it formally to Dave and to Brendan, and now it’s to Brendan. The way it’s evolved in the last week is really a thee-way, four-way discussion about all different topics. It’s a really open dialogue; back and forth, agreeing/disagreeing, challenging one another. That’s been a lot of fun. That was the part I enjoyed most about being in Sault Ste. Marie, especially with Sheldon Keefe. He and I could disagree on a whole host of topics, as I could with all our staff there, whether it was Wes Clark or Victor Carneiro, it was never a groupthink, it was a lot of challenging and back and forth. I think, even here when you disagree, you know people aren’t disagreeing to be personal, they’re disagreeing to make sure we’re going to be right by the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s been the most encouraging and fun part here, especially of late. When I say of late I go back to the trade deadline and the moves we made then, having everybody involved and full discussion with one another, having everybody – even if they disagreed at first — at least accepting and understanding why we were doing things.
Thoughts on potentially taking over the vacant GM’s role:
The way I look at it, I’ve never gone around and campaigned for a job. The way I look at this position here is that having it open allows for the Maple Leafs to add another really great and smart hockey person to our organization. I think we would be remiss not to do that. I don’t really get wrapped up in the titles, who does what, and whose boss is who, I think with where we’re at as an organization we need to be adding; the more people we have that are of elite intelligence and smarts on a hockey perspective, if they can add a different set of intelligence and look at things in different ways that can make us all better, I think we need to do that. To me, that’s where it sounds like Brendan is going and I think that’s great; somebody that I can learn from and somebody that make me a better hockey person and manager. That’s what I find exciting. If we get through the summer and that person isn’t there, whatever Brendan decides, I just come to work everyday and do my job as the assistant manager as best as I possibly can. I’ve found it to be a great experience here working with Brendan and working with Mark and Brandon Pridham and Reid Mitchell and our staff here. I don’t get all too wrapped up in where we’re going or who we‘re hiring, I just want as many smart and good hockey people as possible and we’ll see how it all unfolds as the summer goes along. I know, with Brendan running it, it will be very thorough and methodical and he’ll make the best decision for the Leafs.
On core changes:
I think Brendan said it best last week. We have a lot of very good players; it just for a number of reasons hasn’t worked as a group. Whether it involves moving one or two of those players, or all of those players, or none of those players, and trying to supplement the group here and try to move it ahead. We can’t just give people away, we can’t just move them out. We know they’re good players; if they go to a different situation and set of circumstances they’re going to be shown once against to be extremely good players. Their individual worth gets brought down here because of the lack of success as a team. When we’re looking to make moves, we have to separate those two. We can’t flag the player internally and devalue them internally because the team hasn’t had success here. We have to decide amongst ourselves, are there players out there who can supplement those guys and make the group better. Or, maybe we make the decision to tinker with it, move one or two guys out, give some other people some opportunity and continue to move this forward the right way. The only way we’re going to go from where we are to a team that contends year in and year out, which is our goal, is to continue to draft well, very well; to outdraft the other teams in the league and get to a point where every year – when you look back in 5 or 6 years when it’s fair to judge a draft — we’re at the top of the list in terms of players who are playing and playing well, and we’re doing an excellent job of developing players. Those two things work in lockstep. One doesn’t work without the other. You have to draft well to give the development team their ability to get to work, and that includes Steve Staios and his staff in our development department and our Marlies coaching staff, and move it ahead that way. That’s the key for us, no matter what happens at the NHL level, we need to really, really master the draft and developing and find our way to beat the 29 other teams in that regard here.
Thoughts on the playoffs so far and ‘copycatting:’
I always look at the playoffs as a time when people we will especially hammer home the point where they’ll say, ‘if you want to play in the playoffs you have to play like this team.’ Ever year it changes, depending on who is playing well. If it’s Chicago, it’s skill and speed and possession, if it’s LA it’s retrieval and a heavy game. If it’s Boston, when they won it was traditional Bruins with Chara, Lucic, etc. Every year it changes. Our job is to find our own way to win so that we’re that team in 5 or 6 years where people see us play and say, “that’s how you have to win, you have to be like the Maple Leafs.” We have to come up with our own way of doing it. To me, if you try to copy one particular team, you’re going to end up as an inferior version of that one team. You’re not going to be able to do it as good as they did it. The playoffs are a great way – all the players are under the microscope and there are a lot of very good teams in the playoffs – and you can try to find the best practices of those teams and apply them to your team, and patch it all together plus add in your own perspective, our own different things you want to do. To me, that’s where I find the most value in the playoffs. You find the things that are most effective or least effective that these teams are doing, and we can learn from them and use them as an example as we go into the offseason. That’s what I find to be valuable, but I don’t think we want to get into trying to copy any other team because we’ll never be as good as that team if we try to do it that way