Toronto Marlies GM Kyle Dubas joined the Dean Blundell and Co show to discuss the recent call ups to the Leafs, potential recalls during the rest of the season, new acquisition Tobias Lindberg, and the progress of Frederik Gauthier.
Tough night for the Leafs last night – a 7-2 loss. We’ll get to the Marlies and their terrific season in just a second. What was interesting to me – you watched Brendan Leipsic go and play in Vancouver and he was terrific; he had a goal. I know Nazem Kadri came back. Is this one of those things where, “hey, listen, we went with a full deck with our guys,” or is it, “hey, we’re going to start giving some guys with the Marlies a taste; a game here, a game there”?
Kyle Dubas: I think, in this case specifically, with the amount of injuries we’ve had and the number of players on the roster, when you’re trying to manage that situation, there are some specific CBA things and roster rules you have to abide by. When Nazem Kadri came back yesterday and played in a game, once he was cleared to play we had to not dress Brendan. It’s just the way that it goes. But I think, as it moves forward, we’ll see how everything goes towards February 29 and adjust from there. I’m sure you’ll see plenty of players from the Marlies get an opportunity. That’ll come at that time.
How do you guys plan on managing that? Do you expect a guy like William Nylander to be up here with the big club? Do you not want to mess with a good thing you have going with the Marlies having such a spectacular season?
Dubas: As it pertains to who comes up, there have been so many players down there that have had good seasons that it’s given us, frankly, quite a few options in terms of who can come up. A lot of it is governed by what position they play and what our needs are going to be with the Leafs at the time. As we get past the trade deadline and into the final month and a half of the NHL season, I think we’ll have a look at which of the players best suit the needs of the Leafs to help us have a competitive final month and a half or final 20 games or so.
What’s better for developing players: To be up with the big cub and get a taste of the NHL, or continue what they’re doing with the Marlies and be in that winning atmosphere?
Dubas: I think every player is different. In the mind of every single player, they want to be up and playing. I’m sure the players with the Marlies appreciate the season they’ve had and the success that the team has had and all that is fine and good, but every player as a kid dreams of being up in the NHL. I think they all appreciate the development they’re getting with the Marlies, but they all want to get up to the NHL as soon as they can. That’s their goal, and I think rightfully so. That’s what they’ve worked hard towards. In our mind, we’re sticking to our plan, we’re being patient with our players, they’re developing very well under Sheldon Keefe and his staff with the Marlies, but we want to reward them for that at some point – whether that’s at some point this year or next year, or really whenever they earn it in our eyes. We have a plan, we’re sticking to it. We’re going to be patient with our players but we do want to reward them as well.
The Marlies have played 51 games, they’re 38-9-4, which is spectacular. 80 points, first in the division. One of the things I wanted to ask you – it’s an interesting situation, with the Leafs obviously being what they are and struggling. We all understand the process and the plan. It’s to get those guys to develop. Let’s say you’re in a situation where the Marlies need a win. Obviously the deal is you still want to win no matter where you are. There’s a spot where you can maybe bring a Nylander up, but maybe the Marlies are playing. What do you do? Do you sacrifice that at all? Or do you kind of say, “development is more important at this point in time.” Or do you say, “you know what, we want to win that game, so let’s leave them down there”?
Dubas: With the Marlies – as the season has gone on, especially the last few weeks – there have been quite a few players who have gone up to the Maple Leafs to cover for the injury trouble we’ve been having, especially at the forward position. I think that the team has shown that we’ve got some good depth there. We’ve had players come up from Orlando and fill in just fine. We’ve had different guys step up throughout the year. We were missing William for the World Juniors and his subsequent injury, as well as Kasperi Kapanen. I think the team has shown that it has some good depth. Guys will step up and play fine. I think our primary goal has been player development. We believe that if we bring in the right players, and develop the right way, the wins will follow. For us, when players go up, it gives us a great chance to see what we have in terms of depth in our prospect pool, and, the players who have earned a recall from Orlando, what their potential is and what they’re made of. For us, we never operate – Sheldon and myself – in a way where we can’t have player X go up this game because we’re really going to need him. We kind of just say, “hey, if the players deserve it, that’s great.” Lou and I will discuss it with the rest of our staff. Players will go up and down, and with the Marlies we’re left to find a way, which makes it a fun challenge, an interesting one, one that’s been exciting throughout the season. You see different guys come up and step up luckily and thankfully at times, and the team just continues to roll, which has been fun.
At one point, the Marlies were the most successful pro franchise this year; had the best record of any professional franchise in all of hockey. Is that not correct?
Dubas: I think the Washington Capitals have held that for most of the year, but I know that the Marlies, in terms of winning percentage, have been up there pretty well. It’s been a fun year that way. We’re just trying to keep focusing on the games ahead. We’ve got a challenging week ahead here where our schedule gets considerably tougher, and we’re going to find out what the team is truly made of. We take on some of the toughest teams in the league outside of our division in the coming weeks, teams we don’t play all that often. It’s going to be a good test for us.
Part of the Dion trade was Tobias Lindberg, who I watched play – granted, it was all of one game last year – against Connor McDavid. You noticed him on the ice. I wanted to ask you – how important was he to the deal, in coming back for Dion Phaneuf? You’ve obviously seen him play. What do you make of this guy?
Dubas: It was very important in the deal, from our end of it. Obviously, in Ottawa’s case, they wanted Dion to help push them over the edge right now. In our case, we wanted chips that continue to help us build for the future. Tobias and the draft pick certainly do that for us. In Tobias’ case, he is a player that, because he played in Oshawa and the proximity to Toronto, our staff knew well. The staff and myself saw him play last year in Oshawa. Because he was with Ottawa, Ottawa’s rookie tournament team played against us, and [we saw him] in our exhibition against Ottawa, and also with Binghamton, who we’ve played quite a bit last year. On our staff we have DJ Smith, who coached Tobias last year in Oshawa. Of course, Mark Hunter has seen him play a tonne. We’re very familiar with him. We’re very excited to have him. I think he’s had some success against our teams, which always sticks out, but if you watch more than that and his other games, he’s a big winger with skill and competitiveness that we’re happy to acquire. He struggled in the first game on Saturday against St. John’s and then was outstanding on Sunday in the final game of that road trip. We think, after some time to adjust to the way that we play and the way that we operate, we’re excited for his potential and excited for the type of player he could become for us for sure.
We all talk about Nylander and Marner and Kapanen, but how is the first round pick in 2013 coming along – Frederik Gauthier? It’s no fault of his own, but he’s the guy we kind of just don’t talk about when it comes to the upper echelon prospects of the Toronto Maple Leafs. How is his development going down with the Marlies?
Dubas: Frederik, he doesn’t have the same offensive pedigree as the players you’ve previously mentioned, but with us with the Marlies, he’s played a massive role. His development – I think of anybody on the team, I’ve been most impressed with the job that Sheldon and his staff [have done], and then Scott Pellerin and our player development staff – largely Barb Underhill, who works on the skating of our players extensively each day – the job that she has done. His skating has improved so significantly especially with the puck. He takes on a lot of very difficult minutes for the Marlies. He’s the primary penalty killer on the team and takes on a lot of defensive assignments, but he’s been able to because of the improvements in his skating to drive the puck up the ice and play on offense a lot more. It’s a process with Fred because I think people look at him and don’t see the same offensive production you see out of the other players you mentioned, but he has a specific skillset that we value and we feel we’ll need as an organization. So far this season, he’s had an injury that cost him some time, but he’s come back strong and we’ve been very happy with his play and his contributions to the team. He’s been a key player for us.