TORONTO – Game 5 is just hours away.
The Maple Leafs staved off elimination in Game 4 and are set to host the Panthers in hopes of keeping their streak alive once again. Their GM Kyle Dubas headed to the Leafs’ locker room after watching the optional morning skit at Scotiabank Arena.
The vibe was not good.
“Even my man Jimmy is negative,” Dubas said, referring to one of the cheering security guards as he walked by.
Even Jimmy didn’t think Dubas would return as Leafs GM. “I hope to meet again one day,” he told Dubas.
Just over a week later, Brendan Shanahan fired Dubas in his office at the team’s practice facility in Etobicoke.
In pretty unconventional fashion, Shanahan offered the version of events that led to that shocking-but-shocking decision. His explanation was not calculated correctly and came out a lot Questions were not answered. (Shanahan took questions in less than 15 minutes.)
With Auston Matthews and William Nylander both extensions, the organization has an earth-shattering star trade, major question marks to address, and a new coach to hire (or not).
For the first time in nine years, Brendan Shanahan’s team feels like the old Leaf.
Most confusing, still, and the basis of the entire finale, was the Leafs’ decision (was it ownership? Was it Shanahan? Both?) not to extend Dubas’ contract at the start of last season.
As Shanahan himself said of any lame-duck situation,Of course it’s not ideal. “
In short, if the Leafs were already under contract, would they have fired Dubas on Friday? The answer is definitely not. This leaves you wondering why you decided to ditch the pumpkins, especially when you were determined to get him back a few days ago.
Shanahan said he approached Dubas last summer and told him he wouldn’t accept an extension.
“I tried to reassure him that it didn’t reflect on his future at the club,” Shanahan said.
But what exactly has been Is it a reflection? The Leafs were coming off the best regular season in, quite literally, franchise history and took the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning to the brink in seven games.
What else do the Leafs really need to see from their GMs at that point? Was it simply a matter of playoff success? Shanahan did not clear up the matter, which happened last fall, Friday.
Leafs president Dubas, who celebrated nine years with the team in April, said he had a “great” season in the summer of 2022.
“We had some tough choices to make,” he said, no doubt referring to the decision to move on from Jack Campbell, among other things. “I think Kyle did a great job.”
Shanahan went on to praise Dubas’ performance in a “good regular season,” especially his work at the trade deadline, acquiring Ryan O’Reilly, Luke Schenn, and Noel Acciari, among others.
“Honestly, again, I thought Kyle did a great job,” Shanahan said.
He was so good that the Leafs were interested in renewing his contract. Again, Shanahan approached Dubas in his office, recounting the events of Shanahan and telling him that “I’ve got enough in my mind that I want him to be the general manager in the future.”
That was in mid-March, Shanahan said.
But what exactly did he see that he hadn’t seen yet at that point? What did he have? Really Has the leaf changed? The assumption has always been that Dubas’ extension is tied to postseason success. But then, as it turns out, it wasn’t until later.
The Dubas Leafs were once again a very good regular team. Just like the previous season and the one before that. Why did the Leafs want to extend Dubas’ contract in March if they weren’t in July, August or September? Are patents suddenly on board when they weren’t before, and if so, why?
It doesn’t make much sense.
Shanahan told Dubas to consider the opportunity. If he’s really, really interested in extending it, Shanahan explained, he’ll be closer to ownership. Dubas didn’t want to worry about his contract as the tournament rolled around. (But was Dubas okay with having that thought in his mind when he talked to the team during the regular season?)
A week later, Shanahan said Dubas had thought about it and wanted to go ahead with the extension. Shanahan pointed in the agent’s direction.
At the end of the regular season, after what he said were good conversations with Dubas’ agent, Shanahan “felt like they had a very complete deal that reflected what he wanted financially and what he wanted as a general manager.”
That Friday night, when the Leafs’ season ended in Game 5 against the Panthers, Shanahan again told Dubas he did a “good job.”
They texted again on Sunday and seemed to agree after another in-person meeting, Shanahan said. Shanahan offered what he said was a contract he and Dubas’ representative had discussed.
“We talked about how, really, it’s hard for all of our families,” Shanahan said.
Dubas candidly and passionately acknowledged these facts while speaking to the media on Monday afternoon. Dubas said he wasn’t sure he wanted to return to GM, especially after a “taxing” year on him and his family. And it was then, Shanahan said, that attitudes toward returning Dubas to GM began to change.
He drove home that night and began to wonder. But not to the point, it seems, he was ready to continue immediately. No, Shanahan still intended to bring Dubas back. Shanahan said the two met Wednesday and continued their conversation.
“I probably had more questions than answers, and I lacked clarity,” Shanahan said. “It also makes me feel like there’s a strong possibility … he might not want to be the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Although he started the season without a GM contract extension, it wasn’t until then that Shanahan began planning what his Leafs wanted with a different GM. In other words, the Leafs didn’t have a clear backup plan until then.
Shanahan said he heard from Dubas’ agent on Thursday and was offered what he said was a new “financial package.”
More money in other words.
Shanahan said Dubas emailed before the dinner that he wanted to return. After some soul searching, on the heels of a disappointing season, he was determined to become GM again.
“At that point, if I’m being honest, I was in a different place about how I felt about the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs and what was best,” Shanahan said. “The email from Kyle, I felt different. And I felt that the long-term future of the Maple Leafs could change.
That said, it wasn’t Dubas’ performance that worried him and ultimately cost him his job. in contrast. Shanahan repeatedly said how pleased he was with the work Dubas had done. That’s why the Leafs committed to him. before the game.
No, it was Dubas’ brief, days-long reluctance to make a comeback that swayed them. Although the Leafs left him hanging out all season without a contract, a slight hesitation on his part led to them dramatically changing course and diving into the unknown.
Which honestly seems like an odd way to do business, especially with all those urgent tasks.
Gate 1 was Dubas. Known commodity. Someone who has built a relationship with the players and especially the stars, but also someone who seems willing to, ultimately, change course and maybe go to one of those stars. A man who built the Leaf into a high function.
Gate 2 was a giant question mark.
The Leafs picked Gate 2 and a giant question mark, all because Dubas seemed hesitant.
That giant question mark is now entrusted with convincing Matthews to stay until July 1, trading one of those stars and possibly finding a new coach to replace Dubas’ man, Sheldon Keefe. All in a matter of weeks. And with those decisions being huge, franchise-altering ones, it’s clear that the Leafs will need someone with experience — which narrows the pool of candidates significantly to what GMs have had in the past.
Then he might not be the best person for the job.
Does that mean someone does a better job than Dubas? Maybe. Probably not. That man enters a completely unfamiliar organization and yet has to execute a series of criminals over a period of weeks.
The Leafs could have easily brought in Dubas to do the job he started.
“For me, there’s an urgency to do that,” Shanahan said of finding a new GM. “I don’t think it should be rushed. I really want to say, I don’t do it in a hasty (hasty) way. I want to be more thoughtful and thorough, but I think it’s a priority and it needs to happen soon.
The one that “needs to hurry.”
All this must be hastened, for there is time. The season could have been avoided if the leaves had simply extended the cucumbers last summer.
The entire operation that Dubas built could very well go down in the process (Jason Spezza has already resigned) because of all this hesitation.
And what’s up with Matthew now? Does he want to commit to the Leafs without knowing much about the next GM? Will he choose to wait and see how things turn out? And then what? The Leafs can’t trade Matthews, but if he doesn’t sign that extension?
Will the next GM, who doesn’t know Nylander or Mitch Marner as well as Dubs, assume the worst, actually make a trade involving one or both? Will they sign ridiculous contracts in free agency like some of Dubas’ predecessors, including the one Dubas replaced in 2018? If Keefe doesn’t return, will they hire the right coach?
Maple Leafs GM candidates: 10 names being considered for Kyle Dubas replacement
This decision should shine a brighter spotlight on Shanahan.
They hire their third general manager in less than 10 years. After three seasons, Lou Lamoriello moved on to Dubas, and now he’s determined to replace Dubas after five. He wears the final fall of the Leafs more than anyone else.
It was Shanahan who decided to hire Mike Babcock as a coach before he took over as GM. It was Shanahan who brought in Mark Hunter to run the Leafs’ draft (which backfired). It was Shanahan who got Hunter and Dubas to run the Leafs together when the Leafs still hadn’t hired that GM (Lamoriello).
It was Shanahan who cleaned out the entire front office after the 2014-15 season.
It was Shanahan who took Dubas away from Sault Ste. Marie. Shanahan was overseeing the Leafs when he and Dubas sat down together on a summer day in 2018 to announce the signing of John Tavares. In the two seasons before Dubas took over, Shanahan was in charge when the Leafs lost in the first round and the four that followed.
It was Shanahan who changed the direction of the Leafs when he promoted Dubas to GM. Now it’s Shanahan who returns the Leaf to the unknown.
“We had a great relationship all year,” Shanahan said of Dubas last season.
But something clearly changed when Shanahan told Dubas he wasn’t giving her the length. Previous seasons have seen the two Leafs play together in a private box. That changed this season. Dubas watched from the press box for the first time, along with Spezza, Brandon Pridham and various members of the front office.
But not Shanahan.
“Kyle was instrumental in making this organization where it is today,” Shanahan said. “I have to think about how we can get where we want to be in the future and what are the ways to be better and what are the new ideas and new ideas.”
And who will be the person leading that process?
Outside of Shanahan, that’s the big unknown right now, the unknown that Shanahan picks when Dubas hesitates.
(Top photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)