clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Dubas quietly starting to take control

New, comments

If there was ever uncertainty as to how Kyle Dubas was going to influence the Maple Leafs, there isn't anymore.

Kyle Dubas' hiring as the Toronto Maple Leafs' assistant general manager and unabashed analytics advocate was anything but quiet.

The Leafs were going to embrace a new direction and they didn't care who knew. Their new, fresh, young asset paraded from radio interview to television spot to media scrum to discuss his philosophy.

And while the announcement was loud and clear, there was doubt as to how big a role the young man would play in the team's direction beyond tinting it analytics.

The organization, including its then-general manager Dave Nonis and president Brendan Shanahan stressed that their new protege was more than just a "stats guy." He was a "hockey man" too, they said. But his role wasn't entirely defined and there was consistent mentions from Dubas and others of a long learning curve that would need to be undergone in order for the 28-year-old to learn the ropes and find his niche.

Less than a year later it appears he's learned quickly because his fingerprints are all over the organization and appear to be becoming more pronounced.

It's almost as if we weren't meant to notice. The grandiosity of the entrance vanished, replaced by nuanced moves that don't carry his name but clearly illustrate his grip.

I've openly opposed giving credit to an individual on a management team because it minimizes the essence of an NHL management group: Every decision is discussed and all players involved come to a conclusion.

When teams struggle, shrewd moves are oftentimes attributed to new faces and questionable decisions are passed off as the ongoing influence of the predecessors who got the team into the mess. In Toronto, this led to the mentality that mistakes like Stephane Robidas' contract were of Dave Nonis' doing, while credit for cheap assets like Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli was owed Brendan Shanahan. Really, each of the decisions lay on both of their shoulders.

But sometimes, there are moves that are clearly not like the others. Increasingly, these moves have Dubas' fingerprints all over them, quietly assuming more and more of an influence on the team's future direction.

On Monday, the Toronto Marlies relieved head coach Gord Dineen and associate coach Derek King of their duties. And while this wouldn't have surprised anyone in November, when the Marlies had just five wins in their first 19 games, it would likely come as a shock to a casual fan in May, after the Marlies finished their season on an incredible 35-15-5 run.

Why fire a coach whose AHL team was arguably the league's best for two-thirds of the season? It seems unconventional, until you consider two things.

  1. Dubas mentioned in passing throughout the Marlies campaign that the team wasn't as concerned with winning as they were with developing their young players. Moving forward, the Marlies were to use their young players over AHL veterans.
  2. Dubas' relationship with sought after OHL head coach Sheldon Keefe, whom Dubas gave a second chance to when he served as general manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
By all accounts, Dineen did a solid job of utilizing the younger talent down the stretch, but Keefe's potential hire added a ruffle to the situation.

Following the decision to shuffle the deck with the Marlies coaching staff, a third point was made public for the first time and yet again it was Dubas making it. The Leafs want to develop young coaches for other teams to poach for compensation.

Despite Dineen recent success, he's not going to be that young asset and has been around the game long enough to realize it. Dubas is thinking long-term, and he's thinking about the big club. And long-term, if the yet-to-be hired Marlies coaching staff moves on to a position with the Leafs, or with another organization in exchange for compensation, Dubas' subtle move with the minor league club may give him more control over the big league club.

He's like the Hollywood movie villain, plotting his takeover without his boss ever knowing it was coming.

The coaching shuffle isn't Dubas' first "hockey man" move either.

The Marlies are using the Orlando Solar Bears more extensively than they ever have and plan on using the ECHL affiliate "in a much bigger way next year," according to Dubas.

Dubas was formerly the agent of mid-season acquisition Byron Froese, arguably the Marlies' best player down the stretch.

These moves, among other moves Dubas has mentioned as being geared towards next season, such as the trades of players like David Broll to open up contract spots for Casey Bailey, Jack Rodewald, Nikita Soshnikov, Matt Rupert and others, signal a new direction for the Marlies, with rippling effects for the Leafs.

Whether they're the right moves or moves made because of past connections, only time will tell, but judging by the near-excessive patience and unconventional attitude towards development (at least by comparison to previous regimes), it appears he's got the right attitude - and direction.

And he's just getting started.

"We're going to do some new things this summer as an organization as it pertains to development," he said in his end-of-year scrum. "A lot of players tend to stay around Toronto and use our facilities on a voluntary basis which is excellent but we don't want the players to feel like they have to be here."

"We just want our players to be committed to maximizing their potential in the summer," he added, noting that they will use Steve Staios, Barb Underhill and Darryl Belfry to make it clear what each player needs to work on.

"For us, we'll send our people to see the players if they aren't in Toronto."