Kyle Dubas joined the crew from Leafs Lunch to discuss the Toronto Marlies, the dynamics of the Leafs management group, and more.
If there’s one thing we’ve talked a lot about when it comes to this team, it’s what they’ve had to deal with throughout the year with all of the callups. They’ve had eight different goalies in net for them as well. How has that been for you, managing this team and making sure that the right players are in place to continue to win and have the season you did?
Kyle Dubas: It’s far easier for me than it is for Sheldon Keefe and our coaching staff. In my position, we knew throughout the year that we would have a lot of callups at some point. It was combined with injuries early in the year and various different things that were happening both with us and the Leafs. There was always a push to try to find players, whether it was from Orlando in the ECHL or other teams in that league. For me it’s just been a matter of identifying the players, getting them up here, and getting them rolling. The greater challenges fall to Sheldon and Gord Dineen and AJ McLean, and on the goalie end of it Pierre Greco, to make sure that the players were ready to roll. This coaching staff has done an unbelievable job the entire season with that.
When you were in Sault Ste. Marie as the GM, you were dealing with the young players who wanted to make an impression all the time for the scouts, especially going into their draft year and certain players that were trying to be signed after they had already been drafted. How is that experience, dealing with that part of it, helped you dealing with the players now? The spotlight is brighter, the players want to put their best foot forward, and the expectations for the Marlies are higher. Just in terms of how you’re helping the players understand, in this environment, how to stay focused?
Dubas: I think the experience in Sault Ste. Marie has come in huge for me personally and I would imagine for Sheldon as well this season. I haven’t found it to be all too different in terms of the type of pressure that the players are feeling. Obviously, at this stage they want to get up to the NHL. That’s their dream. While they’re a few steps removed from it when we were in Sault Ste. Marie, and they wanted to get drafted and wanted to sign and wanted to make their team and play pro in the American league at age 20, now we’re a few steps closer and their entire goal is to get up to the Leafs and be playing with the Leafs and then eventually find a second contract. The incentive part of it is obviously substantial – the difference in pay from the AHL to the NHL, and then of course on your second or third contract. The experience and knowing what the young people — at that stage they’re 17, 18, 19; here we’ve got 18, 19, up to 22 year olds – the difference in maturity here is a little bit greater. The players are living on their own. They’re finding their way in a big city. But knowing the different things that are going through their mind and how to prepare for it and how to help them… one of the most beneficial and exciting parts of the job is when you see a player maximize their potential throughout the season. It’s been very gratifying this year to see some of the guys go up and have success with the Leafs and establish themselves as part of the future of the organization.
We had Andrew Campbell on yesterday – your captain. Obviously, he’s a leader and he’s impressive. You were a big part of forming the team. There were players that were drafted, but then there are players like Andrew Campbell that you have to sign. How impressed have you been with what they’ve brought to your team, to your coaching staff, and to the young players?
Dubas: I think the primary benefit, personally, that I have seen from players like Andrew Campbell and Rich Clune, most notably, and recently someone like Ben Smith, and even a player like Josh Leivo, who is only now in his third pro season and is still a very young player and he’s going to be 22 next season: Throughout the entire year, their treatment of the young players, and their complete willingness to sacrifice personal time and their time at the rink to show players the right way to train, to live off the ice, taking them for dinner on the road. That’s all stuff that is completely subjective and intangible, but in my mind — and I think everyone in our organization’s mind — it is of huge importance because making the players comfortable, and putting them in a spot where they feel welcome and a part of the core group of the team, is going to help those players be able to come to the rink everyday and be a part of an excellent culture and maximize their potential each day. The contributions from those veteran players that I had mentioned, and even some of our younger guys that are in their third year as pros, have been so important to us throughout the season, especially in helping the younger players who go through the ups and downs when they’re 19 and 20 in their first years as a professional hockey player. It’s helped to smooth out those rougher times. It’s not always as easy as it seems on the outside. We owe a great deal to people like Andrew Campbell and Rich Clune, and now Ben Smith and Mark Arcobello, and so on.
Kyle, you’re known as the “new wave.” We keep hearing the term analytics, but with what you’re bringing and the knowledge that Lou Lamoriello has as well, how are you marrying the two to try to have a complete approach?
Dubas: It’s almost been two years since I came to the Leafs from Sault Ste. Marie. I think what Brendan has created, with his vision of the club, is that we have all of our ducks in a row and a lot of people with different types of experience or different types of backgrounds. Obviously, Lou is in the Hall of Fame as a builder and has won three Stanley Cups as a manager and built a program in New Jersey for close to three decades that has sustained success. We have Mike coaching the team – one of the best coaches in this generation of the NHL who brings so much in his quest for knowledge and to improve and help the club. And then we have some other people that fly under the radar a little bit – someone like Brandon Pridham in our front office, who handles all of the salary cap juggling that you see with our team that has been so vital with giving us some flexibility and has done just a great job. Of course, Mark Hunter, as our Director of Player Personnel, runs our scouting department and has done an excellent job. Brendan has kind of brought it all together. When you have people with so many different types of backgrounds in different areas, you’re never sure how it’s going to work, but it’s been a lot of fun. We can all learn from one another, and our only goal is to help each other as much as we can to help move this program to where we want it to be, which is playing in the NHL at this time of year and not having been done for a month and a half. It’s been a lot of fun to see how it’s all come together. You never know, when you first arrive and people get added, just how it’s going to impact the operation, but it’s worked out extremely well.