The news has been made official as of Monday morning: Director of Player Personnel Mark Hunter and the Toronto Maple Leafs are parting ways, effective immediately.
As part of his contractual obligation to the club, Hunter will not be able to work for another NHL franchise before next month’s entry draft, which will now be run in Toronto by GM Kyle Dubas.
Further to what @TSNBobMcKenzie reported, Mark Hunter can't begin working for another NHL team until mid-July. He had offered to run the draft for the Leafs but you can obviously see why the organization felt that wasn't wise at this point. Hunter has 1 more year on his deal…
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 22, 2018
Hired in October of 2014, Hunter presided over three amateur drafts in Toronto, starting with the selection of Mitch Marner at fourth overall in 2015. Of the nine-player 2015 draft haul, two have played NHL games – Marner and Travis Dermott – and six have signed entry-level deals with the organization: Marner, Dermott, Jeremy Bracco, Andrew Nielsen, Jesper Lindgren, and Dmytro Timashov.
From the 2016 and 2017 drafts, only Auston Matthews has appeared in NHL games so far, but Carl Grundstrom (who looks set to push for an NHL job in the Fall), Adam Brooks and Timothy Liljegren have signed their entry-level deals and are currently developing on the Marlies.
Mark Hunter’s Draft History
|2017 Entry||1||Timothy Liljegren||D||SweHL|
|2017 Entry||2||Eemeli Rasanen||D||OHL|
|2017 Entry||4||Ian Scott||G||WHL|
|2017 Entry||4||Vladislav Kara||L||Russia-Jrs|
|2017 Entry||5||Fedor Gordeev||D||OHL|
|2017 Entry||6||Ryan McGregor||C||OHL|
|2017 Entry||7||Ryan O'Connell||D||Ont. H.S.|
|2016 Entry||1||Auston Matthews||C||Swiss-A||144||74||58||132|
|2016 Entry||2||Yegor Korshkov||R||KHL|
|2016 Entry||2||Carl Grundstrom||L||SweHL|
|2016 Entry||3||Joseph Woll||G||USHL|
|2016 Entry||3||J.D. Greenway||D||USHL|
|2016 Entry||4||Adam Brooks||C||WHL|
|2016 Entry||4||Keaton Middleton||D||OHL|
|2016 Entry||5||Vladimir Bobylev||L||WHL|
|2016 Entry||6||Jack Walker||L||WHL|
|2016 Entry||6||Nicolas Mattinen||D||OHL|
|2016 Entry||7||Nikolai Chebykin||L||Russia Jrs|
|2015 Entry||1||Mitch Marner||C||OHL||159||41||89||130|
|2015 Entry||2||Travis Dermott||D||OHL||37||1||12||13|
|2015 Entry||2||Jeremy Bracco||R||USHL|
|2015 Entry||3||Andrew Nielsen||D||WHL|
|2015 Entry||3||Martins Dzierkals||R||Russia Jrs|
|2015 Entry||4||Jesper Lindgren||D||Sweden Jrs|
|2015 Entry||5||Dmytro Timashov||L||QMJHL|
|2015 Entry||6||Stephen Desrocher||D||OHL|
|2015 Entry||7||Nikita Korostelev||R||OHL|
By and large, it’s way too early to make concrete judgements either way on Hunter’s amateur drafting record. Worth noting is that Hunter was overseeing the pro scouting side and had a hand in the Leafs’ many free agent signings out of Europe as well.
There is also the matter of Hunter’s men — the scouts the organization has hired under his direction over the past three years, spanning all corners of junior hockey. After the 2014-15 season, Hunter initiated a mass culling of the Leafs’ scouting staff, firing over a dozen scouts, including the Leafs’ director of pro scouting Steve Kasper, and eventually moving former Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison over to the pro side into Kasper’s previous role.
Hunter built up a new roster of scouting personnel, including his colleague from London, Lindsay Hofford, as the Director of Eastern Area Scouting, Ari Vuori as the Director of European Scouting, and Tim Speltz as a Director of Western Area Scouting, in addition to the hiring of Patrick Charbonneau out of the QMJHL and Dale Derkatch out of the WHL as amateur scouts, among others.
Surely all are under contract and are bound to honour it through the draft, but beyond June, who knows what plays out here as far as who stays and who goes once Dubas adds his own director of scouting and the new hire makes his own assessments and brings his own people on board.
There will be some bitterness among the fan base now towards Hunter for leaving in wake of Dubas’ promotion, which is pretty unfair. When Hunter took on the Leafs job and relinquished the GM’s duties in London — where he co-owns the team and called all the shots managerially as one of the most powerful men in junior hockey — it wasn’t because he saw himself running a scouting operation in the NHL for the rest of his career. It was because he wanted to run his own NHL franchise one day.
For some time, a narrative among the media and fan base persisted that Hunter was content in his job as head scout and most comfortable in the role of a rink rat who spends his days on the road in his pick-up truck scouring for players, but that notion should’ve been dispelled the moment the Leafs added Assistant General Manager to Hunter’s title in August of 2016 in order to keep him happy and motivated. When Hunter was asked the previous summer whether he was interested in the then-vacant GM’s job (filled by Lamorirello later that summer), his reply wasn’t, “No.” It was, “I don’t know how to answer that.”
No one would’ve – or should’ve — blamed Dubas for jumping at the chance to run his own team or pursue a new opportunity if the Leafs went in a different direction this offseason. The same treatment should be afforded here to Hunter. Time will tell if Hunter lands a GM’s job any time soon, but it clearly wasn’t happening for him in Toronto in the foreseeable future.
Kyle Dubas’ Toronto Maple Leafs
Since the hiring of Lamoriello in 2015, the front office brain trust President Brendan Shanahan assembled in Toronto has been surrounded in question marks as to how exactly it was going to play in the near term – with a bunch of powerful voices and egos at the decision-making table – and also how the whole thing was going to shake out long term, with Hunter and Dubas both aspiring GMs and Lamoriello still as motivated as ever. This month, after a successful couple of years on the ice, it all came to a head.
Shanahan was facing a fork in the road: He could’ve gone the route of minimal disruption; meaning, risk losing Dubas, but try to keep the band together (Lamoriello, Hunter) as much as possible, forge ahead, and call it the Shanaplan all along. For an organization with the Leafs’ history of front office continuity/stability issues, it would’ve been the safe and understandable call (time will tell if it would’ve been the wise one, too).
Shanahan has proven now, if it wasn’t already obvious, that he’s not someone who plays it safe or conventional.
It’s hard to argue, from the outside looking in, that Shanahan’s hand was “forced” by Dubas here. It was possible – though seemingly less than likely — Dubas wouldn’t have left, and the rest of the group would’ve remained in Toronto. But this was the timeline Shanahan mapped out, based on the contract Lamoriello signed three years ago. Dubas is Shanahan’s guy and has been all along. And this is clearly now Dubas’ team.
Dubas, meanwhile, has shown this month that he’s one confident young executive. This whole thing doesn’t happen if Dubas isn’t steadfast in his belief he’s ready to be a General Manager right now – and if not in Toronto, then elsewhere. There was a telling answer in Dubas’ insightful interview with PTS in which the new Leafs GM didn’t really hide from the fact that he was eager to interview for the Colorado job the summer previous.
You have to potential – if not the opportunity – to take the job in Colorado, and your President stands in the way of that. Did it piss you off?
Dubas: I think in the short term, you have an opportunity, and you have tried to work towards that, but after the initial discussion with Brendan and kind of getting over that, I just said, “You can look at it and feel sorry for yourself, or you can get to work on the season ahead with the Maple Leafs.” I think that’s really where my relationship with Lou was a big benefit, in leaning on Lou during that and leaning on Lou during the year to help improve myself and thus help improve the hockey club.
There was also no way Dubas was so unaware of the politics of his surroundings that he wouldn’t have seen this fallout as a likelihood, if not a certainty, in the wake of his promotion to GM.
Dubas is now replacing a living legend in Lamoriello — who wanted to keep doing the job in Toronto, but instead will now run a Conference rival on Long Island — and he’s doing it at a time when the organization had real momentum in its sails. The job also only gets harder from here, with a number of significant challenges to tackle in the near term — big-time RFA contracts, important UFAs, glaring holes on the blue line — if it’s going to continue along that trajectory.
With the departure of Hunter, Dubas also now has an entire management team to restructure in his own image.