Kyle Dubas joined the Sportsnet broadcast on Thursday afternoon to discuss the organization’s connection with young fans, contract negotiations with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and Frederik Andersen’s injury status.
You must look at the game through a different lens than a lot of your peers who are from a different generation. This afternoon is all about a new generation. Do you see it that way?
Dubas: I try to learn as much as possible from all the people in the game at any event we’re at where we’re all gathered together. I think everyone in the game is all trying to do the same thing. I think today is a great initiative to bring in more young people into our game here in Toronto and begin to build the fandom of our team and their love of the Maple Leafs and really their love of hockey. The lessons from people who have been in the game a long time can only serve to benefit that and help that. It is trying to learn from that and try to continue to progress the game and move it ahead, which is part of the initiative here today.
You keep track of everything as an organization. What are you learning about your fan base as you try to get the younger ones in and some of the long-time Leaf fans age?
Dubas: I think our main goal is to not only build fans with the Leafs but also through a number of initiatives with our MLSE Foundation and through our hockey schools we run in the summer, to build a more diverse set of people who are interested in playing hockey and making hockey as affordable as we can in Toronto and in our marketplace and all throughout the areas we have reach. If people can grow and love hockey that way, then we hope that if we put a good enough product on the ice, they’ll also become fans of the Maple Leafs. What we are seeing now and something that we talk about is that when we first arrived here, there were a lot of Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington jerseys. Now you see more and more, as you are walking around Toronto, Maple Leafs jerseys, whether it is Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Morgan Rielly. As our young players have become more prominent and more fun to watch, the young fans, especially, have clung to them. That’s a real positive for us and for our community.
William Nylander went his first 11 games without a goal. You’ve got to preach patience. What else do you have? In saying that, can you avoid this this time next year with Marner and Matthews? Where are you in those conversations? Can you get them signed before the end of this season?
Dubas: We sure hope so. As everyone has seen here, and you read some of the comments from people who have signed subsequently from them and their agents, it’s certainly not the way you want it to play out. You don’t want players missing two months of the season plus training camp and exhibition with their preparation time and forgoing the process with getting ready for the season with our group. William is in incredible condition and works extremely hard and is well situated to handle that, but as you are seeing here, these guys have been here for two months and a lot of them had played 30 games. To jump right in is quite difficult.
We wish it would go very smooth. It is another case of adversity for William. Luckily, with the team playing as well as it has, that has given some breathing room. In the last couple of games especially, he is getting closer and closer. We’ll see him on the verge of returning to his usual form and then continuing to progress upward, as we expect for a 22-year-old.
How would you characterize where you are at in the conversations with Marner and Matthews?
Dubas: We are having discussions with the representatives from both. There has been, certainly, the inclination that everyone wants to be patient and everyone wants to take their time, but we are wide open on those. Everyone realizes these are paramount discussions. Both Mitch and Auston bring leadership. They are obviously excellent young players and they are key, key parts of our franchise — not only on the ice but off the ice. Our goal is to get those done as soon as we can and continue to work and keep an open dialogue with their representatives.
Are you concerned about Frederik Andersen’s health?
Dubas: I wouldn’t say I am concerned. I know our medical team has done an excellent job in working with Freddy. Our main thing with Frederik Andersen is he is such a key, important part for us and has been the backbone of our team this season for sure. We need to make sure he is ready down the stretch and for the playoffs. We need to continue to be patient with him and make sure he’s 100%; not rush him back. We made the move to add Michael Hutchinson last weekend and he’s had a good track record in the NHL and has experience here. We’ll be patient and make sure we are doing what’s best for Frederik in the long term.