In somewhat surprising news, the Toronto Maple Leafs will not renew the contract of (former) GM Kyle Dubas.
Hired on July 22, 2014, Dubas was brought in to help an organization full of luddites adapt to the “new era” of hockey — to help make better-informed, data-driven decisions at the draft, in free agency, and to help turn a long-time laughingstock of the NHL into perennial contenders.
Dubas’ hiring as Assistant General Manager and GM of the Toronto Marlies predicated a string of good decision-making and good fortune at the draft and in free agency — properly managing assets and kick-starting the first rebuild in decades.
Dubas tutored under Hall-of-Fame GM Lou Lamoriello after he was hired in 2015 and was part of the franchise’s wild ride of success of attracting the top executive talent and morphing from losers into (regular season) winners.
When Lamoriello’s contract expired after three years, Brendan Shanahan announced Dubas as the heir-apparent to the position of GM of the Maple Leafs.
Dubas inherited a mostly-stocked NHL roster that had just broken the franchise record with a 105-point season and was tasked with signing William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner to contracts that would allow them to keep a strong supporting cast around. These negotiations were surrounded with significant controversy, with none of the three players giving the club any kind of discount and instead pushing (successfully) for maximum contracts coming out of their entry-level contracts — something that had rarely, if ever, been seen in the NHL before.
Regular season success continued and improved slightly under Dubas’ tenure. A not-too-surprising firing of Mike Babcock after tensions between the two became apparent allowed him to usher in a close friend — and his only coaching hire dating back to his first job with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL — in Toronto Marlies head coach, Sheldon Keefe.
Ultimately, the post-season play became worse in some respects and more embarrassing with catastrophic meltdowns against Columbus and forever rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. While they celebrated their first series victory in 19 years earlier this month, the team never fully broke through in the playoffs — losing out in five to Florida in round two — and ultimately won just one series in five years under his reign. In the end, Dubas showed undying loyalty to a coach and core of players that never fully rewarded him for his faith at playoff time.
Dubas also cultivated a large fanbase online for his modern management style, use of advanced stats, hiring virtual unknowns off Twitter, and his kind nature when handling players, in addition to his leadership on social justice causes in the community.
With reports of an extension in the works earlier this week, it is possible that Dubas stepped away from the position. Details of how and why the two sides diverged (money? autonomy? personality conflicts?) might be made a little more clear later today when Brendan Shanahan addresses the media at 3 p.m. EST.