Kyle Dubas addressed the media on UFA Day, discussing the acquisition of Cody Ceci and Jason Spezza as well as the situation on the blue line and the latest on Mitch Marner.
What do you like in Cody Ceci and Jason Spezza?
Dubas: I think Cody comes as part of a pretty substantial trade. The thing we like for him is that he’s still just 24 years old. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s played a lot of minutes in Ottawa. We just think that we can bring him in here, integrate him with our staff, and he’ll probably play a little bit of a different role here in terms of the expectations and where he’s at. Hopefully, we’ll get him rolling. They’ve done a good job with him there in Ottawa. They’ve given up a lot of responsibility and he’s got some good experience as well. Using that, plus using the fact that he’s going to be an unrestricted free agent in a year, we hope that that can certainly provide some incentive and could be a great thing. We’ll see where it goes after that.
Jason — right after the interview period opened, we just checked in with him to see where he was at. You hear a bunch of different rumours about where it’s at and where he is going to end up, but he was interested. He came in and met with me last week and then met with Mike a few days after that. He just seemed like the perfect fit in terms of what he can bring in terms of his experience.
He’s sort of lived through, early in his career in Ottawa, a team with very high expectations — a very good, young, talented team with a strong core. Having someone who has gone through that — having gone to a Stanley Cup Final and someone who has gone through that experience — he can serve as a mentor in that, although you think that your team is extremely good and you are going to be doing this for a long time, the window can close, so don’t take anything for granted. He’s a guy still in search for a championship. His skill set, his ability to make plays to our talented forwards, his proficiency on faceoffs — all of that — and the fact that he is from here and was willing to come here for the minimum… In the spirit of things, it just made it a great fit for us, we felt.
Can you comment on the guys you lost and how it has fired up the Ottawa-Toronto rivalry?
Dubas: I’ll leave that for everyone in here to fire that up. It should be fun. The first game of the year should be a lot of fun. It basically feels like a third of our team from last year is there with DJ now.
Zaitsev — it’s well known he requested a move and we went through a lot of scenarios trying to accommodate that. As I told everyone here, we needed to return a defenseman. For us, it’s having some flexibility on the term of it that was important and the dollars were somewhat similar. We feel we accomplished that with Cody.
Brownie is a tough one. He is a draft pick of ours. He grew up through the Marlies system after playing in Erie. He has given the team three very, very good seasons and parts of another one. He is just a wonderful person on and off the ice. He has been an important part of turning this team around. He was sort of one of the first players to come up through the system from his draft up. Really quality person and family. We’ll miss him dearly. It is an unfortunate part of this — sometimes for reasons of cap and really nothing else, you have to try to find them a new spot. That stings a bit because we’ll miss Brownie here every day and he’s someone that is around all summer as well, growing up playing for the Marlies and then playing for our own Marlies. That is a tough one, but an unfortunate part of this sometimes.
What is going on in terms of Mitch Marner?
Dubas: We are continuing to talk with Darren and will continue to do so. Again, the quality of the person foremost and the player second, it is important for us that we find a way to get this done. I know I set this as the priority and looked at today as a day we’d like to have it done by, but obviously, we don’t have that yet. We will keep working away trying to find a way to come to a good conclusion with Darren and Mitch and roll from there.
?Do you see Cody Ceci fitting into your top four?
Dubas: I think it is tough to answer where anybody fits. Morgan is clearly going to be in our top four. Jake Muzzin will be in our top four. The rest will depend on where and who else composes our defense by opening night. It’s tough. I wouldn’t even want to try to prognosticate that now. We’ll see where it all lands.
He has played in that role in Ottawa. I think in talking to him today, he is excited to come here. With Morgan and Jake, we’ve got two left-hand shots that we feel he could partner well with. We’ll see where that goes. We don’t want to jam him into anything right now. We’ll see what comprises our D when we get there.
Do you think there is anything to the second-opportunity thing with a different team?
Dubas: I think so. For all of these players. it exists, right? It exists certainly for Z. I think Z played a big role here and played a lot. It applies as much to him.
Certainly, with Brownie, he showed in his rookie season he can score. As our roster evolved, he kind of got put into that very reliable defensive forward role and was heavily relied on for the penalty kill. He showed he can play up and down our lineup, but I’m sure he’s looking at Ottawa and thinking he can get an infusion of offensive opportunity, which will be up to DJ and Pierre and their staff. We’ll be rooting for them.
With Cody and Ben Harpur both, we are always hopeful that any player we bring in here that we can get them into our development system and we can find certain parts of their game we can dig into and hopefully improve. I don’t think any player has ever reached their maximum potential. There is always something… Even players leaving here, I’m sure Ottawa looks at Z and Connor and thinks they can get something out of them. Michael Carcone is the same way. And we feel the same about the players coming here.
How did Brown take the news when you gave it to him?
Dubas: It was an especially difficult weekend to deliver the news because we had one former player and one current player of ours getting married. All of our players were together at the time. It just kind of sucks. You wish it was a quiet time and you could get someone when they’re on their own. You could even bring him in and tell him. It just didn’t work out that way. I was disappointed about calling to tell him.
I heard Pierre’s press conference before I came down here and he said he was excited. I would imagine he is excited to go there and perhaps get an increased opportunity. But I think there was some disappointment. It’s going to be tough. He brings a lot to not just our on-ice play but our locker room and our organization every day. It is a tough one — one of the tougher ones since I’ve been here.
The Habs have offer sheeted Sebastian Aho. Are you comfortable that you have maneuvered yourself to fend off an offer sheet for Mitch Marner if that comes?
Dubas: We’ve got lots of cap space and we’ve got different options. Brandon Pridham and the work he has done in the last month — he is going to get a well-deserved vacation, I think, once all this wraps up. He and Laurence have really worked steadfastly — primarily Brandon — in making sure we are protected to evaluate every single thing that comes in here. I feel we are well set up for whatever comes our way, but again, our primary ambition is to try to find an agreement with Mitch.
Did the importance of Jason coming home and playing in Toronto factor into discussions at all considering he is taking much less than perhaps could’ve?
Dubas: I don’t know if he’s answered that today, but in our discussions, I think it is certainly important to him. He gets a chance to play at home. He’s got a young family. I think it is a unique opportunity for him, especially with where our team is at and what he can add to our team. Everyone sort of envisions that — it’s the fairy tale at the end and you hope it ends in a fairy tale way. I think that is up to us to continue to build up the team and give him that opportunity.
Dubas: Yeah. I think we spent a lot of time last year just looking at it. I think our younger forwards and even our younger D are getting closer and closer and pressing. We want to make sure we are well covered for whatever comes next season. Whether it is injury or competition in camp or waiver-related stuff as we experienced last year, we want to make sure we have a variety of players that are versatile in their own right that can play both sides of defense and play both wings and center and just really build this team as best we can with limited cap space.
I think the selling point to players has been the opportunity that is here. With our cap situation, I think this camp more than any other camp, you’ll see real battles for the bottom spots on both forwards and D. Combine that with the injuries to Hyman and Dermott to start. We’re excited. It gives these guys a great chance in exhibition and training camp and they’ve all been told the same thing: They’ll have the chance to earn it. It’ll be up to them and then we’ll make those decisions on October 1st or September 30.
Are you surprised an offer sheet came out now? It’s been a while since there’s been one.
Dubas: I’ve not been in the league when there’s been one — at least I don’t think. 2013, I think. It’s part of the CBA and it’s in the rules, right? I get why at times you may not think it is the proper thing to do or the right thing to do — not in terms of relationships with other GMs, but just in terms of the cost of getting the player to signed and the compensation that goes along with it.
I guess I am not surprised. A lot of teams have situated themselves well to make them. Teams have also situated themselves well to match or to make the decision at the time. It is interesting. It is new. It gives us all something to talk about and debate. But I am not surprised, I guess I would say.
You said all along that was something that you were prepared for the whole time.
Dubas: Right. I think you have to. If we just went out and spent everything and left nothing… If you go back before we got those things with Johnsson and Kapanen taken care of, we wanted to be especially mindful of that. There was a realistic opportunity. They’re very good young players that have already proven themselves as guys who are going to be very good in the NHL and have played well. In Mitch’s case, he is a star in the NHL. You have to be mindful of that and leave yourself protected and well situated to protect yourself against whatever may come your way, or at least give yourself the ability to make a well-rounded decision and not a defensive one.
How do you see yourself sorting out the top of the defense now? Is the door still open on Jake Gardiner? Could you envision moving Muzzin to the right?
Dubas: I think we are open to anything. I think in a perfect world, with anything, you’d like to give the coach three lefts and three rights and call it a day. I know the coach would like that as well. But I think you don’t want to sacrifice too much quality, either.
I don’t think the door is closed on Jake, but he is totally unrestricted right now and could be having all types of discussions. We are very limited with what we can do. As we said, we’re making sure we’re well protected for whatever comes our way. The door’s not closed.
I think we will continue to investigate all avenues to improve our defense. As I said at the beginning, Mitch is priority number one. Number two is going to be continuing to improve there if we can. Travis’ surgery and injury certainly adds a level of complexity to that because we were counting on him to contribute this season and now we don’t want to rush him back because of what his potential dictates to our team. It is trying to sort out that.
All of that said, between the guys that have been with the team… especially the two young guys with the Marlies this year, and the other players that have taken big steps in your Rosens and Borgmans etc. in addition to the Sandins and Liljegrens. You’ve got Holl on the team and so on and so forth. I think we’ve got some good options there that we’ll explore.
Where could Ben Harpur fit into all of that?
Dubas: I think Ben, for us… everything we’ve heard today from coaches who have had him and going through our due diligence, the key thing is, if you can build up his confidence and get him rolling… He obviously brings some physical elements that are very unique throughout the league just in general. It is a large defenseman.
For us, if we can really dial in on his play with the puck, and he can spend some time and we can give him some direction here in the summer of what we are expecting from him… I’ve talked to him and his agent today about that. We’ll see. He was really making great, great strides in that regard right near the end of his time in Belleville when they signed him to his extension he’s currently on. We’re hopeful we can bring him in here and he doesn’t have to do much. If you can move the puck 5-10 feet, move the puck, get the puck, pass the puck to our forwards, we’ll be happy.
Are Dermott and Hyman still on the same path? No update on when they might be back?
Dubas: I saw Hyman on twitter today being thrown up in the air like six feet at the wedding, so I think we are on course there. Travis is in our facility every day working hard and there have been no setbacks at all. With them, I can’t stress enough that the six months in the minimum and we need to make sure they are set up for the long haul versus rushing them back in.