Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas addressed the media on the opening day of 2019 training camp, covering Mitch Marner’s absence from camp and the status of contract negotiations, the captaincy decision, and the revamped coaching staff.
Dubas’ full remarks are below, edited and organized for clarity and readability.
Dubas: I’ll start off just with a roster update: Four injuries to start camp, two everyone knows — Dermott (shoulder), Hyman (knee). Both continuing to rehab. We’ve got Garrett Wilson (hamstring) and he’ll likely miss definitely camp and most of preseason as he rehabs from that. Joseph Woll (broken finger) will start getting on the ice this week and we’ll see where he is at as we get rolling from there.
Kyle Dubas on the Mitch Marner negotiation: There are going to be no grudges from our end of things whatsoever
Dubas: I just want to address the Mitch Marner situation. I am happy to address the matter today. He obviously not here for the beginning of camp. I am happy to address the matter today and take your questions today, but after that, we won’t have anything from our end until there is a solution to the matter one way or another. I give you the opportunity now to ask anything you want. Until we have something finished, beyond that, it will be radio silence from us.
How is this situation similar to Willy last year and how are they different?
Dubas: I don’t think they’re all too similar. There are obviously some similarities. But William’s situation is one we discussed a lot. It was really a three, four-month process. This one has been much longer than that. I think one of the things we learned is, once it starts, continuing to give updates and continuing to discuss it, I think, is not always the best. I know it doesn’t serve the media and the public overly well, but in learning from that, I think that is why we want to handle it that way and roll from there. We are still just continuing to stay in contact and trying to find a way to a solution. We won’t let too much time go by in waiting each other out and go from there.
As time goes by, the team is becoming more and more yours. The ideal is something you’ll always be chasing, but do you think you’re closer now to accomplishing that?
Dubas: I don’t ever look at it just as mine. It is ours. I am just a member of the organization and I’m trying to carry out the vision that we all have when it comes to player acquisition, drafting, player development, and so on and so forth. The members of our staff — every day we move forward, we are trying to get one day closer to being at the best we can be. Today, I don’t think we are necessarily there yet. I don’t know if you ever really are. But every day going forward, we’re trying to find the best we can be each day.
We talk about the process… I know it’s not as fancy as talking about great outcomes or anything like that, but I think that is what we are focused on right now: Making sure we are set today for tomorrow and going on ice and getting all the systems and such that Mike wants to get in place and get rolling, and continuing to carry on from there. I don’t ever look at this as mine. I think it belongs to the city, the organization, and the players much more than it does to me.
Assuming Mitch is going to get signed at some point in time, how important is the core of this team given almost a third of the team has been turned over?
Dubas: Once we get that situation cleared, we’ll have everything kind of settled we hope for a while. We hope more and more players play their way into what we consider the core of the group, right? Whether that’s guy who are going to get a better opportunity now, or young players from the Marlies who we think have a lot of promise, we hope more and more players get added to that group and it just carries on.
I think stability is an important thing. There have been a lot of changes to the roster through trade and free agency — players departing more so in free agency more than we added. The more the group has time together to continue to build their bond and stay on that track, the better for the whole group.
Once you get Mitch done and Hyman and Dermott are back from injury, will you have provided Mike with the roster that can win the Stanley Cup?
Dubas: I know it disappoints a lot of people, but I don’t ever look at it as, “Can this roster do X?” It is really, “Can this roster give us chances to accomplish those types of things? Can the roster that is put together at the beginning of the year get better each day and game throughout and weather different storms and adversities that come its way during the season and roll from there?”
Mike has proven he is a coach capable of winning the Stanley Cup. He has been to the Finals on two other occasions and gone to Game 7 in both of those. I know the coaching staff, with their work ethic and preparation and adding Paul McFarland and Dave Hakstol, are going to do their part. I have a lot of faith in the core of the group that they are going to as well. We’ll just continue to keep rolling every day here and try to be the best we can be every day. In the end, you hope that you get some fortune and you step up in key moments and it results in success.
Going back to Mitch, with where things stand in the market with your cap and everything, is his side being reasonable in their demands?
Dubas: I think in every negotiation, everybody thinks on their side that they’re being reasonable. I think the major argument then comes down to arguing about who is more reasonable than the other. It happens in every negotiation we have, whether it’s at home or in business or an appointment or public contract negotiations like this where there is obviously a strong public investment in the matter and people care deeply about the team.
At times, they’ve probably thought we haven’t been reasonable and I would say it’s vice versa in every negotiation that we do. I don’t try to get too tied into that. Mitch is a great player. He is a great person that comes in every day and brings great energy and enthusiasm. He has obviously had a great three years here. We are just trying to bring it to a conclusion and always keep that in mind regardless of what the noise is around the situation.
Given that it appears that you will be operating in LTIR this year, how much more complicated will it be to complete an in-season deal should you not get one done ahead of time?
Dubas: It’s obviously something we have to plan for. Without boring anyone with the nuances of the LTI calculations and contract calculations as they get in season, it is a factor. Everybody knows that already. It has been publicly reported. I was asked earlier about the differences between William and Mitch — that is a significant difference that will impact it as we come closer to October 2.
Does it have to be done by October 2nd?
Dubas: I mean, we sure hope so. We don’t want to think about going into the season without Mitch on the roster opening night. We didn’t want it to get to this point without him here, either. I think that’s been publicly stated a number of times, but it certainly impacts all of that for sure.
How confident are you you can get a deal done before the regular season?
Dubas: I’ll stick with the same answer I’ve given for a long time now: I am optimistic that we will. You don’t want to envision the team missing players at any point. We are hopeful we’ll get it done. We’ve gone through this last year. I would feel a little differently, I think, personally if there weren’t other situations around the league that were sort of in this same stalemate position. I don’t know if any of the other situations have solved themselves this morning or the time I came over here, but I think that will influence things as well.
Do you have any concern it can’t be repaired and that when Marner resumes his NHL career, it’s not going to be in Toronto?
Dubas: I don’t ever like to think that way — that Mitch would play anywhere else but here. He is a big part of what we do. He is an extraordinarily talented player. In addition to that, even though these negotiations can go ways in which the public can form a different opinion, he is an excellent person that walks in here every day with great energy and enthusiasm and brings a lot of life to our club.
In the end, I think these things happen. With William, there were some heated times as well, but that relationship is excellent. I have faith, as with all of these things, that once it comes to a solution, we will have to have a very blunt discussion about things and then we’ll carry on. There are going to be no grudges from our end of things whatsoever.
With Marner, as you get closer to the regular season, it becomes more difficult to manage. How much does a potential offer sheet weigh into how you approach it over the next few weeks or so?
Dubas: I’ve got two parts to my answer on this. The first is that the potential of an offer sheet has been there since July. As few offer sheets as there have been, there have been fewer in-season. I think there has been one in-season offer sheet and there have been more in the offseason. It is a possibility. There are no rules against it. It is a mechanism which teams can use to acquire talent for their teams. If it happens, as we said leading into the draft, we’ll make our decision then and address it.
I think that the second part to my answer is that one of the things we are really looking forward in our group this year — not only our players and our staff but everyone around it — is that we have to really start to begin to get better at weathering these types of things. We spend a lot of time talking about Tampa and Boston and they are obviously rivals in our division — very good teams. I think the thing we can learn from them, rather than being obsessed with them, is how they deal with different things that happen throughout the year. You look back at last year and Boston missed Chara for a month and a half, McAvoy for more than that, Bergeron for an extended period, Pastrnak for a month and a half. They just keep rolling on.
What I am really looking forward in our group and everyone around our team completely is how we weather those things. If we are going to continue to take steps as an organization, we have to be able to accept it is athletics. Whether it’s contracts, surprise injuries, retirement or ineffectiveness, things are going to happen that we didn’t expect. If we want to continue to take the right steps, we have to whether those and just keep the train rolling on the tracks. The rest of the league doesn’t stop. That’s really the one thing, early on in the season, that I am looking for in our group.
Kyle Dubas on Mike Babcock, the coaching staff, and the new assistants
You’ll have two new assistants on the staff this year. What attracted you to Paul McFarland and Hakstol as candidates and how do you think they are going to have an impact?
Dubas: When it comes to the assistants, they’re a personal thing for Mike. The way we handled it is that Mike, right after our season ended… We had Paul McFarland as a guest coach at our development camp at Niagara on the Lake in 2016. He had coached with DJ before. When he got let go in Florida and we knew there were going to be some changes here, I knew that was going to be a guy Mike would really want. Paul is a really intelligent person and he has had great success with the power play and faceoffs in Florida. I’ll let Mike talk more in-depth with him.
As we went about replacing DJ once DJ moved on to Ottawa a little bit later, Mike and I had a great discussion about a number of different people. Mike led the charge there in terms of who he would want and what direction he wanted to go in. We just kind of worked together on that. In the end, it has to be his call with his assistants.
We are really excited about both guys. They have brought a lot already to the table. Dave obviously already has experience as a head coach in Philadelphia plus working with college athletes at North Dakota. It is a unique offering that is different than what we had before. We will miss DJ and Jim a lot, but we are excited about Paul and Dave.
That is a key part of our camp: As a coaching staff, they are going to be together and coaching for the first time and continuing to get used to each other, but I know from the summer, they have worked extraordinarily hard to get ready. As Mike will tell you — it’s a better question for him — they met when they didn’t need to meet anymore because they had worked on so much throughout the year. I am excited to see them all work together.
What is your relationship with the coach now as it’s evolved over the last four or five years of working together?
Dubas: We talk every day, sometimes multiple times per day. I think the thing after the first three years together, where I was in a different role, you obviously get to know each other. You are not working as closely as we did last season. You take last season and you begin to get used to each other and at the end of the year, reflect on how it went and how we want to operate going ahead into the summer and into the year. It has been great. We talk a lot. We disagree as any coach and GM do a lot. We agree on a lot of things and we work through it all.
They key is, on the areas you disagree, that you respect one another and you work through all that. I think we have worked on that throughout the season and throughout the summer just with some honest discussion. It has been very, very enjoyable. I am excited for the season for it.
There was some criticism of his handling of ice time in Game 7 and other stuff in the playoff series. You said after the season that your job had to be evaluating that. When you looked at how Mike handled this team last year, was there stuff that you needed to adjust and you needed to come together on in terms of shared vision and how you are going to move forward here?
Dubas: At the end of every year, when it is a GM and coach relationship, you want to talk about what the vision is for the club. At the end of every year, you are not going to win every year, but even if you have a great season that went as best as it could’ve gone in the circumstances, even at those times, you want to be changing and adapting and now staying stale. We spend a lot of time talking about all of that. We spend a lot of time talking about the players and their usage and Mike’s ideal way of dealing with it.
I think we are certainly on the same page there. I know everyone looks at that Game 7 and bring it up all the time, particularly with Auston, but I think if you look at the series as a whole, we are trying to match them depth for depth, right? You can’t just throw all your guys out there all the time, maximize their minutes, and burn them out. We always want to be adapting and learning from what went wrong and how we can change it. The players are also welcome to give their opinion on it and they have as well.
For us, we need to continue to improve the overall conditioning of the group. Once the players grow and mature that way, they’ll be able to handle more and more. It’s trying to manage that. It’s still a very young group at the same time. I am not saying their conditioning is more; just that we need to continue to be improving on that so that when we get to the end, we know they have the gas in the tank and they can outlast the other teams and handle more responsibility. We all have to learn that together. You can’t just throw it on the coach or the players. I deserve my share of that as well.
Kyle Dubas on naming a captain: “We’ve got a great number of leaders”
Do you anticipate naming a captain at some point during this camp?
Dubas: I don’t know is the most honest answer I can give. We talk about it frequently. I think a lot of it is driven by the fact that everyone in here likes to talk about it. It is a good topic to write about on days when there maybe isn’t the most interesting stuff. You just go right to captain — that’s the easy button, I feel.
A year ago, I may have stood here and had different conversations where I didn’t think it was the most important thing. I think now, with what we have seen going through a season with the group, we’ve got a great number of leaders in there. They are all independently capable of probably doing the job.
Here, I think it is a very different job than it may be elsewhere. The ability to come in every day and be the face of the team and carry the message of the team is very important to us. The one thing we don’t want to do is rush to make it happen and say it is done only to regret it later versus waiting until we are absolutely 100% sure. We are going to be absolutely certain about that because it is an important thing to the community and the organization.
Myself, Shanny and Babs will continue to discuss it. At the appropriate time, if we go down that path, we’ll be sure to let everyone know in whatever way Steve [Keogh] wants to roll it out.