Toronto Maple Leafs: The Irony of the Kyle Dubas Era

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 23: (l-r) Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs handle the draft table during the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 23, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 23: (l-r) Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs handle the draft table during the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 23, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs were approaching the 50th anniversary of their last Stanley Cup, and the team was going nowhere.

The Toronto Maple Leafs had had such a hopeful off-season: they re-signed their two so-called franchise players and brought in a star forward who “played the game the right way.”

Unfortunately, Phil Kessel was about as interested in playing that hockey season as I am in watching reality TV, Dion Phaneuf was still inexplicably cashing in on a rookie season that was getting increasingly farther into the review mirror,  and David Clarkson seemed to have been paid for the memories invoked by the first syllable of his last name.

The team was garbage and soon Brendan Shanahan was brought into clean it up.

The Irony of the Kyle Dubas Situation

The Leafs then went into tank mode, hired Kyle Dubas, and surrounded him with some legendary mentors.  After three seasons, they gave the young GM the keys to the franchise.

Now, despite an overall solid job (I’d say excellent) the fans seem to be running out of patience and demanding instant gratification, which, ironically, is exactly the reason the Leafs have always failed – no patience, just chasing that dragon to their never ending doom.

Dubas is a young guy with new ideas.  The Leafs now have the biggest analytics department in the NHL, and they have made decision after decision that flies in the face of hockey tradition. For example, the Leafs put a premium on offense and skill, they dressed a blue line made entirely of puck moving defenseman, they eschewed rougher players, especially enforces, put skill on the fourth line, focused their strategy on puck possession and concentrated salary cap spending on a small group of elite players.

Is it working?  Yes and No.

On one hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost twice in game 7 of a first round series to the best team in hockey, and most likely would have won if Nazem Kadri didn’t get suspended in both series.  This year they lost in another elimination game, but shot under 2% for the series and still only lost by one goal over (5v5) making their loss extremely improbable.

Since the Leafs hired Keefe, they won 70% (roughly) of the games that Morgan Rielly played in.  They were 8th overall despite 24th overall goaltending, and 25% of their games featuring their two best defenseman in the press box.

In fact, the Leafs were competing for a President’s Trophy this year in games not started by Michael Hutchinson. They finished 12th overall for the full season despite a coaching change, a full revamping of how they played, some of the league’s worst injury problems, terrible goaltending, zero points for most of the year from the back-up position, and the 19th best PDO in the NHL. 

So on one hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs are actually doing well.  The results have been crap, but the indicators say the team is one of the best in the NHL.  Give this group a big enough sample size, and they’ll probably deliver.  That is what the math not only suggests, but screams.

But despite 50 years of losing (and getting closer to 55) the vocal portion of the Leafs fan base rabidly hates the Leafs general manager, and I just can’t get over the irony.

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53 years of abject failure doing the exact same thing, more or less, and absolutely zero patience for the guy trying to do things differently.  I find that absolutely hilarious. You would think, that after all that failure, people would appreciate and embrace a new approach. I know that I do.