On TSN Overdrive, GM Kyle Dubas discussed the departure of Nick Foligno, Frederik Andersen, and Zach Hyman, moving ahead with a goaltending tandem of Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek, and the players that could challenge for roster spots from within the system.
Nick Foligno mentioned he felt he was close to returning to Toronto at one point and he was open to the idea. Can you tell us anything about those discussions? At any point, were you hoping Nick Foligno would return as a Maple Leaf?
Dubas: We gave it our best effort, as with most of our own UFAs. Obviously, I just don’t think we were able to match what he received. No hard feelings on our front. We knew the risk when you acquire a rental coming in that he may leave in free agency in the summer and also that they could get injured. Unfortunately, both of those came to fruition with Nick.
He is a wonderful person. It was great to get to know him. He will be a great fit for Boston.
Obviously, Frederik Andersen moved on, but Petr Mrazek comes in. How excited are you to have him in the fold in a tandem situation with Petr and Jack Campbell?
Dubas: We were very excited to get Petr. Last year was sort of strange how it went with the goaltenders. Fred was carrying the ball early in the year, and then he was hurt. Jack was hurt right from the first game that he played, and then he came back and went on a terrific run.
It kind of felt like that last year for us. And Michael Hutchinson was solid for us in the game that he played. It never felt to us like we ever had a real tandem. It was sort of whoever was healthy was playing, and Jack stood tall as we went down the stretch and into the playoffs.
We were very happy with Jack. The key for us was finding somebody who we thought had the talent to challenge and push Jack but also support him and preferably someone who had been in a tandem-type situation before. Obviously, Mrazek has done that for Carolina for the last number of seasons. He also has experience carrying the ball as a full-fledged starter prior to that.
We feel very good about the two of them and where it all ends up settling. The two of them will push each other. It doesn’t just rely on one person and one person’s health. We also feel good about the depth we have behind them with Hutchinson and Erik Kallgren, who is coming over from the SHL where he won a championship, and then Joe Woll and Ian Scott.
We have experienced it here when you don’t have depth at that position. It can be really, really difficult. We just wanted to really protect ourselves here as we head into the season knowing the type of structure we were going to go with — Campbell and a partner for him.
At one point did it become clear that Frederik Andersen’s time in Toronto was going to come to an end?
Dubas: Probably a few weeks ago with the final discussions between Brandon Pridham and Claude Lemieux. Claude felt that the money would probably be better elsewhere. That came to fruition today.
We are happy for Fred. For five years here, especially in the first three or four seasons, a lot was asked of Fred in terms of the load that he was asked to carry. He pulled through for us throughout. He is a wonderful person off the ice and a very, very talented goaltender. He was rewarded with that contract today in Carolina. We wish him all the best and we look forward to seeing him down the road.
If Jack Campbell plays the way he played last year, could you picture a scenario by the end of the season where it is not actually a tandem and Campbell is a legitimate number one for you?
Dubas: Certainly, part of our thinking on it was that we have Jack under contract for the year, and next year, we have to make a decision on him. We will have conversations with Kurt Overhardt and his representatives as we go through the summer. Our feeling on it was that we want them both to challenge and push. Obviously, if they are both playing at an absolutely elite level, that is great for us. If one of them steps up and absolutely runs with it, that is outstanding.
In Jack’s case, down the stretch last year, he started to show that. In order to do what’s best for our team, we felt that we needed to have someone else there until he shows that repeatedly and consistently. He is going to get every opportunity to do that with us.
That is part of the rationale as well in making sure we got strong value on the contract and that it doesn’t box us into any corners on the salary cap if Jack does take that step. We can still have good money committed to our goaltending and be able to reward him as he shows he can continue to do what he’s able to do.
The news leading up to today had more to do with who is leaving in Zach Hyman. The cat has been out of the bag for a while that he was signing in Edmonton. How do you replace a guy that plays a style of game that can be difficult to find and a lot of other guys on the roster do not bring to the table?
Dubas: He is a very difficult player to replace. There is no doubt about that. What we are going to be counting on is the continued growth of our own players internally. In signing David Kampf, it allows us to be more flexible. You could potentially put Kerfoot onto the wing as needed. Kerf has shown that great versatility. It has been such a strong asset for us. He has been able to go back and forth and play both of those roles. That has been outstanding, and knowing we have that is great.
The other side of it is that we took a shot today with Michael Bunting. Though he is not the same size as Zach, the way that he plays… It is a much shorter sample, but it is just trying to find players that fit that same sort of profile and can play that same sort of way.
I also hope the guys on our roster — Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall — look at Zach and the way he played every day and see that they have the physical attributes to do that. They have the speed. They each have the tenacity and the ability to push the pace up the rink. The door will be open for them as well. It is there for guys to grab onto it.
The other part is that we still have a good amount of cap space. We will hold that and be able to pounce if players become available in trade or as we get into this kind of “second wave” of free agents as well that may fit that mold.
We are not going to be able to replace Zach. On and off the ice, he was an excellent person and player for us. We wish him well. It is a great opportunity for others to step up, and for others to take the ball and run with it.
In the past, you have players who are “father figures” — mentors and great people on and off the ice. We are seeing Auston, Mitch, and William get older and start to mature. Do you move away from that and focus on building the best roster possible, getting away from that — for lack of better words — the father-figure situation?
Dubas: I think we still have, in terms of leadership and players that have been through a lot, Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, and Jake Muzzin returning. Suddenly, Morgan Rielly is 27 years old. You have TJ Brodie in there as well. I really like the character and leadership that those guys bring.
At the same time, we are looking to give our younger leadership group a chance to grow and kind of take hold of the room and make it their own. That is when we will really start to take those steps: When those younger guys Auston, Mitch, and William — and we do have all of the other guys that are a part of that, with John, TJ Brodie, Campbell, Mrazek — really start to find their stride as leaders… They are still only 23, 24 years old. It doesn’t happen overly fast for the young guys, but it is certainly there.
I know it may not be easy for the public to see because of the way that the season ended, but we see it when we were in there every day: the way that they are growing, beginning to take hold of things, and make this their team. As they take those next few steps — they are obviously elite players and wonderful people — on the leadership side, which they have already taken massive steps in, we will finally hit that breakthrough that we are desperately looking for.
How unsettling is it that you won’t know that growth has taken place until there is playoff success? We all know they will have great regular seasons, but what are they going to do in games five, six, and seven? Isn’t that what it comes down to?
Dubas: In our sport and all professional sports, I think that is the way everybody, in the end, is judged. I can only take the most recent examples. Tampa pushed through and their group ascended that. They were criticized the same way.
You look at basketball. The Milwaukee Bucks win, and their group is seen the same way. You know they are going to be great and be MVP contenders in the regular season, but what are they going to do when it is all on the line?
I don’t want to compare us to those groups — we are our own separate being — but that is very common in sports. Elite talent has to go through this a lot of the time in order to get to where they want to be in terms of team success. I think we are going through that now.
That is why we have belief in them: We have seen their growth and how they operate behind the scenes every day from when they were 18-19 and arriving here for the first time. They were trying to figure out what it is to be a professional, and we tried to surround them with the types of veteran players we talked about earlier. Now you see them being the ones who are taking those same steps even though they are just 23 or 24 themselves and are finding their stride on the leadership side.
That is exciting for us. In the end, we know it. We know that there is nothing that we can answer on that front until we get there again, have our shot at it again, and do everything that we can to help our guys to be prepared so that when that moment comes, next season and the season after that, we are ready to attack it and break through.
Who is within the farm system that you think has a legitimate shot of impacting this upcoming season? Which young players could fill roles this upcoming season and potentially have legitimate shots at every night roster spots and making an impact this upcoming season?
Dubas: Up front, it is two guys who have had time with us before. Nick Robertson was injured at the end of the season, so he wasn’t a factor at the end of the regular season and playoffs for us, but he is still 19 years old and has already played a fair number of games for us in very strange circumstances between the bubble last year and this season. Nick would certainly be one candidate we are looking at to continue to take steps and challenge.
The other would be Joey Anderson, who we acquired last season from New Jersey and had a good year for the Marlies this year. He played up one game at the end of the season and then was injured at the end of the season as well. We look forward to getting them in and rolling.
On defense, we kind of rounded out our depth there on D. We also have Mac Hollowell, Kristians Rubins, and others that have spent some time on the taxi squad and will push for time in the NHL this season.
There are those guys, and then there are those who have mostly been on the roster as well. They are still young at 20 and 21 years old, but they tend to get forgotten as you go through these cycles in Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, who we are going to be counting on to take big steps for us next season, take hold of opportunities, and not look back.
In net, we have Joe Woll — a third-round pick in 2016 — who really found himself late in the year with the Marlies in his second pro season. We are very excited about what we have there.
Most importantly, what is on the way in terms of draft picks from 2019 and 2020 is starting to turn pro and just needs some time to develop with the staff with the Growlers in Newfoundland or with the Marlies.
We are really happy with our farm system and where it is at. We just want to continue to push all of these guys to challenge for the roster and roll from there.