General Manager Kyle Dubas addressed the media in between periods of the season opener versus Ottawa to discuss the decision to appoint John Tavares as team captain.
Was it an obvious choice given the experience and pedigree John Tavares brings to the job?
Dubas: We think he was a great choice, but one of the major benefits that we had is that we had a number of candidates for the position. We were able to go through each player. Not that there was anything overly negative about any of them; it was legitimately a case where we felt we had a number of players that could carry that honour. In the end, we just decided as a collective group that John fit the role the absolute best at this time and that’s how we were going to go ahead.
Obviously, he is very well deserving. Everything has already been written and said about him and we haven’t learned anything new about him since he came here. I think that is, in the end, the reason for it. He is everything that we thought he would be. There is nothing negative about him whatsoever. It is great for him and a great honour for him and his family.
Did anything change after the Matthews incident?
Dubas: No, not at all. This was exactly what we had planned and what we had discussed well before that. It didn’t affect our decision-making whatsoever.
When did you actually have the conversation with John to say we want you to be the captain?
Dubas: We told John and his family. We had them in on Monday afternoon — this past Monday afternoon.
How did that go?
Dubas: It was great. I think Steve has got some of that coverage forthcoming from our people and our staff — discussions with John. He and his wife and the young little guy — the youngest of ours — were a big part of it. It was a nice moment and it was great to be able to share it with them.
How did you decide on how you wanted to announce the captain?
Dubas: I think we went through a number of things. You look at the way it’s been done here before. In the end, we decided that we wanted to share it with the most fans that we could at the same time. With the arena sold out and with it being opening night and the number of people that will be watching, plus we just thought it would be important for our players and for our group… Sort of an understated way of doing it. No real pomp and circumstance. I know it may have been drawn out a little bit longer than everyone would’ve liked, but we thought it fit the person who was getting the honour and best fit what we were trying to do as an organization.
Was it a factor that he had been a captain before?
Dubas: Not really. It was nice that he has done that before, but we think being the captain here is probably a very different type of thing here than it is in most places in the league. We just felt that he could best execute that.
Why is this the right time for the organization to have a captain?
Dubas: Seeing the team evolve and seeing the guys evolve, and also knowing all that John brought… But seeing, rather than just doing it right away or when he first came in, what he brought to our group each day — because I think each group is different and the impact of people coming and going and the different fabrics of those organizations is different… Seeing the way he was last year, I think, really put it over the top with us.
How are the assistant captains going to work?
Dubas: Morgan will wear his permanently. Auston and Mitch will rotate throughout the season. We feel that both Auston and Mitch are key leaders for our team. They just happen to be the youngest leaders. We look at our goal as continuing to help them grow, but both of them have shown in the various ways they do it — they’re both very different people — leadership for our group. We hope to continue to see them grow on and off the ice. Morgan — it goes without saying has been an excellent leader for us for a long time. That is why his alternate captain symbol is permanent.
Did you have conversations with Morgan and Matthews about it? How did they take it that they won’t be wearing the C?
Dubas: Mitch always gets left out of the mix here [laughs]. It was good. We had conversations with all of them and then we had a conversation as a collective group. It was great. Morgan is outstanding. We went through it all with Auston last week and introduced it to the group throughout the week.
I don’t want to answer for them. They can give you the blow by blow later tonight. I think they all understood that as we looked at it — you talk to the players and you talk to the staff — that it became obvious that John was going to be the guy.
Mike Babcock said yesterday that Muzzin is the off-ice leader fo the team and the road leader of the team. Why not him as one of the As?
Dubas: We thought about him. I think when we look at our leadership group, or when I look at it, I also include Muzzin, Hyman and Fred Andersen. When we meet with the leadership group of the team intermittently throughout the season and regularly, it also includes those three — the four guys that got the official designation today, plus those guys as well.
Jake has got a great personality. He has a great way of socializing with everybody within the team and making them feel welcome and a part of it. He organizes a lot of the stuff that goes on. It’s probably something the players can better speak to than I can in my role. After initially settling in here, he has been a big part and an excellent part of the group continuing to evolve — both with his experience and what he has brought with him from LA and with his personality in general, which we knew before.
We considered all different things, but in the end, we just decided to go ahead with that. Those guys — the other three that I mentioned in Hyman, Muzzin, Andersen — are a big part of our leadership group as well.
In regards to Jason Spezza, there is some thought that maybe you and Mike are not on the same page regarding his role on the team. What was the conversation like regarding him not playing tonight?
Dubas: I would say that Mike and I are 100% on the same page. Mike, as he outlined earlier today, had his rationale and reasoning. I know it is disappointing for Jason. I get why it is a discussion. As we judge these things, by the end of the season, we want to see how it went overall. I get that today is a big occasion and can be seen in whatever light it is seen as as it pertains to Jason, but we want to look back at the end of the year and say it was a real positive for him. This was the best way it was decided to go about that despite the disappointment today.
When you and Mike met with Jason to map out what his role could be on his team, what was that role described as for him?
Dubas: Going back to that at the end of June, the discussion was very transparent in terms of what it was going to be. It was before we had completed the trade, so we still had Naz on the team. Looking at the centers, he knew we had Tavares, knew we had Matthews, and knew we had Kadri at the time and that became Kerfoot. It was laid out very clearly those are what we had.
We saw his role as competing for that center spot on that fourth line but also has the versatility to move to the wing. He’s done that a little bit in Dallas as well. That was what it was laid out to be. That remains the intention. We’ll continue to get him rolling here and he’ll be back at it on Friday.
With former Marlies like Rasmus Sandin and Dmytro Timashov making their debuts tonight, what are your thoughts on their graduation process?
Dubas: I think they have taken very different routes. Sandin came in right out of junior from the Soo. We weren’t sure whether he was going to play on the Marlies last year or go back to Sault Ste. Marie. He was outstanding for the Marlies and he has carried that through in the early portion of training camp.
Timashov has had a very different route. He was battling to get in with the Marlies. When you look at the beginning of camp, he had to climb over a lot of guys in camp to get here. He did a little bit of the harder way, per se. Rasmus just worked and worked and continued to impress.
It is always great when you see guys take different journeys to get there. We’ve got a team full of them. As everybody knows, we are going to need players that are coming from all different avenues and all different paths to be able to come up with our group and have success and continue to supplement what we have. The focus of our organization will really now shift to development down there. It will be imperative for us both in terms of our young players that are down there and in terms of the players that you would see more as older depth guys.
With Timothy Liljegren, there is no real point to having him sit, right?
Dubas: We’ll have something here after the game with him. I agree with you. There is no reason for him to sit. It was good experience having him here for a few days and there were different implications of it. We’ll have him back up and rolling. He’ll go back to the role he was in previously with the Marlies on their top pair and just keep rolling along and keep developing.
What is it like having a pro’s pro as your captain?
Dubas: I think what we all like about it… I think everyone knows what it is like to play here and operate here. There is so much great about it. It can also be a place — because the passion is great from everybody — where there can always be something around the corner that is going to come up. Someone that goes about his habits and his business every day so consistently and so calmly I think sets such a good example for everybody in our locker room — not only in our dressing room but our whole organization. That is something we value in John. You can call him a pro’s pro; there are so many ways to describe him and what he does, but we feel very fortunate and happy he is in that role.
Is it different to be a captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens than a lot of places where those things don’t come into play?
Dubas: I’ve never worked in those places. I can only speak to going around to them and seeing the way they handle those types of things, and talking to those teams and how they handle the captaincy. There is probably more of those cities you could add to that list — whether it’s the Rangers, Bruins, the Original Six markets or even some that have grown rapidly into great hockey markets — where being the captain of the team means a little bit more both in terms of handling the passion of the fans and the amount of media and thus what happens when a crisis hits and how that impacts it… It just seems more impactful than maybe in other markets.
But it’s honestly maybe more a question that you all can answer with your experience of traveling around and seeing the impact in different places better than I. This has the only place I’ve been in the league so far.
How did you decide on how you told John Tavares and how he found out he was going to be captain? Whose idea was it? It was an incredibly emotional thing.
Dubas: The creativity behind it all is standing to my left in Steve Keogh. It was just a brainstorming session and he came up with it and handled the production and direction. It was a great idea and a great moment. That is where the credit is due. Steve Keogh and Leanne Hederson in my office handled it, and Shanny jumped on board. That is not my area of expertise at all. I was just given an assignment and executed it and tried not to screw it up.