Kyle Dubas joined Prime Time Sports after the trade freeze to discuss the team’s moves or lack thereof on deadline day, the team’s grit and ability to contend in the playoffs, their reported interest in Wayne Simmonds, and much more.
Topics (in order)
- The team’s relatively quiet deadline day
- Whether the team was in on Wayne Simmonds
- The Nic Petan for Par Lindholm trade
- The relief of the team to be through the deadline
- Whether the team received calls on Connor Brown as reported
- The next order of business now with the deadline over with
How would you assess the state of the market? A bunch of big names were out there. Ottawa got rid of all three. Columbus added players and didn’t get rid of either of their free agents. How was today compared to previous days having been through a few of these?
Dubas: It was interesting. I think it has been an interesting market for a while now. There have been teams that have, because of their play, their fortunes have shifted very drastically throughout the season, right? That has been interesting to kind of watch and see how their mindset evolves as their season evolves. There have certainly been some teams that have been adamant that they are going to be moving pieces and others that were buyers that were fairly tentative. We made our move earlier just maybe trying to get ahead of it a little bit. Whether that was smart or not, only time will tell when we are able to look back with a bit more range and break it all down a little bit better. But it was interesting — a little bit more interesting than previous years, for sure.
Would you say you were passive or were you trying to do things and there was just no business to be done?
Dubas: I think our goal was to improve our defense for about the last two months or so. We made the move with Muzzin when we had the opportunity. That sort of limited our salary cap situation, so that kind of put us out of a lot of the moves that involved players that had significant salaries. That was our way of looking at that. That was our move, obviously, adding John in the summer, re-signing William, and then adding Muzzin. We look at those as our moves. There is not as much flash for [deadline day] that people might want or like given the way that the day has evolved. It is now more of a thing people consume through the media all day long, which I think is great for hockey, but our maneuvers were done in advance, so we didn’t have a whole lot on the go.
Knowing what your situation was, did you spend a lot of time on the phone throughout the day?
Dubas: We spent a lot of time trying to communicate what our situation was to everybody so that everybody knew what we could do or what we were looking to do and what we had available. That goes back to really the Fall. [Deadline day] was just touching base with everybody. There was a lot of talk and a lot of discussion and various different things that couldn’t work for us. We just tried to stay in the loop with everything without trying to kick tires or waste anybody’s time just in case something were to come down. We just stayed on top of it and were able to analyze everything. We had our people in here — our whole pro scouting department and our player personnel department. It was a good exercise for us to go through for the first incarnation of this staff and also for me to learn the best way to communicate with the other GMs, this being the first time here. I’ve obviously learned a lot from Lou and from Dave Nonis before him and from my experience in the OHL before then, but this was my first time in this specific situation. It was fun and I learned a lot. I’m excited for that and to keep rolling now.
You added a little bit of grit in Nic Petan for Par Lindholm, but you know the hockey pucks around here had focused on Wayne Simmonds and whether you would be involved in that conversation. Were you?
Dubas: I think we had discussions about almost every player with every team, and in the end, you see the trade that they made. It is a good roster player and another draft pick in there. Analyzing what would have had to come off our roster to make a similar move, we just determined that we don’t really have anybody that is expiring that is a UFA or anything like that, and I don’t think Philly would’ve been interested in that. The decision for what would’ve had to come off our roster was that it would’ve been too much of a hole from what we had built here. That was our way of analyzing it and how we decided on that.
With regards to the grit, I think our team has shown its own different brand of toughness and the competitiveness of our guys who are not big in relative terms to the rest of the league, I like the competitive spirit that our players have down and have shown throughout the year. In games that get rough and get physical, we’ve been able to dig in and find a way. I know until that happens in the Spring, people will always question it, but I have a lot of belief in that way that we want to play and the people that are here that can execute that. In the end, we’ll find a way through it as long as we stick to our process and stick to our identity, we’ll be fine.
Can you talk a little bit about the deal you did make?
Dubas: It was a situation where we wanted to get Trevor Moore up. We had Par Lindholm here and the was an excellent free agent signing from Europe. He had a great run here with us of over 60 games and was an excellent contributor in our bottom six and on the penalty kill for us. With Moore coming up and Freddy Gauthier signed for this year and next year in that same role, we started to get some calls on Par and just decided that with Petan, with his skill level and potential and what he has shown us going back to his days in Portland and in Manitoba in American League, we’ve had success developing those types of players. I don’t think it’s anything at all against Winnipeg, but you look at their roster and you can figure out why he would’ve had a tough time cracking it. We just think we can bring him in here and work diligently to help develop him. He is a guy who is much younger and we’ve got team control for a couple more seasons. He is an RFA after this year, so we can bring him in and develop and help maximize his potential.
You are not a bubble team and you are not a team that was trying to shed players. Is there still kind of a bit of a deep breath in the dressing room after deadline day? Is there a little bit of tension that builds towards this within a team?
Dubas: I think so. One of the things I’ve realized here is that there is so much attention on the team, and rightfully so — there is great interest in the team in the market and thus there is a large media contingent that follows the team. One of the things that I find impacts the players personally is whenever we make a major move or signing, inevitably, because of the demands of the market, people want to know how this affects the team in the subsequent seasons. People who have great knowledge of the situation would write, “Well, in the coming years, these are the players that are coming off the roster and likely won’t be here because of salary cap constraints and what have you.”
What I have seen here, even with players we have never had any intention of moving right now, them or their families or their agents read that the team has an impending cap crunch or salary situation and thus you are expendable, even though they’re not expendable at the present stage. I think for some of the guys that have been mentioned relentlessly in that breath, it is a relief to get through three o’clock and know they are going to be in Toronto for the rest of the year and be able to settle in and not worry about whether the next phone call from me or the next day they walk in they’re going to be out of a place they love with teammates that they love. I think that’ll be a real positive of getting through [deadline day].
It has been speculated that there have been some calls on Connor Brown. Can you comment?
Dubas: I am not going to get into specifics about any one of our players. I don’t think that is fair to the player or the teams that may or may not have called, but we had lots of players on our roster… I think the other teams in the league also read what people speculate about the team and call and say, “hey, is this guy really available? Are you really looking to move him?” We had lots of calls about lots of guys on our roster. Some were excluded — some that are very clearly never going to go anywhere — but anybody else that is sort of below that very key core, we had calls on. It’ll be surprising for me to see their names in the media in the coming weeks, but we’ve got calls on everyone from all across most of our roster except for the very top of it.
You are dealing with a roster of young men but they are men. How do you deal with a day like this? How do you address that? Do you talk with them on an individual basis? Do they come to you? Do you deal with them as a group? Is there a protocol here for deadline day?
Dubas: What I’ve seen is that the players are very tentative. Very few, even going back to junior hockey and with the Marlies and now here, very few are going to come up and ask directly about whether or not you are shopping them or moving them or why their names are out there in trade rumours. You’ll hear about it from their agent or they’ll mention it to a coach they may have a great relationship, or somebody within the organization. At those points, once I know they’re thinking about it and I’ve heard about it from somebody, I’ll try to talk to them individually and say, “Here is the situation and here is where you fit. Here are what my expectations are of you.” I think you are always tentative in those positions to [reassure] somebody too much because never know what is going to happen as the trade deadline nears or as free agency nears. I just try to communicate as best I can and give players all the information I can to help put them at ease or give them a good analysis of where they fit within things.
As it pertains to addressing the group, my belief has always been that I am around a lot. I think I am fairly approachable for the players and I’ll communicate with the players, but I don’t address the group very much. Once at the beginning of the season, and going back through the years, maybe once on average during the year — usually when the team wasn’t doing well, but I haven’t this season and don’t expect to. I think Mike does a great job handling that and the players are very open to coming up and talking to me about anything they may want to know about, which has been great.
You can go on vacation now for the next couple of months. You’ve got nothing to do. Not much to do for a GM in March and April. You’ll probably want to be around for the playoffs, but just as a spectator more or less.
Dubas: I think it is just being here to help support the coaching staff and the players. A lot of the time will now shift to different European and college free agents we are pursuing and going from trying to get out and see as many players as possible for the draft. Our methodology now changes, in terms of my time, to talent procurement in various other forms — the free agents in college, Europe and major junior, the draft. Just continually trying to get the know the players that are coming up, even though in the past I haven’t had a huge role in amateur scouting and so on and so forth, being in the American league, you get a better sense of the players that are coming up. I am familiarizing myself with that to make sure I have as good of a grasp on it as possible to try to help our staff and our team and roll from there. That will be mostly what I am doing — not as much around the team.