After the first day of unrestricted free agency, Kyle Dubas discussed the new additions to the group (Ilya Samsonov, Matt Murray, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Adam Gaudette), the acquisition of goaltender Matt Murray via trade, and the remaining work to do at forward and defense.
The difference between Jack Campbell’s average annual value and Matt Murray’s isn’t much. What is the difference in your mind?
Dubas: The difference would be the term. As we went through and evaluated, we knew very clearly from Jack’s representatives what the combination of terms and dollars would look like. For us, we thought, “It is a 28-year-old goaltender coming in, which is the same age Jack was when he came in here, and a 28-year-old goaltender with that pedigree…”
I think everyone knows and Matt himself would acknowledge that it was not a great finish in Pittsburgh or first year in Ottawa. For me, the things that would be determining factors are 1) pedigree and 2) more importantly, in the short run, the way he performed — once he came back up from Belleville before getting injured at the end of the year — showed signs of the goaltender that he has been in the past.
It is a two-year commitment with him and a one year with Ilya Samsonov. They are both young enough that we will give them the runway here and see if they can become the long-term solution in net, but we also have our own young goaltenders coming on the way.
We are hopeful that, over the course of the next two seasons, these guys can all push themselves and begin to run with it here for us.
How would you describe the conversations you had with Jack Campbell in the negotiating process? He has been so up front about his love for the city and the fan base.
Dubas: He and I talked on Saturday. We exchanged texts and calls today. We will talk later tonight.
Obviously, he came in here at a time when we really desperately needed it. Fred was injured, and he came in from LA. His year to that point in LA was not going as well for him, and they were going to bring Cal Petersen in. He came in here at a time when we really need him. He was outstanding for us.
Obviously, everyone has watched the subsequent years since where he has kind of taken over. You see how much he cares about the team, the city, his teammates, and also, the level of accountability he takes every single night. Certainly, we appreciate that, and you never forget that type of stuff.
In the end, you have to make decisions that are the best for the future of the team regardless of what you think about the person personally.
Are you looking to ban the Edmonton Oilers’ scouts from the press box?
Dubas: [laughs] That is just the way it goes sometimes. It is great for them. The two guys that have gone there in the past two years have been great people and players for us. I am happy for them and I am happy to see their success this season. That is sometimes the way it goes coincidentally, but I don’t think we will be banning anybody — yet.
What does the personal connection with Matt Murray mean to you?
Dubas: That is a little bit overstated. I know what he is about and I have seen him in challenging moments but at a much different level a long time ago. The things that override all of that for me are what he did in Pittsburgh five years ago and then the way that he played this year in the back half of the year to kind of show that it’s still there.
Knowing the character of the person always helps — and having a previous experience for him always helps — but if not for that pedigree, what he has accomplished, and what he has shown, it wouldn’t be a fit. There are lots of players that I know in the league from my time in the Soo or with the Marlies or here that just aren’t fits. We deemed Matt as a fit.
What gives you confidence that he is going to be able to stay healthy moving forward?
Dubas: We were able to actually have him come in and go through a full run of his medical situation with our medical staff and performance staff. We felt pretty good about where he was at with that. With any player, there is always a risk. For any player that has had injuries in the past — there is no reason to dance around that it’s always greater.
In his situation, we were able to bring him in — which is not common at this time of year — and get a full rundown on him. We feel good about where he is at and the work he is putting in to make sure he stays in that condition.
Why was it 25% retention on Murray’s contract and not more?
Dubas: That was what we agreed on with them. That seemed to be the common thing that they were able to do in all of the discussions they were having on Matt. We would have loved to have pushed for more and done a better deal, but it was either make that deal or move on elsewhere. We elected to make the deal.
Did you attempt to get a third team involved to retain more?
Dubas: As you see today, and we have gone through it in the past, the cost of doing it would outweigh the entire state of affairs, especially on a two-year deal that is heavily backloaded in cash. We look at that, and we have been involved in a lot of those deals both for and against. The cost of it just far outweighs the benefit of doing so — especially with our belief in Matt.
Both Samsonov and Murray have been starters in the league before. Do you have any idea of who might be the guy that is the primary starter, or is it still open to competition?
Dubas: It will be wide open to competition. We will give them both a good run here. Our hope is that both play as well as they can. We will get to work with them here in mid-September and get them rolling. That would be a great thing for us if both of them played the way that we think they can.
What impresses you most about Samsonov?
Dubas: He is very young. He has a great pedigree and had great potential. In going through his situation and speaking with his people here today and getting to learn about it a little bit, he seems highly motivated. The thing that stood out to me more than anything is that he really wanted it to be a one-year, show-me, bet-on-yourself type of deal, which is not always common with players coming off of the shock of being non-QO’d when he wasn’t expecting it.
That was impressive to me, and it’s combined with the evaluation of our player personnel department and goaltending department of what he can become if we can work with him and get him on the right track.
How much did Cup experience come into play signing a player like Nic Aube-Kubel?
Dubas: I think it is nice and it is great that he has gone through that as a key member of that group, but to me, Sheldon really felt he could add a lot. With losing Ilya’s speed, Nicolas provides a lot of it with forechecking pressure and an ability to get up the ice. He has shown in major junior, in the AHL, and in the NHL that when he has time and space, he can also shoot. We will look to continue to bring him along.
He had a good season with Colorado. The Cup experience always helps. You’d rather have it than not.
What do you like about Adam Gaudette?
Dubas: He is someone that we played against a lot when he was in Vancouver there. He went to Chicago for a short stint and then Ottawa. He was excellent at Northeastern, and when he went to Vancouver, he had over 30 points in 50-some-odd games. He has had a few years where it has not gone as smoothly for him.
At the World Champions for the U.S., he really showed that form when he first came out from Northeastern. He looked to be confident again and empowered a little bit with Team USA. It is one of these bets that we make a few times every summer. He seems very ambitious to get to work just in speaking with him today.
In doing the background on him, as we got to talking to people he has trained with and such, we learned he had a bit of an illness that caused him to lose a lot of weight. He has that figured out now. He is stronger than ever. We just think it is a guy we can work with here. We will see what happens.
Are you looking to change the shape and makeup of the fourth line?
Dubas: I think we want it to be really effective. We have all different types of guys. We have Clifford and Simmonds returning, but you also have Joey Anderson, Nick Robertson, Curtis Douglas, Bobby McMann, and Pontus Holmberg pushing from the minors. Now you add Aube-Kubel today and the others that are in the mix to be there.
We would like it to be a line that can be heavily relied on for us, like the others, but more physicality, competitiveness, ability to drive the play down the ice, and being reliable for Sheldon in that way.
Were you ever close to signing Ilya Lyubushkin or Colin Blackwell?
Dubas: I wouldn’t say so, no, on either.
There are so many guys who are not qualified. Does that help teams that are cap-strapped — that there are younger guys who are willing to take a little less to bet on themselves again and turn it into something bigger?
Dubas: One of the other things that also helps here is that other guys have seen players, whether they are free agents — if you go back to last year with Kampf and Bunting, who came in and had some success — and also if you back to bringing Ilya Lybushkin in via the Arizona trade for Ritchie… He comes in, plays well, and I am real happy for him that he was able to find a good spot. Buffalo will be a great fit for him as they continue to come along with their young D.
For us, I find that it is becoming a situation where it’s really because of the players they can play with here. They look at it, and it is enticing for them. I think that certainly helps. In the past, when the cap was steadily climbing, there were more dollars readily available for free agents that could be paid what they felt they were going to be paid when they walked into the marketplace.
Do you think you might be done now outside of signing your own RFAs?
Dubas: No, I think we have the ability to continue to look and see what the best fits are going to be as the market begins to dry a little bit. We have our own flexibility and things that we can do. We have space. We have roster spots that are still available for really all different kinds of players.
We would like to add another depth piece on defense. Up front, it is very flexible in terms of what we can add there. I don’t think we are done. I think we are open to depth on D and certainly really any combination of players up front. We will see how it shakes out.
There are obviously going to have to be guys that look at our situation and say, “I can go there for a year or two on relatively low dollars. The group would be a fit for me to have success and then parlay it into something greater.”
What sort of depth defenseman are you looking for? Are you looking for the Ilya Lybushkin-style of physicality?
Dubas: Yeah, if there is preferably a right shot with some physicality, competitiveness, size, and strength, that would be what we would look for.
Are you still exploring the trade market?
Dubas: Everything is wide open. We are always exploring the trade market. That is part of the job. That is a little bit on the back burner today at the start, but it will probably pick back up as it goes.
Has there been any progress on a contract for Rasmus Sandin?
Dubas: I think we will get back to Lewis Gross and Rasmus in the coming days. Our focus has been here now. I don’t think it is all too complex of a situation.
Do you think Sandin could be an option as a right-side defender moving forward?
Dubas: The more versatility we can have, the better. I like him on the left. He is a left-shot. We have the guys there.
As I said a week ago now before the draft in Montreal, for us, Timothy and Rasmus continuing to develop in their spots is going to be key over the next number of years as some of the other guys continue to age a little bit. We need those guys to take on more minutes, more responsibility, and really be the future of the group on defense for us.
Where do things stand with Pierre Engvall?
Dubas: We qualified him, so it will come to a solution. I don’t think that one is complex, either. Claude Lemieux and Brandon Pridham have talked a lot about it. It will be an arbitration award at worst, but hopefully, we can get it done before then.
Having signed Dennis Hildeby to the entry-level contract, how excited are you to see him at development camp?
Dubas: It’s great. We would’ve been excited to see him regardless, but having it done and having him signed just makes it a little bit more clear. Newport Sports represents him, and they were excellent to deal with right after the draft.
Obviously, he is a little bit older, so getting that one done and getting the developmental track moving a little bit quicker would be great. By rights, we have to send him to Farjestad next year, but we will see how it goes in development camp and where he stands in the order.
It is a little bit of a different prospect because of the age. We are quite excited about him. It has been a bit of an unorthodox path, but we are excited to have him come in here.
Is the plan to keep John Tavares at center, or do you see maybe looking for another option at the position?
Dubas: To me, I don’t see signs that John needs to move over. If we have someone who is a good enough center… I obviously don’t think anyone is going to replace Auston in that role, but if there is someone there where it makes sense to shift John over or have another center come in that has to shift over themselves to play with Auston or John, anything that makes our team better, we would look at.
Would you ever look at moving Mitch Marner over to the middle?
Dubas: It is not something that has ever come up. I don’t know that we want to… Mitch has been a first-team all-star right winger for the last two years, so we have enough things to worry about rather than that stuff.