First Thoughts: Kyle Dubas Named GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs

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Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ON - July 22: 28-year-old Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas in the Leafs dressing room at the Air Canada Centre. July 22, 2014. Randy Risling/Toronto Star

Kyle Dubas has been named the 17th General Manager in club history, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Friday morning.

A press conference will be held at 12:30 p.m., where we may (or may not) find out the status of Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter going forward.

An early adopter of advanced statistics and one of the first high-profile NHL front-office hires who had publicly embraced analytics, Kyle Dubas has become something of a lightning rod for the old guard in hockey media to question the credentials of and many in the analytics camp on Hockey Twitter to project all of their hopes and dreams onto. The discourse that surrounds him isn’t based on much known evidence on either side of it, although there is arguably far more proof that he’s been able to win the favour of “hockey people” — while challenging them with new ideas and perspectives — than there is that he’s a disruptive outsider who has an axe to grind and can’t see past his spreadsheet.

There are narratives on both sides of the debate that aren’t based in much of anything; dramatic divides within the Leafs front office have been loosely hinted at by the media and swallowed up by fans that could easily picture the ‘scouts vs. Peter Brand’ scene from the movie Moneyball playing out in the Leaf front office. To what degree there was/is significant discord in the Leafs front office is obviously a matter of speculation. We know Brendan Shanahan’s stated mission was to foster a F.O. brain trust that tackles the game from a lot of different perspectives — one that pushes and challenges each other to get better and improve the organization’s processes every day. Has it ever boiled over to the point where relationships were irreparably fractured and the front office divided into competing factions?

Who knows, but the fan narratives that split along these lines certainly became silly at times – the moves the analytics crowd disagreed with were obviously the work of the Babcock/Lamoriello (and possibly Hunter) camp, the analytics-friendly moves (starting with the Gardiner contract a few years back, among others) were clearly the influence of Dubas and his crack team of analysts.

Taking a step back, it’s not like Dubas arrived in Toronto as a fearless outsider without hockey connections. He’s taken a fairly traditional path to where he is today, although it’s been traveled on an untraditional timeline – he certainly did it at a younger age and faster pace than most, and we know he incorporates new ways of thinking and analyzing the sport into his decision-making process.

Dubas worked for the Greyhounds (who his grandfather, Walter, coached in the ‘60s) from a very young age and started scouting as young as 17. He then worked as an agent for NHL players in his early 20s before becoming the GM of the Greyhounds at the age of 25, with great regular season – though not championship — results before being hired into an AHL GM job in an NHL front office at the age of 28. And he’s now GM of the biggest franchise in hockey at the age of 32.

His results so far, to his credit, have been very encouraging. The job he’s done with the Marlies, helping to transform them into the premiere AHL franchise, and the player development department reflects favourably on Dubas’ tenure as assistant GM, if we go either by wins/losses from the farm club, or by number of players the Marlies have graduated that immediately made a positive impact with the Leafs. Certainly, he’s been working with the kind of resources most NHL franchises can only dream of allocating to their AHL affiliate and off-ice personnel, but my guess is more and more organizations around the league will start to prioritize and invest more in these sorts of things* based on the bar the Marlies have set in the past few years while the Leafs continue to benefit from the proceeds.

Dubas will now take on a much bigger challenge under a much brighter spotlight at a time when the Leafs GM job only gets harder. How do the Leafs go from playoff team to Stanley Cup contender? With the parity in the league today, the right couple of moves can take a team over the top, but the wrong couple of moves can just as easily set an organization back to the point where playoff qualification is a scratch-and-claw proposition. How do the Leafs manage their cap so that they can not only keep their young core in place as they graduate to their second contracts but also improve the core in the process? How do they fix their glaring hole on the right side of the top four of their defense, one of the hardest commodities to acquire and an area in need of some creative management? What of a certain big fish potentially available in free agency this July?

Multiplying the pressure by several orders of magnitude is that he’s replacing a living legend in Lou Lamoriello, who appeared eager to continue the job he was managing quite well over the past three years. Instead, Brendan Shanahan has bet on Dubas as the most qualified individual to turn a good Leafs team into a sustainably great one. With the talent he’s inheriting on the roster, Dubas’ tenure is going to be measured by one thing: Stanley Cups.


*some things worth mentioning: The strength training staff; actively scratching players for stretches to work in the gym, and work in concert with a professional nutritionist and high end skills coaches; using the ECHL team as an arm of the AHL team — not a consideration for most franchises and one that served the depth of the Marlies well these past few seasons; incorporating heavy, manually-tracked analytics for the Marlies; the formation of the sports science department.


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