Kyle Dubas joined the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast at the first intermission of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ game versus Colorado, discussing the changes coming under Sheldon Keefe, Nazem Kadri’s comments about his bitterness about how he found out about the trade last July, and the toughness of the team.
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What a great start for Sheldon Keefe and for you. A lot of us felt it was an inevitability that for you to be your authentic self as a GM, and for the team you want, you needed Sheldon. How long have you wrestled with making the change?
Dubas: I don’t think we started to even wrestle with it until the last couple of weeks. It starts to enter into your mind for better or worse. I think you’re always hopeful the team will find its way out and things will rectify themselves. I have a little bit of experience at a lower level of dealing with something similar. Sheldon was the person brought in as well. I was sure hopeful right through last week that we would be able to get things on track here. When it was clear that that wasn’t going to happen, it was made all that much easier by the relationship that Sheldon and I have and Sheldon being with the Marlies and being an easy fit and knowing how we want to work together.
Everyone is looking at the puck possession and cycling back. It’s skill. Mike likes to teach tactics in practices, not skill. He does that in the summertime. Does Sheldon differ in that regard? Does he have skills sessions and a different approach to practicing?
Dubas: I don’t know how it is going to go in the NHL with the differences in the schedule and so on, but in the American league with the Marlies, and then even going back to Sault Ste. Marie, we would dedicate full practices and full days to individual technical development. I think we have had a very brief discussion on it now. With the change happening when it did, we have been focused on getting in and getting rolling for these two games in Arizona and tonight in Colorado. When we get our chance to go through the schedule, we will both have ambitions to incorporate that technical development piece for all of our players. We both share the belief that every single person that we have can continue to get better and continue to improve. If we are only going to do that in the summer, we are leaving a little bit on the table. Even with Mike, after a few years, we began to incorporate that as well. It won’t be totally new to the players.
Nazem Kadri felt he was stunned by the fact that the trade happened over a phone call. Want to rebut?
Dubas: I don’t think there is any rebut. I just think the reality of the situation… I’d love to be able to call every player that we trade and tell them they are being traded, but the reality is as soon as the trade call happens, it was July 1st and we were in our war room in Toronto. As soon as the trade call is done, you’ve got to get in touch with the players and let them know right away. You’re dealing with minutes and seconds in some cases before it gets out somehow. The main ambition on that day was merely to call Naz and let him know he had been traded and thank him for his time. He was a gigantic part of helping turn our program around here. We just felt at the time that, with Tyson Barre and Alex Kerfoot coming in, it was a good trade for us and a good trade for Colorado and was going to be a good thing for him as well.
I think our organization has begun to become very good at honoring the players when they come in and that they were a big part of that. We saw that earlier in the year with the Ottawa players and those that have come in the past like Dion Phaneuf and others. Naz will have his day in a few days when Colorado comes.
There are no excuses for it. There was a phone call, but I don’t know anything that we could do in this day and age to improve how that message gets relayed now.
Toughness — earlier in the season, your new captain gets rolled by Shea Weber. You have Auston Matthews hit by Brendan Dillon. Certainly, Tom Wilson was running around. We had an example of others. Young Rasmus Sandin got hit by Justin Abdelkader. What do you say about that?
Dubas: Obviously, you never like to see that. We don’t want to be a team where teams come into our building and they go on the road and they think they can take free runs at our players. I’ve heard that throughout the league that teams feel that way. We want our guys to be tough as a group and as a team. If something happens, they know if the entire group is going to be in there.
We’ve looked at it every which way. Adding somebody — we’d love to have some of the players that you mentioned there, a few in particular that are very good players who can also bring that physical element. It is something we’ll continue to look for, but we are not going to sacrifice the talent base with our skill to bring in an enforcer type. I think our guys have shown here as they build their confidence and get rolling, they’ve been much better at jumping in and helping one another and supporting one another. That is really what we want to see.
I know that is not going to satiate everybody. We could be proven very wrong on it, but that’s our belief and we sure hope our guys will just continue to build on that.