Much maligned Toronto Maple Leafs GM is secretly the best executive in professional sports.
It just won’t be widely acknowledged until the Toronto Maple Leafs win a playoff series or two.
Until then, it can be our little secret. But, even as public opinion turns against the Leafs current management, you can see how much respect they get around the league.
It is clear that once they actually win, a lot of people will be retconning their previous analysis, and will tell you they recognized the brilliance all along.
It’s how these things always work. In the meantime, let me tell you why.
Kyle Dubas Will Be a Legend Once the Leafs Win
Here is why:
Dubas has a personal relationship with his players, and the Leafs take care of them. You can see this when a player is injured and Dubas attends him in the hospital or stays behind on the road trip. The Toronto Maple Leafs, under Kyle Dubas, are probably the team in the league that is known for taking the best care of their players, and I think this might not matter so much to fans, but it is a big deal.
Secondly, contract negotiations. The Leafs signed all their best players through their primes when people said it couldn’t happen. Matthews, Marner and Nylander all ended up on team-friendly deals. While fans might be late catching on to how great this worked out, it’s not lost on teams in the NHL who don’t need the Leafs to win first before giving them credit.
Thirdly, if that’s even a word, the Leafs, under Dubas, have drafted an amazing collection of players that haven’t graduated yet. When they do though, when Knies, Steeves, Voight, Robertson, Hirvonen, Kokkenan, Niemela, Amirov, et.al are in the NHL, what the Leafs did with low picks and lower fanfare is going to be venerated for years.
Finally, it’s the salary cap that is going to make Kyle Dubas a Legend. You can see already that both Colorado and Tampa have followed suit on the Leafs “studs and duds” salary cap philosophy.
The Leafs Are Cap Masters
This “crazy” idea they had that mid-range players aren’t worth paying, has worked out better than even the Leafs imagined. The playoff results obscure what should be obvious: The Leafs hit on a major strategy that will shake the league to its very foundations.
Once teams realize how effective this is, expect labour strife when players realize that non-star vets (i.e the majority of the union) are getting squeezed, big time.
The fact is, the Leafs cap strategy is going to be revolutionary, and probably already is among the right people. Due to the lack of playoff success, it’s gone weirdly unacknowledged that since they hired Sheldon Keefe, they have gone on to play nearly .700 hockey and are within the margin of error for being the best team in hockey over that time, actually finishing 4th over nearly 200 game and three seasons.
That alone is crazy, but when you consider that they did with a flat-cap, it’s bonkers. The Leafs made their cap bets with the idea that the perfect storm of gambling being legalized, expansion to Seattle, and a new TV deal would result in a major salary cap raise, but then Covid happened.
Had the pandemic not frozen the cap, the Leafs would have had so much cap space it would been the biggest competitive advantage since the Penguins and Blackhawks opened the Cap Era with Generational Players on Entry-Level Contracts while other teams had no clue what they were doing.
But it did happen, and even with the flat-cap, the Leafs were incredibly successful. They didn’t win when it mattered, so regular people don’t care. But NHL people can be much more objective. Those that recognize how impressive three years of .700 hockey is, with this strategy, under these conditions are now copying it.
There is more too. The way he stood up to Lamoriello and Babcock, the way he was the first Leafs GM to ignore the media, the way he stuck with his plan despite unlucky results, the focus on talent over grinding, the focus on drafting intelligent players….this is all going to a big book one day that will probably be titled How Kyle Killed the Dinosaurs.
For now, the salary cap stuff is the most important.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will need to win before there is wide-spread acceptance of what they are doing, but that, my friends, is only a matter of time. Kyle Dubas is already the NHL’s best GM, and in eight months or so, you too will be comfortable saying that out loud.