Kyle Dubas joined Tim & Sid on Tuesday evening to discuss the Mitch Marner situation, the team’s window for contention, and the possibility of naming a captain.
Has this been the busiest offseason for you even going back to the OHL level with the Soo?
Dubas: It’s so weird. Last year, taking the job in mid-May, I didn’t really have… the season had ended a few weeks prior and going through it the first time, you watch Lou and Dave Nonis before and you think you’ve got it all under control, but you never really know until you go through it for the first time. I didn’t really feel last year — with all of the changes we had with staffing and scouting, the player personnel department, players coming in and the Nylander contract thing looming — that we were 100% set. Until you let the horses out of the gate, you don’t know if it’s going to run smoothly.
This year, it is a totally different feeling. We’ve got all of our systems and our coaching staff is now set; there are some changes that Mike is going to have to work through with his new assistants in Paul McFarland and Dave Hakstol, but it feels like everything else is just much more settled and really from the middle of July on, it’s felt like we could get up and running the next day.
Where are you with Mitch Marner and are you tired of that question?
Dubas: No, I’m not. I don’t think you can be tired of it. Mitch is a great person off the ice and does a huge amount in the community here, and he is a great player on the ice. That means it is important to the fan base, it is important to the media, and it is certainly important to us. Until we have a solution to it and it ends happily ever after, people are always going to ask about it. I think everyone is well within their rights to ask about it as much as they want.
Are you closer now than you were at the start of the summer?
Dubas: I think you hope you are. You’ve had enough conversations. You know where everybody stands. I don’t want to speak for them or their side, but we’ve worked at it. We’ve had lots of talks with them. I am hopeful that we are closer just knowing exactly where we are at and we know where they stand and everything. We hope in the next week here or week and a half that it finds its way to a conclusion.
Are you 100% confident he will be in the opening night lineup?
Dubas: I am very optimistic. That is 100% our hope and what we’ll work towards. I hope he is 100% there next week when training camp opens — if we get this done tomorrow or whatever; as soon as possible — to eliminate the uncertainty for Mitch and for us and have it all work out. As we saw last year with William, it is difficult when a player is in those circumstances where they miss training camp and then miss the exhibition season and miss two months of the season. They have to come back and there are different expectations on them with the new contract. It’s tough. Our hope is that it finds its way to a conclusion well before then.
How do you explain to the average hockey fan what’s going on here with all of the unsigned RFAs league-wide? You hear fans say, “Why is it taking so long?”
Dubas: It’s a long list. There has really been no movement for over two months now on anybody. You hear the theory that as soon as one domino topples, then the rest will. That was said before Aho and Meier signed. Two fell and it’s been nothing since. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know how to tell people the best way for them to feel about it other than I think these are all players who the teams know how valuable they are. Everyone knows how good they are — the fans and the teams alike. There is no disputing that. It’s just interesting that there are so many in one year. It’s usually not the case. When that happens, different things come into play.
I would be shocked if we sat here a week from now and it was still that same list, but I am not certain that this isn’t a totally unusual year and who knows how long it lasts?
Are you guys further apart on term or money?
Dubas: We’ve had lots of discussion on both. Each side has a good understanding of where the other is on both ends of it. It’s hard to say if we’re further apart on one or the other. I don’t want to speak for Darren Ferris and their side, but they understand the terms we are comfortable and we understand the terms they are comfortable with. I think we each also have an idea of where the money will lie. It’s just a matter of finding a way here as the days tick off the calendar to find a way to bring that to a close.
Do you have to explore the possibility of potentially trading him?
Dubas: It’s a question we get asked a lot and something we definitely never want to find out about. To me, Mitch is a great player and has been a great player for three years for us. We love him as much as a person and what he brings — his enthusiasm, his energy every day, his love of hockey and playing here. I don’t think you ever want to go down that path ever with anyone in that regard. Now, it’s sports and anything can happen, but it certainly not something we want to explore and we haven’t.
As a GM, you have to go through Plan Bs, Plan Cs, and Plan Ds. Is the fact that there are others in this situation make you more comfortable about your Plan B and Plan C? Can the fact that no one else has signed give you options if in fact you have to walk beyond that road?
Dubas: What I think it does, when you look at it… Last year, with William, it’s a totally different situation. We’ve had discussions with Darren going back to the combine last year at the draft in 2018. In William’s case, it was a few months. There wasn’t really anybody else in that situation that William was going through. We would look at it and be very open in discussing where we went wrong or what I could have done differently. I think a lot of the blame there should go to me for that situation. That’s trying to learn from that and move on.
Now you show the list of players and there is a litany of players still that are not signed. You look around and see that they’re all different teams that have different structures and different salary systems and different contracts on their books that are wide-ranging. There is no real common denominator. I think everyone is hopeful in the coming week here it will start to shake loose and all of this will come to its conclusion; that these players will be back playing and teams and their fans will be happy to have them.
Have GMs called about Mitch?
Dubas: I think GMs have called about every player on our team. They call us and say, “What’s going on? Would you ever consider moving him?” They always preface it with that it’s not a real serious trade call. It’s just more of a [feeler]. It’s a, “If it ever gets to that point, call us back,” type of thing. There has been really not a lot of serious talk.
As the leeway of the offseason starts to disappear, is there a chance an offer sheet pops up here?
Dubas: I’ve seen that speculation and heard it from various places. I don’t know. The previous offer sheet that happened was in-season. I might have missed one going back to Ryan O’Reilly, but I think that one was in season. It wouldn’t be unprecedented. I just think that the cap space that each team has has largely been used. There are teams that certainly have the ability to do that if they wish, but also the off-season cap space is going to expire in about a month as well. Does that make it more likely or less likely? Does some team strategize to get to that point and then do it? I don’t know. There has been one this summer and there hadn’t been one for a long time. It certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented for one to happen in-season.
If another team even has discussions with one of your players about an offer sheet, do you have to be aware of that?
Dubas: The only time we would become aware is if they basically send in the offer sheet paperwork to us.
Are you worried or do you believe that he could play for Zurich?
Dubas: It goes back into the different provisions within the CBA once a player plays in Europe. It’s clearing waivers coming back once they’ve played professionally over there. II don’t know. To me, I don’t worry about that. If that’s an avenue they want to go down and explore for practicing or playing, then it doesn’t affect our stance on the situation. I don’t think we are going to be moved by the Zurich Lions, frankly. No offense to the Zurich Lions, but yeah.
You have one defenseman signed after this season. You have a pretty good goalie who is up in a couple of years. You have a young center you just signed to a five-year contract. People are debating how big the window actually is. How big do you think it is?
Dubas: I think it is a fascinating debate and one that comes up all the time, especially when young teams come to the forefront. We are still a very young team. You’ve got Spezza and then the next person in age is Muzzin, who is 30. It is not an old team by any stretch, right? The way that we look at it is that we are trying to build a group that can contend as long as possible.
It is interesting. When the Raptors won, people come up to you and say, “Make the big trade… Get the Kawhi Leonard of hockey!” It’s interesting because it disregards a lot of the process that went into it and the different ups and downs they had. Great series against Brooklyn, then they’re the favourite and get swept by Washington. Three years in a row they lose to Cleveland. Finally, this year, they punch their way through.
Very rarely there are times where your first or second try you push all the way through and you win. Whether it’s a Pittsburgh type situation — they get there in Crosby’s fourth year, I think, and then it’s seven years before you get back. With them, a lot of the same stuff could’ve been said about the window. The way we look at it is that we are trying to build a team that has as long of a window as possible and as our current core players start to age out way in the distance, we are continuing to develop and evolve guys behind them that can carry it on.
We have never had any discussion internally about how long our window is or anything like that. You can always look at the contracts of key guys whether it’s John or Auston or Morgan and Fred and when they’re up, or Mitch in time, and say, “That’s when they have to win it.” We see with Washington and St. Louis and even Pittsburgh coming back again and winning twice in a row, it is so hard to predict. Our key is to just try to give our team and our fan base and everybody that supports as as many chances as possible to contend and hopefully once — hopefully more — punch it through.
Are you going to have a captain this year?
Dubas: We’ll see. I think a lot about it. No disrespect to the other teams in the league; they all have great fan bases and they operate differently. Here, I saw when Dion was the captain the expectations in terms of the public handling of issues every day and the ability to remain calm and stoic as the water gets a little rough. Being able to be the calming presence is such a vital, vital thing when we do have a captain in time.
Last year, I was a little bit more aggressive in saying, “I don’t know if we need to have one. We’ve got a great group. We’re going to see how they evolve throughout the year and let some of the guys that are incoming like John — who had been a captain before — get comfortable and see where we are at.” You go through a year with them and you start to see from my position what it is really going to entail to be the captain of this team and what person is going to handle it.
We are fortunate that we do have a number of guys that I think can fill that role now or in time. It’s just trying to sort through and make sure we do the right thing. It’s something I’ve been asked about a lot and everyone with our team has been asked about a lot. It carries a lot of importance to everyone within the city and the region. When we do make that step in time, we want to make sure we’ve got it right. I am a lot closer to saying yes now than a year ago on that front.
You are saying you would like one at some point?
Dubas: Yeah, at some point. Before, I was a little bit more saying, “I don’t know if it’s as important anymore and I don’t know that it carries the same weight.” Going through the year and the different things that would come up, I certainly started to change my mind on that for sure.