Toronto Maple Leafs: Kyle Dubas Has Earned Respect, and It’s Time He Got It

TORONTO, ON-Toronto-DUBAS.The Maple Leafs announced today the promotion of Kyle Dubas to General Manager. Brendan Shanahan was on hand for the announcement..October 30, 2012. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON-Toronto-DUBAS.The Maple Leafs announced today the promotion of Kyle Dubas to General Manager. Brendan Shanahan was on hand for the announcement..October 30, 2012. (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs suffered yet another injury the other night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With Jake Muzzin going down for a month with a broken hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs will go into their next several games with five significant players absent from their lineup.

Morgan Rielly – Elite #1 defenseman

Jake Muzzin – Top Pairing defenseman

Cody Ceci –  Team’s best / most used penalty killer

Andreas Johnsson – Scored at a 5v5 points-per-minute rate equal to a good first line winger last season.

Ilya Mikheyev – put up excellent top-six winger stats so far in his NHL career.

With five key pieces missing, the Leafs shouldn’t have any hope at all of making the Playoffs, but for the fact that Kyle Dubas has put together one of the deepest rosters in the NHL.

Toronto Maple Leafs Depth

The biggest criticism the Leafs GM has taken, and the main narrative surrounding the team all year, is that the Leafs are struggling because Dubas sunk too much money in too few players, and the team lacks depth.

This is just wrong.

The math here is rock solid, and it works in Dubas favor.  In a cap league where stars drive results, reputations drive contract and roster decisions,  and the difference between a non-star and the worst player in the league is tiny, it doesn’t make sense to spend limited cap funds on mid-range players unless they have upside (Johnsson, Kapanen).

The Leafs in fact do not have a single long-term contract that could be seen as bad.

Dubas locked up his young core (and peripheral guys like Johnsson and Kapanen) when no one thought he could.  That he did it while icing a lineup this deep is one of the greatest things any GM in hockey has accomplished.

Funny though, how no one talks about it.

The Toronto Maple Leafs gave a 30  year old Dubas the most coveted job in the NHL, ahead of hockey lifers like Mark Hunter and Lou Lamoriello.  The NHL’s mainstream media has clearly taken offense.

Not only does the age of Dubas rub people the wrong way, but he’s also an intellectual in a society that is strongly anti-intellectual (and the sports world even more so).

Add to this the fact that he is challenging conventions left and right (dressing six puck moving defenseman, a skilled fourth line, lack of grinders, a disdain for stay-at-home defenseman, a “studs and duds” approach to the lineup, a perceived lack of respect for psychical hockey, old-school traditions and, essentially, the entire culture of the NHL).

Dubas and his 11 man analytics dept. are challenging many of the conventions that hockey fans hold dear.

It’s easier to dump on something rather than to try and understand it.  And you can see that cliche play out in real life when you look at how the media covers him.

The narrative around this Toronto Maple Leafs team could easily be that Dubas is getting more success than should be possible given that he turned over a third of his roster, changed coaches, and hasn’t had a single game with his full lineup.

We could be preaching patience and a bright future, with the league’s 7th youngest team, built around two hall of fame centres, a star goalie and a crazy amount of scoring power.

Despite the injuries, coaching change, and the (roughly) 25th ranked goaltending in the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs hold a playoff spot, and are the 5th best team in the NHL since Sheldon Keefe was hired.  (stats

Had they won just three games they lost at any time throughout this year, they’d be in 5th place overall.

Dubas Has Done Excellent Job

It seems to me that given the adversity the team has faced, that’s worth some praise.

But the media is obsessed with Dubas glasses, his laid back attitude, lack of a suit at a press conference, and parsing some oblique proverb he posted online.

Aside from easily disputed clichés, has anyone leveled a substantive criticism his way?

If so, I haven’t seen it.

The main criticism – that he was forced to rely on cheap labour to offset his poor cap allocation – falls apart at the slightest of explanations.

A health Leafs lineup would see them not playing at least 12 quality NHL players (Gauthier, Agostino, Petan, Aberg, Malgin, Wilson, Brookes,  Korshkov, Bracco, Ceci, Marincin, Liljegren).

That is the very definition of depth.

The fact that half their blue-line is injured, but they were able to bring in Sandin, Liljegren and Marincin (unpopular, but he’s actually above average) is impressive.

The fact that their fourth line, if fully healthy, would be Engvall-Spezza-Clifford is just flat-out insane.  That is a better line than most NHL teams have as a third line.  It is so clearly the best fourth line in the NHL that whoever has the second best one isn’t even close.

Kyle Dubas took the general managers job, and immediately had to correct the ridiculous fumblings of the previous GM (Marleau, Zaitsev).  People said he couldn’t do it, but he did it.

He had to sign three young superstars, and everyone said he couldn’t do it.  Then they said he had to move at least one, probably both, of Johnsson and Kapanen.  He signed all five players, to reasonable deals, through their entire primes.

In the NHL it is EXTREMELY common practice to sign players after they “earn it” and thus pay them for past performances they can’t possibly repeat.  (Look up what Lou did with Pageau this week).

The Leafs signed their guys long term, and Nylander’s deal is now so cheap that if you take the average price of the Leafs big three, they’re actually getting good value on Nylander, Marner, Matthews.

They have the deepest lineup in the NHL.  (The evidence is irrefutable).

They are competing despite the fact that the coaching change, the bad goaltending and the injuries should have us hoping to win the draft lottery.

They are set up to compete for years.

Their GM, at press conferences, is articulate, thoughtful, and intelligent.  He appears even to be pretty honest, and he is willing to take blame and accept responsibility.

He’s even shown a willingness to identify and correct mistakes, traits that are the hallmarks of maturity, experience and leadership.

He’s also just in his early thirties and bound to improve with time.

Kyle Dubas has done spectacular things with the Toronto Maple Leafs so far.  His critics are nothing but old-school types more interested in selling newspapers than giving any kind of in depth analysis.

You can be forgiven for waiting until the team has success before you buy in. I get that.  But that doesn’t mean that some level of respect for what he’s done so far isn’t in order.

Next. Toronto Maple Leafs Top Prospects. dark

A look at every move he’s made since taking over shows that he’s one of the NHL’s best general managers.   Once the Toronto Maple Leafs win – and they will – I won’t need to write essays about it.

It will just be accepted fact.