On a recent episode of Tim & Friends, GM Kyle Dubas discussed the Sheldon Keefe contract extension, his impressions of training camp so far, whether 2021-22 is a do-or-die year for the team, and the challenges of navigating the flat cap.
With the All-or-Nothing documentary, some of the NFL teams who were on Hard Knocks have said “never again,” and others have embraced it. Where are you on the spectrum?
Dubas: The way your season goes probably has a lot to do with how you feel about it. I know that some of the teams that have done the shows in the past that have had success think that having the cameras around led to a different level of accountability. Most of the teams that didn’t have the success they would aspire to would say, “Not a chance. We are never doing that again.”
It will be interesting to see how everyone responds and reacts to the show, but for us, in this market and with this team, in particular, there is enough coverage and enough out there about the team. We also do our own show internally, “The Blueprint,” that obviously captures a little bit of what goes on to kind of give fans a peek at who we really, truly are.
In terms of a season-long show like that, I think it would be tough to do them continually.
On the Sheldon Keefe extension news, is there anything you want to break for us?
Dubas: Sheldon’s contract extension — we took care of that early on in the summer. It was done quietly and for a while now. It didn’t seem like a big matter of huge public interest until yesterday with the reports out about it. He is now signed and locked in through 2023-24. I think it is a great thing for our organization. I am obviously very happy for Sheldon, having worked with him for a long time now, getting that level of security.
We will get back to work here as we have since last week and start building towards the season. We are excited to work together again.
Are you excited that he gets a real season, or at least as close to a real season as we can see in 2021-22?
Dubas: Normalcy is not something he has had the luxury of in his role here. Coming in in late November 2019, taking over a team that wasn’t in a very good place, stabilizing it, and was able to roll on — a disappointing end to that season, but very strange circumstances with the pandemic suspending play for over four months.
Last year, we had a good regular season — not to the level that we are fully content with at all, but I think he has shown the different things he can build, even if it hasn’t led to the ultimate success we and everyone who follows our team passionately wants to see, which is to have success in the playoffs.
All of that said, when it comes to Sheldon, the one thing that I know about him from working with him for a long time now is that when seasons end in big disappointment, you always see the best from him the subsequent year. I am confident that we will see that here this season with him and with our team.
Some have projected this as a do-or-die season for the franchise. Are those projections fair?
Dubas: Especially in this market with how passionately people follow the team — whether it is their job or whether they are a fan — people are entitled to have whatever opinion of the group that they want. From our standpoint internally, we have a huge amount of belief in the team — not only in the players but in the coaching staff and the way that we have operated.
As I said on opening day, it is easy to feel that way at the very beginning. If you go back to 2015-16 when we drafted Mitch and Auston, and you have William in the fold already, I think you have a very optimistic view of the way things are going to unfold.
True belief is really tested when you have moments like we had last May, where you have a good season, build up hope for everybody, and then it leads to disappointment. It’s being able to stand in at those moments, with all of the doubt and criticism that deservedly comes your way, and be able to get it back together again and get at pushing towards your breakthrough.
However people want to term it, we are just focused on having the best training camp we can and getting ready to go for the regular season, knowing the level of disappointment we had last year and ensuring it doesn’t happen again. That is really all — for myself, Sheldon, our players — we can focus on.
Has anyone jumped out to you in camp in the position battles?
Dubas: The key things that you are looking for … You know you have your players that have been members of the group and are going to be members of the group. You are just looking to make sure they are healthy and are building themselves up towards October 13th.
With the new players coming in, you are looking to validate why you brought them in — looking for the things positively that they do well, and then any improvements they made working with our development people over the summer or with our strength and conditioning group over the summer. It’s watching them try to take over the position, whether it is on the wing — where we have brought in a few different players and given them the chance to compete — or on defense, where we have our own young players that are battling for position.
We have five defense returning that were part of the group for the entire season last year. We have our own young players in Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren. We also have other young players like Filip Kral, who we drafted in the fifth round in 2018 and has had a very good camp as well. You start to see those things that are obviously excited for an organization.
I don’t put too much stock into preseason performance and such, but it sure is a better feeling when the players that have been brought in — whether they were drafted, or free agents, or through trade — get off to a good start. For the likes of Michael Bunting, Josh Ho-Sang, Ondrej Kase, and David Kampf, they have had a really good training camp portion and that has translated over to the preseason games so far. It is good for them to be able to produce and feel good about themselves.
It gives you a little bit more comfort going into the season that you have had these guys come in and perform well so far in camp. Now, we will continue to try to keep it rolling through the second week, and then the final few days to be ready for Montreal on the 13th.
Does the flat cap make it really important that a few of those players you mentioned really make an impact on the team?
Dubas: It is vital for us in how we will be judged as a management team, our player personnel department, and scouting. We have obviously made our commitments to the guys that form the core of the group on forward and on defense that have been signed with some term.
With the cap, a few weeks before the pandemic shut things down in mid-March, it was projected to continue to go up — and go up significantly with the new TV deal. Now the circumstances have changed. There is nothing that we can do about that other than react and do as good of a job as we can of finding players that can come in and make an impact that just needed an opportunity, or are recovering from an injury, or have had some down luck and are available for us.
Is it important? It is more than important. It is vital. You are trying to be a contending team, and with the flat cap, you are going to have guys who are free agents — we experienced that last summer losing a key forward from our group. Now you have to go out and find a way to replace that player. You don’t have the money to bring in one person, so you have to split it a little bit and try to be efficient that way.
It is more than just important. It is vital to our team having success — us doing as good of a job as we can providing Sheldon and the dressing room as many good options as we can. It has been a good camp so far, but we don’t try to get too far ahead of ourselves with that. They have to continue to push through the final week and be ready for the regular season and beyond.