Kyle Dubas addressed the media after the second day of the 2019 draft, discussing the Patrick Marleau trade to Carolina that cost the Leafs a first-round pick in 2020, their interest in PK Subban (traded today to New Jersey), getting Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen under contract, the possibility of bringing Jake Gardiner back, whether there is any movement on a Nikita Zaitsev trade, and the status of contract talks with Mitch Marner as the RFA negotiating window nears.
How did the Patrick Marleau trade come together?
Dubas: Yesterday, as it went on, it’s been working with Patrick and working with Pat Brisson and trying to find a way to accommodate him and what their wishes are. Obviously, they’ve got to put some work in still on that, but that was really the only way that we were going to be able to do something on that end for Patrick.
I think everyone knows how we feel about Patty Marleau and what he’s done for our organization. We felt that we were trying to do all that we could to help him. In our situation with our cap, we didn’t want to do one of those trades where it was moving a salary or cap hit where it was going to take anybody off your roster, so you start to look at your draft capital. When you are talking about a $6.25 million cap hit and $4 million in cash, you start to have to pay a hefty price, and that is what we have done today — for Patty, and to not have to take anybody off the team to accommodate the wishes of the Marleaus after all he’s done for us. Sometimes you do things like that and that’s how it all came together.
How did you decide a first-round pick was the right price to pay?
Dubas: You kind of gauge what the market wants in return for what you are trying to move on. We’ve got a valuation system that we use, so we know how much… Then it becomes: Do you value the cap space or do you value the cash, and in our business now with the way our economics are set up, you have to value both.
They usually aren’t the same on contracts with the way contracts are structured on teams. It is trying to find that balance for what would be fair for the team acquiring him and also trying to protect ourselves. There were a few teams in the mix. For us, we couldn’t take anything back in terms of a salary and we wanted to protect ourselves. We didn’t want to give up any other younger players and in fact, we are trying to get them all signed.
That’s how it all came together. It’s not perfect. There is no science that tells you how much they’re worth like in baseball, which would be great, but that is how it all came to be.
This should help you sign those players, right?
Dubas: You hate to give up your first round pick. We don’t have our first round pick this year and obviously, now we don’t have one next year. You hate to be in that position and put that type of pressure on your scouts and your development people, but when making that call, we sat as a group and said, “We could go that way and keep our picks, which are largely unknowns, or we could start moving players off our roster,” which we really didn’t want to do, especially with the quality of the young players we were being asked for in exchange. We, in the end, decided that the pick was the way to go.
How close are you on Kapanen and Johnsson?
Dubas: We are very close. Brandon Pridham has done incredible, incredible work. They’re at the finish line, we just have to punch them across, which will be nice.
Where is Marner at?
Dubas: Like I said on Thursday, he is an incredible person and an incredible player for our team. We are going to continue to work with Darren [Ferris] here to try to move it along. I don’t have much more to offer since Thursday, really. We’ll just keep working on it and hear back from Darren here and then roll on.
How much does it help knowing what Johnsson and Kapanen will be paid now?
Dubas: It is vital. Rather than just guessing and trying to have a framework or a ballpark… to know right now about where they are going to land save for a few more things that we need to finish off — and Brandon will get that done with their people — it is a huge relief for us. For us, knowing that they’re locked in and not just on for one year and that they are going to be a part of our group for a while… They’re big young pieces for us, so that’s a big help.
Is Jake Gardiner a possibility now?
Dubas: We still don’t have that amount of space. We love Jake. We talked about this at the year-end press conference as well. He’s been a huge, huge part of having the team turn around. There have been a few guys who have been with the team from the days when the team was… From the first two years when the team was fourth last and last, without those players and their contributions — Jake being a key, key one — the team is not where it is at now in terms of competitiveness. We would like to continue to keep that on the front burner, but until we solve Mitch’s situation, it is impossible to engage with anybody.
Any update on the situation with Nikita Zaitsev?
Dubas: At this point, it is the status quo. The way we are looking at it, as I said in Buffalo at the combine, we are willing to try to accommodate and work with him, but we need a similar player back. We don’t have the depth on D and we don’t want to rush our prospects, so that is what has been communicated to Dan Milstein.
There were reports you were in on PK Subban. Are you still in the market for a defenseman regardless of what happens with Zaitsev?
Dubas: I think we are always trying to improve the group. If we can improve our D, we will. I think our forward group is very good, but you’re always trying to improve everything. I understand what comes along with being in Toronto. I think everyone here is smart enough to know what our team needs. You guys watch the team and travel with them all year. Everyone has their opinion and it’s well-educated. Whenever those types of players are available, it is always going to be drawn back to us to see if we’re interested, and we’ll always investigate things that can make us better.
Were you surprised to see him move today — Subban?
Dubas: I guess there are lots of good players who change teams. I wasn’t stunned or surprised. There are very few players in the league, I guess, that I would be surprised if they moved — maybe 10 or 15, and beyond that maybe you are mildly shocked. It is just the way it is especially with the cap not rising as much as was expected. Depending on how you plan for that, you’ve got to re-arrange and adjust.
Only one draft pick was moved across the league yesterday. Were you expecting the amount of movement we saw today?
Dubas: I don’t know if this is fact or not and I am just going off the top of my head, but it always seems like there are more moves on the second day. The Friday night portion of it can sometimes slow things down, especially in the front half of the draft where, if you are going to move something, you’re more tentative. I wasn’t surprised. It seemed like there were a ton of trades today and a lot of activity around. It seemed like every single pick there for a stretch. I guess it wasn’t a surprise, no.
With the RFA speaking window opening on Wednesday, Mitch potentially getting calls would be within the rules. Is that concerning or do you think it may actually help the process in terms of understanding the market?
Dubas: I don’t know. It is tough to say. We go back again to where we were Thursday when we convened. There hasn’t been a lot of movement on any of them. I think there is a lot of curiosity around the league with so many RFAs that are unsigned. How is it going to affect the communication? What is the process going to be?
The quality of these players this year, they’re not just good players, but they seem to be great people who are so respected in their community — not just Mitch with us, and we know what he is for us, but you go all throughout the league and the teams that have those really good young players off entry level, and they seem to be an important part of not only the team but the community.
It is going to be interesting to see how it all gets handled. There is not a real barometer, I don’t think. We look back and there has been one case where a Group-2 RFA with no arbitration rights visited other teams since 2008. It is a little bit of a new world. We will see what happens.
Do you think there is a reluctance to be the first guy to sign a deal?
Dubas: Perhaps that is a better question for the players than for us. I know none of them have signed. I am not exactly sure why. For us, we are nearing a conclusion with two of our others, which is nice for us. As the draft passes here and we shift to this week, there is obviously going to have to be some sort of action and movement on a lot of fronts.
Having come to the draft and maybe the ball not moving forward much on Marner, what is your level of optimism it will get done?
Dubas: I try to be an optimistic person. You try to be realistic as well. I think we want, as I’ve said a lot now, to keep our young players as part of our team. That is what we will continue working towards. We’ve got some time here left. Obviously, you always hope it doesn’t go right down to the final hour. It seems to be a specialty of ours a little bit, but we’ll try to avoid it this time.
We can look at the numbers Patrick Marleau had here in the last two years, but what about the fingerprints he left on the development of Mitch and Auston and how that intangible has helped your team?
Dubas: I was in a different role when we signed Patrick, but I think it is almost impossible… You can see his statistics and what he produced for us on the ice, but when it comes to what he has done off the ice, it is really hard to quantify and hard to do justice to. He was incredible for our young guys, especially as they were entering their second year in the league and our team was entering a different time in its existence. He was great in terms of dealing with me as I came into a role coming from assistant GM to GM. It just made life very easy for a lot of people around the team between his professionalism and how he handled himself day in and day out and set a good example for all of our young players every single day.
We are happy for Patty. We are thrilled to have had him as part of our group. It was a great honour of ours to have him as a Maple Leaf for two seasons. The impact that he’s had on the group will be felt for a long time.