Kyle Dubas joined Tim and Sid on Thursday evening to discuss the firing of Mike Babcock, the hiring of Sheldon Keefe, Tyson Barrie’s tough start to the season, and what fans can expect in the Keefe era.
Was Saturday the tipping point for you? You look at a large body of evidence to make decisions; however, when you left that arena on Pittsburgh in Saturday, did you know this had to happen?
Dubas: I think the nature of the loss — you would never leave the arena, no matter where you’re at as an organization, feeling good about a loss like that. I think it just added to a number of the things that were sort of building and entering into our thinking. I wouldn’t say it was the tipping point, but rather, a pretty big contributing piece of evidence to where we were heading as an organization.
What do you hope that this gets across to your team by firing the head coach?
Dubas: I think what we were hoping it gets across is that we have a lot of belief in the group. I know that, given our current record, there would be a lot of people who would doubt that and I respect that. I totally understand why there is skepticism and doubt about the group and composition of the group and the performance of the players and the performance of management and the performance of the coaches.
There is a reason why people had high expectations for the group heading into the season. It is capable with its talent level of accomplishing great things. Our hope is that change can spur some differences in the way that we play and the way that we operate and help to get us towards reaching that potential — which I know is a dangerous word, but that is really what we are hoping for.
The decision not to do this in the summer — what did you hear from Mike in the summer that didn’t match what was happening on the ice in the first 23 games?
Dubas: First off, I understand that when you make those types of decisions at the end of seasons, the intention is that everything is going to work out. You are going to have some discussions with one another and figure out what the differences are, as you would with any coach. I’ve only worked in hockey, so for better or worse, at the end of the year, as I said at the end of the year, Shanny will evaluate me and I would, in turn, evaluate the rest. With everybody, we wanted to sit with them and sort of outline what we were looking for and where we wanted to go.
The blame falls on me that we weren’t able to bridge those gaps in terms of style and incorporating the players in. As Sheldon alluded today, a little bit of the spirit and energy of the group began to fade here in the last stretch as things weren’t going our way. That is what I saw and our organization saw that made us move towards the change. Mike did a lot of great things for the organization and we were in a very different spot when he arrived with where we were at.
It’s a little bit disingenuous now given the events of yesterday, but we really appreciate those and I think, in the long run, those will serve the organization very well.
Brendan Shanahan said he wanted everyone to know you guys are aligned in how you see the team. Do you feel that you lost some of that cooperation along the way with Mike Babcock?
Dubas: Mike and I have worked together for parts of five seasons. You never want a whole organization of people who think the exact same way, but I think everybody who works here would know that we have different ways of thinking. You don’t want everyone thinking the exact same thing about every topic, but I think when you really find success is when you can sharpen the contrast and bring them together to benefit every facet of the group. The players aren’t the same, either. What I think about the players and systems isn’t going to work for everybody, and same with Mike.
I think we felt as an organization — Brendan, myself, others in management — in this last stretch here that those differences were probably not going to be bridged and it was probably time and best for everybody to have a fresh start and move on.
Tyson Barrie has struggled. Obviously, you have a lot of faith in him. Has he in any way said he is unhappy in the organization and would like a move in his contract year? Has he said that at tall? Has there been interest from other teams around the league?
Dubas: Number one, there has been interest. Number two, it has never been asked of us from Tyson or his representation at Newport Sports to move him. I think in the last week or so, with any player — especially one who is so accomplished, not just statistically but you watch what you see when you’re scouting him in the past with Colorado… certainly, his form was not at that level. Any new player that comes into a new organization, there is some challenges. In Tyson’s case, he is also coming to the organization in a very important year in his life and his career overall. He is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and there is a lot riding on the line. The pressure of trying to adjust, and once he starts to feel he is not living up to his usual standard for himself, the pressure aspect comes into it.
Tyson and I have had great discussions especially over the last stretch just trying to help him find that and show him the reasons and what we saw when we acquired him, and even some of the great moments he’s had here. You look at the statline and look at the glaring moments — I think every defenseman who has offensive instincts and good offensive ambition are going to have moments where it doesn’t go perfectly. Showing him that the player we acquired is right in there and we just need to bring it out of him, and we just need to bring it out of him — we are committed to doing that as long as he is willing to put in the work. I think anyone who knows him or who has ever played with him knows that he is going to put in the work and he wants to be a great player.
In terms of your roster as a whole, could there be change coming? You’re handcuffed in certain areas, but between now and February 24th, where is your head at right now?
Dubas: I think we want to give the team here just a run of play to see how they respond to Sheldon and let Sheldon begin to put in some of the different tactical items that he wants to put in and begin down that road. He and I have always in the past and will continue to talk and we will look at the players who are available. Maybe there are players that are better fits for us now than they would’ve been and we can go down that path. I think a lot of teams are in that spot where they are right up against the cap or they are into long-term injury. I think everyone in the league, save for a few who have a big amount of cap space, will be having to get creative on transactions as the year comes along.
We have a great support staff here with Brandon Pridham, Laurence Gilman and Daryl Metcalf. They have always got a number of ideas and different awys we can go about things to try to help us. We will take a look at everything, but we have a strong belief in the group. There are going to be some bumps along the way and it is not going to be easy off the bat making a change where the coach has literally no practice time. It is certainly not optimal and that is my fault. I think you want to give the group a stretch to get going here and see where we are at, and then evaluate where we are at well before the deadline and see what we might need.
What are you most excited about Sheldon Keefe bringing to the table?
Dubas: He and I have worked together for a long time — I think it’s been seven years or seven-plus years that we worked together, so we know each other well. We’ve got a good relationship. What he will bring to the table is his ability to breathe some life into the group that needs it and inspire the players to be free and be creative, but with the expectation that that just doesn’t come with no regard for the defensive end. There is going to be a certain level of tenacity required defensively. Our goal will be to stay on offense and when we have the puck, keep it. When we don’t have it, work as hard as we possibly can to get it back as soon as we possibly can.
We have a roster that hasn’t played to the level everyone expects yet, but it is a very talented, creative group. With Sheldon, he’ll focus on getting the most out of what that talent base is and then where we are lacking, that will be up to me to adapt and add and try to get our organization to continue to take steps in a positive direction.
On your end, do you just call Sheldon Keefe and say, “It’s go time,” and hang up? Take us to the inside because you two have known each other for a long time.
Dubas: Without being too into the inner workings of it, it was all very fast because of the timing of it. It wasn’t a whole long process. There also wasn’t anybody else considered and I don’t think there needed to be given what we know about Sheldon. Yesterday morning, after the Marlies were done, he and I had a discussion and conversation. We very quickly had to move things along. That was essentially exactly that. “This is it. Here is what is happening. Here is what we have decided to do as an organization. Here is what the day is going to look like.”
Given our relationship, I don’t think there was a lot that he needed to ask about me in terms of where my expectations were, or me for him, either. That eliminated what would’ve been a frantic day that would’ve been even more complex than I’ve already elected to make it. It made it all pretty easy, and then we were just trying to knock down all of the various different things that needed to happen.
We are fortunate that we are two hours behind so that gave us a little bit more time in terms of people getting out here at a reasonable hour and rolling from there. As difficult as it was, on the one hand, I am disappointed we couldn’t make it work with Mike, but on the other hand, I am excited to be working with Sheldon. He and I have had a very good working relationship in the past. I know this is the highest level and the most challenging level and will provide the greatest amount of resistance to what we will try to do, but I am excited to work on that together.