Kyle Dubas was on Leafs Lunch to discuss the hiring of Sheldon Keefe, the NHL draft, the combine and much more.

The process and thinking behind the Keefe hire:
At the end of our season with the Marlies, we lost to Grand Rapids then we had a week where we were doing our amateur scouting meetings, so myself, Brendan and Mark Hunter took some time; we were there to really evaluate what our goals were with the Marlies coaching position, what we wanted to accomplish with the Marlies. We thought Gord Dineen did a really good job there this season, we wanted to really search and find – at this time especially there’s a lot of really good young coaches coming up through the OHL and USHL and the Western Hockey League and the Quebec League – we wanted to go through the process of identifying and bringing on one of those coaches for ourselves, especially once Mike Babcock was coming here. We thought it would be a great opportunity for a coach to be with the Marlies that could have Mike to lean on and try to begin to implement Mike’s systems with the Leafs with our Marlies prospects, and a great opportunity for that coach to learn. It wasn’t an opportunity we wanted to pass up. We spoke to a number of people and, in the end – obviously I’ve got a familiarity and a past working relationship with Sheldon – everyone here was on board with Sheldon being our next coach of the Marlies.

On the level of importance of winning in a player development league:
We want the team to win and that’s important because it serves as a great experience for our players; our primary goal with the Marlies is solely that we have a lot of young players playing, and more [important] than winning is that they’re developing and they’re coming along to where the public, the media, and most importantly here internally, where we see them as guys who can step in and be a part of the Leafs. Winning is important with the Marlies, but it is not even close to the top of the list in terms of what we are using to evaluate what’s happening there.

The way that we look at the Marlies is we want the Marlies to be developed so they can come up and as soon as possible have the ability to help Mike and the Maple Leafs win games, rather than saying they have to win with the Marlies before they can win with the Leafs. We look at the Marlies, and I think everyone here does it this way, we made it last year into a younger team, we turned it over to our younger players, and as we did that the team got a lot more exciting and went on a nice run and went into the playoffs. We had some success at home early (in the playoffs), but the key for us with the Marlies is we want those players to be developed so they can come up and help Mike have more assets to utilize as a coach and help him win games.

On Babcock and Keefe working together on systems:
It’s vital. I think that one of the things that was attractive to the people that we spoke with about the position, including Sheldon, was the chance to learn from Mike. I didn’t know Mike at all before we started talking to him and I met him in Prague at the World Championships. From day one since he’s been here, the term he used “burning desire to win,” it’s a burning desire to learn and improve and find different and better ways that we can do things. A lot of those things we want to test and work on will probably be used with the Marlies. In addition to getting our players ready to play the system they’re going to play with the Leafs, test out maybe some different systems that the Leafs want to experiment; how do they work at the AHL level, how can the players be utilized, what types of things can they do on the ice so that we have as big of a book as possible before they’re ready to come up. That link between the two of them, especially being in the same city, needs to be extremely strong and that was an important part of our process here.

On the player movement front:
We would like to add more draft picks or prospects that we can continue to work with here and build that way. I think that’s been clear from the outset with Brendan and it’s been hammered home even further when Mike came on a few weeks ago. We know the process that we signed up for. We have our plan in place and it’s going to be through growing internally and developing our own prospects and players, acquiring more draft picks and just continuing to get ourselves more assets that way. At the same time, going into free agency we’ve got some flexibility with the cap; we want to continue to find players that can be competitive here and help us to continue to move this thing along from where we are at right now. We realize that we’ve got a ways to go, but we’ve got solid coaching in place now with Mike and we’ve got quite a few draft picks in the next two drafts, and we’re pretty happy with how our young players are coming along. We’re starting to build it up, but we realize the task at hand is a large one, but an exciting one at the same time.

Does the process change with the hiring of Babcock?
Nope. I think that was one of the concerns, it’s always one of the concerns perpetuated from outside of our team, was that Mike isn’t going to stand for being patient, he was going to want to win right away. I can’t speak for him, but in conversations with him throughout since he’s been on, he’s fully on board with the fact that we need to do this right. We can’t afford to take shortcuts, we can’t afford to try to expedite it by making a move that’s got a low probability of success long term but can provide us a short term boost. That’s probably been the most exciting part for me since Mike’s been on; he’s fully on board with the fact that we need to be patient, we need to stick to our plan, we need to do things right. There is no pressure here to just all of a sudden throw that plan out and go back to trying to look for short-term fixes. We are all in this together and we’re all on board here with moving this in the right direction where we can be a team that contends year in, year out. I don’t know how much time that’s going to take. As Brendan always says, it will take as long as it takes. We hope that is sooner than later, but we’ll work and we’re all committed to getting there.


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