Opening Statements: Brendan Shanahan
Brendan Shanahan: Four years ago, I remember reaching out to Kyle Dubas and not being exactly sure what I was expecting to come from that meeting, other than I wanted to talk to this young man I had heard about from some people in the Ontario Hockey League. It was probably just my attempt at the time to mine some information from someone I had heard was one of the bright young minds coming up in the game. I assumed that that meeting would be an hour or two. Nine hours later, in that meeting, I was trying to figure out a way to convince him to leave Sault Ste. Marie and come join the Toronto Maple Leafs in some capacity. To watch him over the last four years grow, to watch him work under some really esteemed people in our business – no job was too big for Kyle, no job was too small for Kyle. To see how he interacts with our fans and the respect level he has for the Maple Leafs, for the people that love the Maple Leafs, for everyone in our office… It gives me great pride to announce Kyle as the new GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Opening Statements: Kyle Dubas
Kyle Dubas: I’d just like to begin by stating that I’m very fortunate and lucky to be here and I’d like to take the time to go through people and the organizations that have helped me along this path and that have helped me to be lucky along the way and accrue such fortune. First and foremost, the MLSE ownership and chairman of the board, Larry Tanenbaum, for showing the faith in me four years ago and then furthering that, obviously, here today. In addition, Brendan as the President of our club and everything that he has done as the organization and for me is greatly appreciated. I’m looking forward to continuing to work closely with Brendan. Peter Miller, our chief legal officer, for helping to put this together in short order the last couple of days.
I obviously wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds. They gave me an opportunity when I was 11 years old to begin working in hockey every day. Dave Torrey and Mike MacFarlane gave me an opportunity with the same organization when I was 17 to begin scouting for the team. When I was 25 years old, the ownership, led by Dr. Lou Lukenda, gave me an opportunity to become the GM of that organization. That, for me, is a source of great pride. There were a number of people there from day one that I’d like to recognize who helped turn that program around – Wes Clark, Victor Carneiro, Chris Roque, John McGarr, and Nick Della Penta were the people there from the first day to help us move that program forward, and we’ve got a big game tonight in Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL Final. We’ll look to get this done and watch, which will be great.
The people that I worked with every day here for the last three years on a very close basis – the player development staff led by Scott Pellerin and the Toronto Marlies staff, and our research and development crew led by Daryl Metcalf. With the Marlies, I’d remiss not to mention the efforts of the players over the last number of years. They’re the ones that go out and play. The whole job is to give the players the proper resources to have the success they can.
The atmosphere that is created here by the MLSE executive and our staff at this company is a great company to work for and great people to work with. They’ve done a great job of providing resources for our organization through the work that they do and the work for the community, and of course here at the Air Canada Centre. It’s very exciting for me to be able to work with that crew.
Maple Leafs fans: Since my wife and I arrived here in Toronto, we came from a community that is very hockey mad in Sault Ste. Marie, where the Greyhounds are everything, to Toronto, where it doesn’t need my justification for how important the Maple Leafs are to the community and the people of Toronto. From day one, it has been a very welcoming, positive fan base and it’s made our lives very easy. We’re very excited to continue to work in this community. It’s been great.
For me, two people I’d like to mention in particular: Sheldon Keefe – he and I have worked together for the last six years in a manager-coach relationship and I think my partnership with him and relationship with him has really helped me grow as a manager and he’s obviously done a great, great job coaching and is a very bright young coach.
Lou Lamoriello: Lou has been an unbelievable mentor and resource for me. Forget about all of the hockey stuff, which I could sit here all day and talk about how important he’s been for me in growing from being a young person who started four years ago that had only worked in the OHL to developing to this point today. Especially in the last four years, my relationship with Lou has grown to more than just the assistant GM – General Manager type of relationship. He’s really been an unbelievable mentor for me, not just in how to handle the hockey operation — how to handle the players, the coaching staff , how to handle agents and the ins and outs of the GM job – but I think more importantly, what I’ve learned from Lou is how to handle people and how to treat people as family. The way he treated my family and my wife and our young guy throughout has been remarkable and I look to carry that forward. I told him I wouldn’t say too many nice things about him because I didn’t want to ruin his reputation. We’ll leave it at that with Lou, but I’m very, very thankful for Lou. I know we have a bit of a difference in our age, but he’ll always be a great friend and mentor and advisor to me. I’m looking forward to working with him moving ahead.
Lastly, my wife Shannon is the most unbelievable partner and supportive person someone could ask for, and she is only better as a mother than she is as a partner. She is an unbelievable, loving, caring mother to our young guy. Thank you. I love you.
The road ahead with the Maple Leafs: When Mike arrived here, he gave a soundbite that has lived on, which was that there is going to be pain, and there was. Within the last couple of years under Lou’s stewardship and guidance, the team has transformed its atmosphere. It has transformed the narrative around the team, the way people behave, the standard of what it is to be a Leaf has transformed thanks to you. Now we enter into another part of our journey, which is to reach our ultimate goal of contending perennially at this time of year for a Stanley Cup instead of sitting here. Over the past four seasons, there has been a major transformation in our franchise thanks to the work of Lou, Mike and his staff, Mark Hunter and his staff, Brandon Pridham in his office, and so on and so forth.
The most difficult part of our journey lies ahead. We’re in a very difficult division. We knew that first hand in the first round, and we see the series between Tampa and Boston. There are a number of good teams in our division that are only going to get better year in and year out. It’s up to us to continue to use the resources we have here at MLSE, and also to be the most resourceful team we can be and not just rely on having a lot of resources. That involves finding inefficiencies when it comes to our tactical deployment, our player development staff, our scouting staff, our sports science staff, and also continue to build our programs properly into the benefit of our players and sports science and mental wellness, and the like.
The only way that we are going to move this thing ahead and reach our potential as an organization is to do it together. When I say together, I mean our fellow management members in Mark Hunter and Brandon Pridham; our coaching staff led by Mike Babcock; our public relationships team led by Steve Keough; our research and development team led by Darryl Metcalf; our medical staff and sports science department led by Jeremy Bettle and Noah Forman; our scouting staff on the pro side led by Dave Morrison, including Reid Mitchell; our business, finance and logistics team in our office. It’s going to take all of us to continue to move this thing ahead. That is the most exciting part of it for me: I’m looking forward to leading this operation and helping the Maple Leafs reach our potential. That’s what we are here for today – to move this ahead and keep going.
Question & Answers
Dubas on the Toronto Marlies’ success
13 Marlies graduates are with the big club this season. Why were the Marlies so good for you over the course of the last four years — things that maybe we might not have seen that allowed you to hasten the process to where you are today?
Dubas: It’s interesting. When I first came here, you have a vision of how you don’t want to be trapped into being an American league GM. When you come from major junior, you don’t really know what an American league GM does. What it’s helped me to do is helped me work really closely with our young players and really dig in on the player development side and realize how important that is. It just happened to coincide with a time when player development was going to become very important to our organization. I think you see with the graduates from the Marlies up to the Leafs that the job Scott Pellerin and his staff have done. The job Sheldon and his staff have done is remarkable. It’s a great honour for me to be able to work with them every day and build the system out and continue to see that all the work that is done come up to the surface here to the Maple Leafs. My involvement and focus on development will only need to increase because we need to continue to develop players for the Leafs. It’s been a great pleasure of mine to be able to work with that staff and those players. It’s been one of the best things I’ve had the opportunity to do in my time.
Dubas on his relationship with Mike Babcock
Can you address the team as you see it going into next season and your relationship with Mike Babcock?
Dubas: The team, as I see it heading into next season – obviously, it’s a very young group, as it is now. We have lots of decisions to make. We’ll take our time and go through our normal offseason as any team would. We’ll gather in our people and do our full analysis of where we’re at as it relates to where we want to go. We’ll do that very thoroughly and take the proper steps forward.
As it relates to Mike, I’ve worked with him the last three years and I’ve always had a good relationship with Mike; very, very good. We talk not just about hockey but all aspects of life – fatherhood, family, and so on and so forth. I’m excited to get to work with Mike. My opinion of him is that the way that he is perceived is that he’s very open to ideas and he’s very open to change, and he’s very open to trying to make the Leafs better, and that’s really his only focus. That is the way we’re going to continue to move it ahead and try to help as best we can working with each other.
Dubas on the difference between Lamoriello’s Leafs and Dubas’ Leafs
How will a Kyle Dubas Maple Leafs be different from a Lou Lamoriello Maple Leafs team? That’s as open ended as you want it to be, whether it’s rules around the team or play on the ice.
Dubas: The style of play on the ice is always a partnership between the GM and the coach. They have to be on the same page. As Lou as Mike were, that will be the same as myself. We’ll sit and discuss the way that we play and analyze it for ways we want to continue to get better. Obviously, until we’re sitting in the middle of June at a Stanley Cup press conference, we’re going to have work to do. That will be our main goal – to work together and find a way to move ahead. That will be the only focus.
As it pertains to the rules and such: I grew to come to like and enjoy and like a lot of the rules Lou put in place. As it pertains to the staff, myself and Brendan, we’ll go through everything like we do every year, like we did with Lou every year, to evaluate where we want to move forward and what we want to keep. It’ll be business as usual.
Shanahan on deciding between Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas: “Mark wanted the job for sure… Ultimately, I went with Kyle”
The consensus was you had two excellent options within the organization in Kyle and Mark Hunter. The choice of youth over experience, if you want to put it that way, are you worried now that Mark will leave for another job in another organization?
Shanahan: I definitely examined prospects that were outside our organization as well, but I also knew that, after working here for four years, we had two incredibly qualified people in-house. As I interviewed with Mark, and then interviewed with Kyle, I think it was reaffirmed to me that the answer was within our own organization. As you can see with Kyle and his complete knowledge of our entire organization and how it works, I think it’s an advantage by going in house as far as being up and running and continuing with the progress we’ve had.
People sometimes underestimate what Mark Hunter does for this organization. He’s a fabulous scout but he has been involved since he’s come on board with trades, with free agency. Kyle and Mark have worked well together with the Marlies. I know Kyle uses Mark as a resource. To try and suggest that Mark has simply been someone who scouts for us is completely inaccurate. Lou has used his entire staff available to him.
It was a difficult decision in that we had two such qualified people. Ultimately, I went with Kyle. Mark wanted the job for sure. Kyle knows that. Mark knows that. I called Mark a few nights ago to say that I was going to zero in on Kyle out of respect for Mark. I spoke to him again this morning. Mark likes Kyle and respects the decision. He’s got a lot of respect for Kyle. At this point now, it’s really up to the GM and his staff to get together in the coming weeks and see how all of that plays out.
Could you elaborate how you see your relationship with him? Do you have a definite idea in mind of how he fits into your organization or not?
Dubas: In the first year here, the structure was very different. We worked very closely together every day. The subsequent three years, the structure has been a lot different. We still work closely. I try to help support Mark in any way that I can and vice versa, leaning on him for the Marlies and player development reporting and his take on where our players are going. We’ll leave here and I’ll convene with everybody on staff and we’ll begin to chart our staff forward as far as utilizing what everybody’s best strengths to best help our organization. That will be the only goal.
Dubas on whether Mark Hunter will stay with the team: “I’m very hopeful that everybody here will want to remain a part of it and move ahead”
Are you confident you can keep Mark on staff?
Dubas: The reality is I’ve worked with Mark now for four seasons. Like with every staff member, my role hasn’t changed. I’ll just go through with each staff member top to bottom, their impression of where we are, whether they are excited about moving forward. That’s not exclusive to Mark. I’m very hopeful that everybody here will want to remain a part of it and move ahead. That would be my only goal.
Shanahan on why he moved forward with Dubas: “He was more than ready and it was the right time”
Since you hired Lou three years ago, everything has trended upwards. The organization has continued to move in the right direction. There are some people that believe in the philosophy of, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Why did you feel it was the best time to make a change and install Kyle?
Shanahan: I love the questions from the dreaded, “Some people.” I used to hate that as a player. “Some people think you’re too old.” Well, they were right. Some people are smart.
I can only say that everything I’ve tried to do since I’ve been here – some of it has been conventional, some of it has been unconventional, but everything I’ve always tried to do is what I thought was the best decision for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some of those things require patience. Some of them require being proactive. I was under no pressure from anyone to do this. I was under no obligation to do this. I just really felt, looking at Kyle, he was more than ready and it was the right time. You make decisions when you’re running a hockey team — or any business, really — and take in as much information as possible. It is maybe a little unfair to you guys that we don’t always share each and every thought process that goes into our decisions, but I can just say that everything I knew and had learned told me this was the right time.
Shanahan on Dubas’ autonomy: “As far as running the organization, that is Kyle”
Given the difference in experience between Kyle and Lou, do you see yourself getting a little more involved in the daily operation of the hockey team, or not?
Shanahan: I don’t really see a big difference. Obviously, my view of the relationship between the President and GM is to be there to support. I think that worked well with Lou and I. Lou was a great communicator with me. We talked every single day. Any sort of news or anything that came across his desk was relayed to me. I think it will be the same with Kyle in the respect that we’ll have a lot of communication.
As far as running the organization, that is Kyle’s. He’s in charge, and I’m there to support him. I don’t think that my role necessarily changes other than – when I’m needed, I’m there. When I’m not needed, I’ll be out of his way.
Shanahan on Dubas: “He looks at the game from diverse and different backgrounds”
In the four years since Kyle came on, what has strengthened your conviction that he would succeed in this role?
Shanahan: I’ve just watched him from day one take on a lot of different roles. Again, no job was too big and not job was too small. Kyle was very helpful to other departments, and yet, it never really took away from whatever task he was given. We set out for him, as his number-one priority with the Toronto Marlies, to be a feeder to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Secondly, after the development issue, we want them to win. To strike that balance of being able to develop hockey players so that as many as possible can seamlessly transition to the Maple Leafs – being his first job – I think it’s also been equally impressive that he’s maintained a successful team down there as well. The work he’s done – what I’m privy to, whether it’s at the draft, behind the scenes in our office, behind the scenes in the arena – I see someone who is excellent at working with others, is very inclusive, likes to take in information from a lot of diverse people and look at the game from diverse and different backgrounds. He is very good at taking all of that information and coming to what I think are good judgments and decisions.
Dubas: “I’ve certainly learned the most from Lou”
When you came on board four years ago to this point today, where do you think you’ve learned the most for the job you’re now in?
Dubas: I’ve certainly learned the most from Lou. What I’ve learned most, at this level after coming from major junior and then working in the American league, is the standard you need to set for your organization and your players and the consistency with which you need to hold each and every day in your treatment of players, your interaction with the coaching staff, and your reporting into the person above you in the organization – being Brendan, the President. That’s really what I’ve learned is important and I think I’ve developed over the last four years, particularly the last three under Lou. That’s really what I’m looking forward to putting into place here. Obviously, it’s been a lot of development on the player development and R&D side that has been very gratifying work, but I think the keys are in the actual managing, which is what I’ve learned from Lou since he came on.