Kyle Dubas addressed the media on Monday, discussing the end of the William Nylander contractual impasse and the decision to trade Josh Leivo to Vancouver.
William said that you have given him a guarantee he wouldn’t be traded as long as you are GM of this team.
Dubas: I think I’ve said… I don’t know why that is a surprise that that was said. I think I’ve been on the record as saying that. I think the record — it matters to everyone in here. It is our intention to have him here as long as we are here. He is an excellent young player. I don’t think we want to get into the business of not having excellent young players. That’s how we feel about it. A lot of the discussion between us…. I think that’s the nature of this thing and how it went, but that’s our full intention to have him here as long as we possibly can. And with all of our young players.
What is the nature of this room and the players in it that will make this transition for William seamless moving forward?
Dubas: I think they’re all excited to have him back. You add a player of his calibre to the room and the team is excited. You could see the reaction of the team. I wasn’t there at the rink when this all happened with it happening so close to the deadline. I was only able to hear from Mike what the reaction was and it was all excitement. The players after the game in speaking with them, they were very, very happy to have William back — as we all are.
It is a great room of players. In the three months or whatever it’s been so far, I’ve really gained a lot of respect for our group and the leadership we have. I think the fact that the team was able to play as well as it was and eliminate all of the distractions with Auston being injured, with William not being here…. I think this is a market that loves hockey and thus we get a lot of coverage and there is a lot of questions all the time. The fact that the team was able to [do that] is a huge testament to the players. That same ability will help the transition back for William.
When you saw him face to face today, what did you talk about?
Dubas: It was nice. I saw William, of course, in mid-October. It was nice just to see him. We’ve known each other and we both have been in the organization around the same time. I came a month after him. We’ve got a good relationship. It was nice to be able to see each other with all of this put behind. We were able to talk about, once pleasantries were exchanged, some of the points along the way from a different perspective now that things are done and have a good discussion about it and roll from there. It was all good.
Was there a darkest hour or some point where you couldn’t believe that his perspective was that much different?
Dubas: I have a hard time with the darkest hour when it comes to hockey. I don’t really know. Any time you get that close to the deadline, you start to get won’t get done even though we remained optimistic. As William said to me here today, he always wanted to be here. He has reiterated that throughout, so you maintain that optimism because of both parties’ ambition to have him be here for a long time.
The focus, in part, shifts to some other big name RFAs. How tough is the task at hand knowing the cap and what you have to do?
Dubas: It doesn’t necessarily just shift to that. I know that contracts get a lot of play. We have a season to play here with a very good hockey team. Our ambition will be to continue to evaluate our team and where we are at now that we have William back and places where we can make our team better. I am not going to forgo the season and I don’t think any of our group or our organization should forego the enjoyment of the season because we have good players that need contracts. That is the way that we will attack this season.
If you do look at that, how do you foresee that challenge being?
Dubas: I think we know that in this market, there is going to be a lot of questions about it. I think that the players have handled it very, very well. We have some restricted free agents. We have some looming unrestricted free agents. I think it is a fortunate position we are in, that we have these talented players that are a part of our organization. When we first arrived here, there was a lot of talent then as well. We just needed to hit the reset button a little bit and now we have gotten to the point where we are at and we are very proud of that. The organization, top to bottom, has done a good job of conveying our vision and executing on it.
The part of keeping our players is of vital importance and that is what we will obviously focus on and get done. Is it going to be difficult? I hope that we don’t get to this same point with any of the remaining players. We have already begun those conversations and we will continue them with the ambition of having them concluded as soon as possible — certainly before training camp.
How important is it to have him in the fold for this team to achieve the ultimate goal?
Dubas: I think the thing that I conveyed to William is that I saw, as the season started and it became a narrative that the team is playing so well, so is it really necessary to have him? Should you look to move him to address other needs? As I always conveyed to William throughout the process, even when that narrative started to build and the team got off to a good start and continues to play well, my message to William was that I don’t think our team will be at its full potential until he’s back and a part of it. Only then can we truly assess our team. We are excited to have him back. He’s a very talented young player and he’s proven that the last two full seasons in the NHL. And he is only 22 years old. We are excited to get him back and rolling and we think he’ll add a lot to the group.
What stands out most about his skill set?
Dubas: He’s an elite passer and an elite shooter. That is what excites me about him. He’s put up excellent numbers, certainly, for a young player in the NHL. I think you see the way that the league is going. We are excited about adding that back to our club and into the top of our forward group.
Is there a pressure for him to live up to the figure on his contract?
Dubas: I don’t think so. I think he has earned his contract with the potential he has shown. I think him and knowing the amount of work he puts in off the ice and how he conducts himself, the condition that he is in… I don’t have any doubt that he will reach that level and continue to go beyond it for sure.
How are you feeling now at this point now that it is all taken care of?
Dubas: Everyone says that it must be a big weight off and they come up and say, “Get some rest now.” We work in hockey. It is a game and it is a privilege to be able to work in it every day. I don’t feel any different today than Saturday. I am obviously thrilled that we have William Nylander back in the fold.
I am most excited for our coaches and our players. As I said, they did a great job throughout this process in not allowing this become a distraction. To be able to have William walk back in with his teammates and his coaching staff that had done so well in his absence is exciting for me.
Yes, it’s just hockey and it’s not the end of the world, whatever happens. But it had to have been stressful for you going through that right down to the wire. Not even a little bit?
Dubas: I don’t know. You’d have to ask the people that were there, whether it was Brandon Pridham, Laurence Gilman and Brendan Shanahan. I don’t believe that I was overly stressed. I thought we followed our process and it was good throughout. Our optimism was that we definitely wanted William here long term and he wanted to be here long term. We just followed through on that and had faith in the process that we really started in June with William.
Is part of the process to trade Josh Leivo today and find his way?
Dubas: That was a difficult one. Not in terms of it being difficult to move him, but I’ve known him for a long time. In the summer, meeting with Ian Pulver — Josh’s representative — and Josh, obviously, the previous two seasons had not gone the way they wanted in terms of the amount of playing time he had received. I gave them my word that if there was a situation coming up where he would not be in the lineup night in and night out, we would avoid that and we would try to find a spot for him where he would have a great opportunity. That is what we spent the last couple of days doing. I’m just happy to follow through on that for Josh. We wish him all the success in the world in Vancouver and we will be cheering for him as well.