Kyle Dubas addressed the media after completing his second UFA signing of the day — TJ Brodie at 4x$5 million — to discuss his new acquisition on defense as well as the addition of Wayne Simmonds earlier in the afternoon.
A few nuggets from the presser: They were never seriously in on Alex Pietrangelo, and the focus was on TJ Brodie right from Noon ET. Dubas thinks Travis Dermott can make the transition to right defense this season, and he believes the team will be able to perform the cap gymnastics required to become compliant without making a significant subtraction off the roster.
Analysis of the signings can be found here:
Kyle Dubas on signing TJ Brodie, not coming close on Alex Pietrangelo
Is this it for you in terms of major signing in free agency?
Dubas: I think so — certainly in free agency, unless something happens on the trade front that opens up stuff for free agency. Certainly, for free agency, it will be it for us in terms of what people would brand as a big splash. We are happy with where we are at.
We know there was interest in Brodie last summer. What is it that you like about this player now for well over a year?
Dubas: The things that we liked: The fact that he has played with an elite partner in Mark Giordano for a number of years now, and they’ve had a lot of success as a pair. As we have tried to find a partner and/or Jake Muzzin now that can complement them and boost the results of our team, TJ — the style and the way that he plays and operates on the ice, with his skill set defensively and with the puck — just always seemed to fit what we were looking for. That is why he has been a target of ours and why we are happy to have him here.
What can you tell us about your first attempt to get TJ through the Nazem Kadri deal? What made you want to continue to pursue him now?
Dubas: A lot has been written and assumed about that, but there was never any deal there with Calgary. Calgary was one of a number of teams we were talking to. We permitted them to speak to Naz and his people about potentially going there, but it’s not as though if he had accepted going there, he would’ve automatically gone there. It was just a different part of where the trade talks were at. In order for them to carry on, they knew he was on their No Trade, so we granted Brad Treliving and his people permission to speak with him last summer.
Even if he would’ve said yes to go there, it wasn’t a given that we would’ve moved him there. We would’ve done what we felt was best. Certainly, TJ has been on our radar for a long time. We continued to watch him this year. We felt he had another good season with Calgary and just fits the needs we feel we have on the backend: The ability to play on the right side, where he has thrived throughout his career, alongside Morgan or Jake — whatever Sheldon feels is best and whatever the best fits are. We are excited about the fit for us and what he can bring to our hockey club.
As a left shot that plays the right side, do sometimes we on the outside make too big of a deal of what way a guy curves his stick?
Dubas: Trust me, there are people on the inside who make a big deal out of it as well. It is not just confined to media or fans. We talk about it a lot in here as well.
I think the thing with TJ is that he has done it for so long going back to the OHL. It is the side he prefers. He is able to play on both sides, but he has predominately played the right. There are some guys who can’t do it — it’s just the way they receive the puck and the ability to shift it across their bodies and make plays. It takes an extra second or half a second. It is not for everybody. Some players struggle to do it, but he has shown the capacity to do it and the intelligence to do it. He has done it for such a long time now that it is not even really in dispute. It is what makes the most sense for us.
How pleased are you that in one day on free agency you were able to address two of your largest needs — becoming harder to play against, and right defense — all at once?
Dubas: I think we are content with the work here today with Wayne and TJ, but I still think we have a long ways to go to continue to address the roster — not just the roster, but what we do to continue to improve the way that we play and what we expect out of our guys.
I think it is a good start. We also know we have a long way to go as an organization to meet the expectations that our talent dictates should be there. We are looking forward to not being so content and continuing to find ways to improve if we can.
We are happy with how it started off with the draft and today. Now we will continue to get to work on trying to find different ways to improve this because we know we have to.
How significant was the fourth year with TJ?
Dubas: We had done Jake Muzzin’s deal and Jake is a little bit older than TJ. Since we had the precedent of Muzz having four years, we were just focused on keeping it at four and not going beyond. We thought that was fair based on the internal precedent that we had with a similar player. That was where we wanted to keep it. It was amenable to Anton Thun and TJ, so we were excited to get that.
How close did you end up coming with Pietrangelo?
Dubas: Not very close. This has been our major focus. This is where we were locked in on and we were set on going down this path. It was one thing that we worked on from Noon on to try to get this locked in here today. The market has a lot of players on it, but there aren’t a lot of defensemen capable of playing in a top four that have the exact skill set that we need. We felt we needed to act, and we were excited to do so.
What kind of move do you anticipate to get cap compliant now?
Dubas: One of the things that we went through with this was Brandon and I spending a lot of time over the last number of months determining the different strategies and ways things went. We never wanted to find ourselves boxed in and having to move somebody. Between the free agents that we still have and what we can do with them, and additionally, the players that are waiver exempt for us, we always wanted to be able to have a way and find a way to not box ourselves in.
Even with this move, you may look at it and say, “How are they going to do that?” I can assure you that Brandon has carved out a number of ways that we can dance as it pertains to being compliant on opening day without having to necessarily move somebody that people would normally look at and say, “They’re going to have to move this player at this salary.”
Brandon has done all of the work on that hundreds of times. I feel horrible about the amount of work I have put on his desk, but he seems to thrive on it and do very well. Thank goodness for him and all that he has done, but we have a number of different ways that we can get this done here and be compliant on opening night while still being in the market here for some players that maybe aren’t getting the types of offers they want and want to come in here and see a great opportunity at lower dollars.
That is what we have tried to accomplish today and maintain our flexibility there.
What is your comfort level with going into the season with the group of defensemen you have now? Do you foresee one of your current players playing on his offside to start?
Dubas: At this time, we certainly would project to see Travis Dermott playing on his off-side. He has done that going back to Erie. He has done it with the Marlies and with the Maple Leafs. He seems to be very comfortable there. We would like to see him grow there and continue to challenge up the depth chart with the intention being that, four years from now, after TJ’s deal has come and gone successfully, Travis has ascended up our depth chart that way and those are the types of minutes that he is playing well.
I would envision Travis playing over there. We know Martin Marincin can play over there as well. We’ve got Timothy Liljegren, of course, who played up for us and is a young player that we think has a great future with us. We have options there as it pertains to our defense in general. If we could add somebody that maybe possesses a little bit more power and presence on the backend here in the coming days, we would still like to try to do that, but we will see how that goes.
Kyle Dubas on the Wayne Simmonds acquisition
Can you talk about the Simmonds move? It has been described as a match made in hockey heaven given what he can do on the ice, off the ice, and in the community.
Dubas: We were excited to get that one done. Buffalo, earlier in the week, had given Wayne permission to speak to teams. That allowed us to speak with him directly about what we saw as the potential fit here, and what he could bring to the club in terms of his character and contributions to the locker room. We knew from his previous tops what we could expect there. It’s an element we were searching for and are happy we found with Wayne.
On the ice, we feel he is healthy now. We have a good grasp of the health issues that have plagued him the last couple of seasons. We are looking forward to him working with our medical team and our performance team to get him up and rolling. We think we have a really solid role for him on the ice. It is not just one of these pure off-ice fits or anything like that. We think he is going to be a very good player for us this season. We are excited to have him here as a Maple Leaf.
It is a bit early, but where do you envision Wayne slotting in the lineup? How does it change the dynamic of a third or fourth line unit?
Dubas: In terms of the forward unit in general, what we see right now is that we know we have Marner and Nylnader on the right side, and then we have re-signed Spezz, who can play in the middle or on the wing. We have a group of younger guys that can challenge and move up and down, whether it is your Robertsons, Hallanders, Petans, etc. We think we have got a role for him.
At the top end of the group, at this time, you have Johnsson, Hyman, Manrer, Nylander, Mikheyev. The door is open for challengers. In this flat cap system and the way it is going to be, we are going to have opportunities for players like this, and continuing on in free agency, for players who are looking to grow. That includes our own guys internally and different players from the outside looking in who might see this as a good opportunity for them.
When it comes to the actual slotting, I think that will, in the end, come down to Sheldon but also how things mesh together as we finally get into training camp and the season starting as we go from fall to winter.
Wayne seems like a guy who is really rooted in the community who is happy to give back, do some charitable work, and he is very comfortable talking about Black Lives Matter. Is that the kind of guy that you also need in the room — some diverse voices, and a guy who really knows what it is to be a pro?
Dubas: Any workplace, the more diverse it can be, the better. As we saw this year, as we went through the social unrest and the racial issues and the racism that came to the forefront at the beginning of May, the circumstances by which it did were obviously awful. It is a vital conversation for us to have, especially in hockey and in every walk of life, and to be confronting these issues and we are a part of progress and change. Anybody on our team, regardless of their race or who they are, speaking about them and wanting to speak on them and hold people accountable is key.
Wayne has been a part of that from the beginning, willing speak openly on it and be a force for change. That is something that is very important for us. I know, in speaking to him, it is important for he and his wife and their family as well. I think that is going to be a great fit overall in Toronto with the voice he can lend to these issues and help our players and organization as we continue to try to bring about change.
Now that you have started to address wanting to be tougher to play against, are you looking to still augment that? What are you still looking to do in the next few days?
Dubas: I think we would like to augment that further with what we do next with our team. That is for sure. We are openly looking to improve all over. Our depth on defense we actually have in terms of young players and guys signed there, we are good with that. We might look for a bit of a different type of defenseman in that role — in a depth role. In the forward group, at the top ,we have a lot of belief in those guys and their talent level. It is just about trying to find people we can add around them that can push the group to a different level.
Wayne is one. Spezz coming back, and the voice he carries and the impact he makes, is important for us. Wayne adds to that in terms of his character and leadership and the way he goes about playing the game every day — not only in games, but in practice and training and everything of that nature.
We are still looking to add to that. With the cap space that we have, we continue to try to make the team better. As it goes on, we will have more opportunity for trade as well. There are still lots of free agents out there that fit the needs we have. Those conversations are ongoing and will continue.
Usually, by the end of this day, teams have addressed most of their needs and most of the top guys are signed. I don’t know if that will be the case as the day goes longer here, but that is where we are at now.
We all know what Tampa did last year with adding Patrick Maroon, Barclay Goodrow, Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn to augment their skill. How much was that in the back of your mind in acquiring Wayne Simmonds? It seems we have seen a lot of those types of moves, whether it is Josh Anderson in Montreal or Radko Gudas in Florida.
Dubas: I think this is something that has been on our mind, really, going back into the season with the acquisition of Kyle Clifford in regards to it being something we want to add to our team. That is sort of the goal and what we are trying to do.