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.
- 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.
- 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.