Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas addressed the media on the eve of the 2019 NHL Draft, discussing contract negotiations with Mitch Marner, the amount of trade talk, the rumours surrounding Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri, and more.
Any progress in regards to talks with Mitch Marner and how things are progressing this week?
Dubas: Yeah, we are talking with all of them. We’ve got Mitch, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson… We are continuing to work away at that. We will keep all of those details private. Everything that has happened so far — that’s what we’ve intended to do. We’ve kept it all to ourselves and I think that’s what everyone has wanted. Out of respect for the process, we will continue to do that.
Mitch is being vilified on Twitter, social media. Some people are remarking on how greedy he might be — those kinds of negative terms that we saw with William Nylander last year. Are you worried about his reputation and doing what is best for him?
Dubas: For me, Mitch Marner’s reputation is beyond reproach. He has played for our club for three years. He comes to the rink every day with the exact same attitude. Great energy. Loves hockey. Loves playing in Toronto. He is a great member of the community and does a lot in the community.
I get that these matters become complex because of the number of dollars that are in play. People hear them, whether they are factual are not, and they begin to draw certain conclusions about players and what their motives are. I think when it comes to Mitch Marner or even going back to William Nylander, anybody who is being negative about him is really way off, especially when you consider the type of person that he is and the type of character that he has and everything he has done for our organization and also what he does in the community.
I would hope that people don’t get that way. I would encourage them not to be that way at all.
The clock is ticking towards July 1. Is there pressure with that looming?
Dubas: I think the reality is that it’s as I said at the end of the season. We, of course, would like to have all these done quickly, but if you look around at all the other teams here, everyone is in a similar spot. There is nothing really getting done and nothing moving. Why that is I’m not sure. I think it is just the sheer volume of RFAs and the uncertainty with the salary cap and where it is at. I would expect in the coming week or so there will be some movement. That is what we are hoping for. I don’t sense that there is any real pressure. We will continue to do what is right for our organization and roll from there.
The club’s ability to draft and develop — is this a double-edged sword when you think of how well they’ve been able to do in the last 5-6 years to find yourself in the situation you are in?
Dubas: I sure hope we can do better, so… I think the scouting staff and a lot of the guys that have been here for a long time — Dave Morrison, John Lilley, Ari Vuori has been with the team for a number of years, Thommie Bergman is, of course, a staple in Sweden, our player development staff led by Scott Pellerin and Stephane Robidas and Hayley Wickenheiser — they’ve done great work with our guys. I think it is very exciting to see that.
The two of those departments — and I know it is not always the case in sports — they really work closely together and in concert with one another. There is not that conflict between drafting and developing. They draft and then they kind of work together to know what their weaknesses are and make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to development.
Do you think you’d match any offer sheet for Mitch if you can say?
Dubas: I think we are at the point now where we can speak openly about it. I think it would depend on any of the players. It is not just one guy. We’ve got a number of them. If there were to be an offer sheet, we’d look at what they are and what the compensation is for our team and make the decision based on that. They’re all very important players for us and so it is our intention that they are all here for as long as we can possibly keep them, but if the dollar amount doesn’t make sense in terms of our internal economics and the marketplace and the compensation is such, it is going to be a decision on our end as to what we do. I wouldn’t know one way or the other without knowing more about where those are going to land if they happen.
Do you think they will be coming?
Dubas: I have no idea. I could tell you we are not in a position to offer one. What the other teams are thinking, I don’t know. It is within the rules. I know it gets bandied about and it is kind of hanging over everything now. I don’t think there is any fear in addressing it and speaking openly about it. If it happens, it happens and we will go from there.
Has the fact that you won’t automatically match an offer sheet for Mitch been communicated to his camp?
Dubas: I was talking about all three of our guys, right? Either Mitch, Kasperi or Andreas Johnsson — those are the three key restricted free agents that we have. I think it has been clear to all that is going to depend on where they are it — where they fit in our internal economics and so on and so forth. I hope it doesn’t ever come to that and we can all continue to work together. We are appreciative of all of their efforts so far. I also don’t think it benefits us to shy away from the fact that that may happen.
Do you think you’ll have all three signed by July 1st?
Dubas: I don’t know. Time will tell.
Does it impact things not knowing where the cap is going to fall?
Dubas: We’ve mapped it out for a couple of scenarios. For us, where the cap ends up falling… Brandon Pridham has done a great job preparing how it is going to impact us. I don’t sense at this point that the variance is going to be massive. We just have to keep in mind where things could fall and then we will determine how we proceed from there.
Is Kadri on the table if you need to clear space? His contract is attractive to other teams.
Dubas: I think we have a lot of players who are attractive to other teams. On the one hand, you say it’s a bit of headache on the contract side, but on the other side of it, we are very fortunate to have these players on our team with the amount of talent that we have.
For us, we’d much rather have our dollars… I know it’s kind of the topic of the year or the spring or whatever, but I’d rather, if we are going to pay our players, pay our top guys and then force our staff to get creative around the edges of the team.
Naz is an important player for us. At the same time, it is foolish to say that any player is 100% never going to be moved or anything like that because things change and we have to be looking to make our team better. But is our full intention that Naz is going to be on the team.
You mentioned that you might be feeling the cap squeeze. Is there a way for the league to do it so that we are not talking about what the cap is going to be the day before the draft?
Dubas: That is above my pay grade. I am not exactly sure. For us, they give you enough of an area where you can plan. I don’t think we are going to wake up tomorrow or whenever we actually know and find out it’s vastly different from what they told us. We just try to plan within the range and go from there. Of course, it would be great to be able to have as much information as far as in advance as possible, but it’s all good. We just try to take what we have and plan that way.
How about Zaitsev and Marleau? Any movement behind the scenes?
Dubas: Not yet.
Any conversations with other teams?
Dubas: I think there are lots of conversations with other teams on lots of different players. It has been very, very busy that way. I think it has probably been echoed by some of the others. Certainly, I only have last year and maybe 2015 as a real barometer, but certainly the most active of any of those years. I think it is the uncertainty of the players unsigned and the salary cap not going up as much as forecast. It all contributes to a lot of discussions. It is interesting times.
Do you feel you have to make a move to clear up cap space?
Dubas: I think we have cap space, but a lot of it — in terms of the movement — is tied up in trying to work with our restricted free agents. I think we would be foolish to go and spend it elsewhere or artificially create it if we don’t need it by depleting our roster. That is not really fair to the other 20 guys on the team that are there, just to create it when we don’t need it and make our team less competitive. That is not the stage that we are at. We are trying to figure out where we are going to land and where we are going to be at and proceed from there.
What are the conversations you’ve had with Patrick?
Dubas: They’ve been very open since the end of the season, right? I certainly understand their position and situation. He has done a lot of great work for us since the day he arrived here. We are trying to accommodate and help that — mostly out of appreciation for everything he has done for us since his arrival.
Are you saying he’s asked to be moved?
Dubas: What we are trying to do is just accommodate a situation that has gone very public since the end of the year, right? All that said, I think if Patrick Marleau were back with the team at the beginning of next year, it wouldn’t be a problem for Patrick. I don’t know if that answers your question specifically, but I think there is a strong chance he will be back next season.