Kyle Dubas addressed the media on Thursday to discuss the acquisition of Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford, Morgan Rielly’s status, the prospect of further moves before the trade deadline, and the team sitting on the outside of a playoff spot.
How important was your relationship with the two players involved in terms of getting this deal done?
Dubas: You know their character and you know what they’re about. It gives you a little bit more security in terms of the type of people that you are bringing in, but through all of our experiences — whether it’s my own, Shanny, Laurence, Brandon, [Hakstol], Paul MacFarland — we’ve been around — some longer than others — and you get to know lots of different players. You do feel a little bit more comfortable when you certainly know the quality of the people you’re getting in terms of their character and work ethic.
But that doesn’t mean anything unless they’re good enough to play, which we feel that both of them certainly are. A lot of that is circumstantial; they just happened to be on a team that was looking to acquire draft picks and younger players, and we are on the opposite side of it. It is circumstantial, but when the circumstances are right, I think it was certainly helpful to have a good background with people. I think it makes it easier for us knowing what we are getting and easier for them knowing some of the people here.
The timing is obviously of note. Why now versus maybe weeks or even a month ago?
Dubas: If it had been available to do then, we would’ve done it then. I think teams take their time. As you are all in the business of knowing, this seems to be the time of year where more things tend to get done as the deadline creeps up. That is really it. We had been looking at investigating it, and if we can improve the team earlier, we’d like to do that, especially when we are going to be giving up assets. When you are paying for something, you’d like to be able to use it a little bit longer. We are still a few weeks ahead of the deadline and it was clear into the week and even earlier last week that teams were getting ready to act. We felt we needed to strike and go from there.
Was there more urgency with Frederik Andersen’s status?
Dubas: I think so. It was a position where you’re always worried about the depth. It is hard to really articulate how you go through it because you fear that with every player on your team. If a key player… We’re going through it with Morgan now and Freddy, and you’re always a little bit — especially with the goalie position in hockey — [worried], “if the number one guy goes down, how does the team respond?”
There are teams in the league that are built a little bit differently in terms of their goaltending situation. They’ve gone to more of a tandem type of situation, and I know that gets a lot of press, but with us, we have a strong belief in Fred and what he is capable of over a season in being a bonafide number-one guy. But you do always have that fear of, “What if something happens to him?” You trust his work and how much we have been able to rely on him, but unfortunately, he’s got the injury. I think that led us to move quickly down the path, yeah.
What does Kyle Clifford bring in his skill set that you found attractive?
Dubas: I think he has some elements that we don’t have in abundance. Number one, he is still a player that you don’t have to hide. He doesn’t need to play 2-3 minutes a night. He’s played a good portion of minutes for LA when they won, and even now he is continuing to progress with their group as they go through a different transition. We feel like he is obviously a very competitive player but he is able to drive the play to the other end of the ice. He will be able to play in the bottom end of our lineup and do those things with our group and hopefully, get our team onto offense and let our big guys come out in the offensive zone and roll from there.
There is the on ice with him and then the off ice, which is his character and how competitive he is, and his work ethic in the gym and in practice. Right now, we’ve got just a few months left, but I think he’ll make a big impact here right away knowing his personality.
Is it fair to say it is a bit of a shift in roster construction in going with a guy who has more grit or is more willing to drop the gloves? Is that a fair assessment?
Dubas: To me, it doesn’t matter… The fighting part is a tough thing to want someone to go out there and do that. I know it is part of the game, but it is a difficult thing, especially now, to really ask someone to do.
I think he has that element. He is certainly a tough person, but it is not really how we define it. I think that is the narrative out there about our team and how we’ve constructed it — that we’ve kind of shied away from that. We’ve shied away from players that have those elements that can’t play. If you have those elements to your game and your physical and competitive and you have a presence to you, you have to be able to play. I know people will jump on it and doubt the logic behind it, but we play some teams and they play guys one or two minutes a night, and all it does is throw off the chemistry of your bench and the number of guys eligible to actually play in the game.
He can play. Those guys aren’t in abundance anymore. I think that is why, when they are available, the cost is pretty high. With other teams that have players like him that do have some toughness and competitiveness but can also play and play well, the price is high. You’d like to develop your own. The greater challenge to that is if you go to amateur and college and junior hockey, there is a very, very scarce number of players there as well. It is just not a common player that is available these days, frankly.
Where are you at now in terms of your ability to add a defenseman?
Dubas: It’s really going to depend on Morgan just because of the cap space part of it. We could add a defenseman, but if they’re just to say it’s something we did… We would want someone to move the needle for us in the long run and not in the short run. Unless it was a perfect deal, it would have to be something in the long run. It is probably a long term situation that we want to address, but it will depend on Morgan. As we get more updates in the coming weeks here in terms of how long he is going to be, that will determine how much cap space we have going into the deadline in terms of whether we will have his full amount of room regardless to LTI for the rest of the season if he is not going to be back until the playoffs.
What do you know about his timeline?
Dubas: He’s got an appointment coming up a week from Friday, so we won’t know until next weekend, really, where he is at.
Was there potential for this to be a bigger deal? There were some reports that maybe Alec Martinez was a player of interest.
Where do you stand with the Jake Muzzin contract talks?
Dubas: We are not going to comment. We’ve had enough contract talk in this room to last us a decade, so we’re good, thanks.
How is the organization feeling as it pertains to this team and making the playoffs right now?
Dubas: I think since the coaching change… It’s so funny. I think one of my favourite parts of working here is the amount that people care. I appreciate that when things are going well, there is a general euphoria. I also appreciate that when things aren’t going well, people get quite anxious. You grow a strong appreciation for how passionate the people are in the marketplace. That passion they have for the team leads to us being able to have the resources that we do.
What it really tests here for myself and our staff is the fact that you have to remain patient. You have to keep the long game in mind always. I think, in this case especially, since the coaching change, we’ve been fifth in the league in points percentage. In the long run of a season, if we can maintain that level — and I think we’ve shown some great things since then — we are going to be just fine. It is being able to go through the crucible, if you will, when you are being severely tested — and I think we are being severely tested now — and being able to endure that and come out on the other side.
That is really something that our whole group and our organization needs to do. I know there is some consternation about it. I know there is some anxiety and panic. But I look at it as one of the best opportunities we’ve had in my whole time here. I do have a strong belief in the group and I do think the group is capable of great things.
It’s funny, I hear a lot, especially right now, that the Raptors have won 12 in a row, and people will say, “Why can’t they just be more like the Raptors?” I think it is a great story to tell our players and to lean on and learn from because if you go back three or four years, what we are going through now are similar things to what the Raptors were going through and the questions about them. It is years in the making. I think they have the scars to show it, and when you have the scars to show it, once you go through it, you can lean on them in times and really develop your identity.
It would be great if we could just come in and flip the switch and just roll along and reach our potential, but it is never linear like that. Us, as an organization, being able to endure and accept that this is a test — we’re two points out of the playoffs when we wake up today and the teams ahead of us have games in hand. We are not in a great spot. But is a great test and opportunity for our guys to develop and grow.
I am excited about it. I don’t fear it. I think it is a great thing for our group and that if we handle it the right way — I know the coaching staff and players will — it will be a great growth opportunity for us.
Do you take solace in that you have nine core people who have been injured and you’re still knocking on the door of a playoff spot?
Dubas: If you look around the league, we’ve probably actually been fortunate on the injury front. You’ve got Pittsburgh — they’ve been better than us this year and they’ve had way more difficult injuries to endure, and all teams through the league. I don’t think injuries can ever be used as an excuse. Injuries, in fact, give other people opportunities and a chance to thrive. It has eliminated some of the stuff that can go on where guys say they haven’t gotten a chance. To me, the injury part of it is unfortunate. You’d love to be able to have the full lineup, but I hate that excuse where you say, “They haven’t had a full lineup the whole year.” If that is why we don’t make it, that will be a failure on my end.
I think other teams have weathered it, and I think we’ve done a fairly good job, especially of late, with weathering it. The coaching staff has been great about it and we’ve just got to keep rolling along.
How do you reflect on Michael Hutchinson and the season he’s had?
Dubas: It is interesting. Saturday night after the game, he has won four starts in a row and everything is very, very positive about him. Monday night, it just kind of flips in a span of 10-15 minutes. Everybody around the team and everyone here could certainly feel that, right? He had a tough start, and then I think he really did a good job to right himself in difficult circumstances because everybody is watching and everybody is kind of doubting you a little bit. I thought he did a really good job to right himself and had played very well during his starts — going back before last night to the Ottawa game.
The games where he had to come in in relief weren’t as strong, but he is a wonderful person and he has certainly proved to be a valuable member for us. I hope that part of it doesn’t get thrown under because of the way it just kind of flipped. Saturday night, if we were standing here doing this, it would be very positive about him. It’s athletics and it’s sports. One game and one thing can change a lot. That is the way it goes sometimes.