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Mark Hunter is gone, is this a management failure of the Leafs?

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Is the sky falling, and the Leafs are doomed, or is renewal just a part of spring?

Maple Tree in bud.

Greg Wyshynski isn’t so much mocking hot takes as he’s launching a preemptive anti-take that’s still steaming hot. Both the idea that Kyle Dubas’s age has hidden costs because old people are too thin-skinned to work for him, and the contrary position that his age is irrelevant, are not very nuanced positions, to put it politely.

There is a real difference between a team that has just promoted Kyle Dubas, who has been groomed for the job, and a team that has just hired someone like Lou Lamoriello. The AGM job on the Island is filled by a guy also named Lamoriello, and as of now Garth Snow is still their GM, so that situation is complex. It seems like they aren’t looking to add people.

Take a look at the Nashville Predators instead. David Poile is 68 years old, and he’s been a General Manager of an NHL team since 1982. He won the GM of the year award last year, and his team is in that regular playoff contender position that is so hard to achieve.

And before the Leafs swamped the news cycle, it was announced that the Predators’ only AGM, Paul Fenton, has taken the job of GM of the Minnesota Wild. The Predators situation is a tiny bit complicated by the fact that they have a Director of Hockey Operations who is named Brian Poile, but they do need to fill Fenton’s position.

Imagine you are a looking for a job in NHL management, and you want a career that has an upward trajectory. Are you going to slot yourself under Poile, who is deeply successful and experienced but also nearly 70, or are you going to slide under the young Kyle Dubas, who is innovative and forward-thinking, but isn’t going to retire anytime soon?

It’s not a simple question with an easy answer, but the two situations are genuinely different. It’s a question Mark Hunter had to ask himself, and after he lost what was a two-man competition with Dubas for the top job, as well.

The expectation that Hunter should just smile politely, and sit there in the Leafs office and serve under the man who took the job he wanted is an interesting one. He was supposed to act like the gracious ageing goalie who gives up first chair to the young phenom and just keep smiling?

Pittsburgh Penguins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Six Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Sure, if there’s a cup in it for you. But even then, at some point, very soon, you want your own success to smile over.

Vegas Golden Knights v Winnipeg Jets - Game Five
Fleury after beating the Jets to take Vegas to the finals.
Photo by Jason Halstead/Getty Images

And there’s nothing terrible about turnover in management. The departure of Hunter should have been expected, and the unwillingness of Lamoriello to hang around as a buddy to Cliff Fletcher would have been palpably obvious too.

I really doubt that Brendan Shanahan is surprised by the fallout from promoting Dubas. It’s not like he hasn’t been planning for this, or should have been, for some time.

This is a bad take.

In the Dreger Café interview with Mike Babcock, Babcock talks about his time in Detroit, and he mentions one trade discussion where the whole group were on the phone: Ken Holland, Steve Yzerman, Pat Verbeek, Scotty Bowman and Babcock himself. They’re all gone but Holland now, which is how it works in hockey. Good young hires like Yzerman and Verbeek are now running the Tampa Bay Lightning, and even Bowan didn’t want to be in Detroit forever.

The Leafs have lost some good people, and they have positions to fill. But they have many options on where to draw talent from. Any idea that Mark Hunter is irreplaceable is foolish. The idea that Dubas himself is irreplaceable as GM of the Marlies is equally absurd. The people Dubas adds to the Leafs will be the sort whose career path takes them naturally through a team with a young and cautiously revolutionary GM. Any new hires aren’t coming in expecting to get the GM position on the Leafs, and that determines who they are, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be excellent executives who bring something very valuable to the table.

A smart GM will look to do exactly what Brendan Shanahan did when he hired Kyle Dubas. He’ll look for people who have skills he doesn’t have, who have knowledge and ideas he doesn’t have, and he’ll put them in positions to succeed for however long they stay. The goal here is that everyone leaves the team better than they were when they were hired, and they also leave behind a team that is better than when they arrived.

This transition isn’t unexpected, and the Leafs are now moving into a period where they will grow some talent and then watch those talented people move on to other jobs.

David Poile isn’t wringing his hands over the loss of a good executive, and neither, one would think, is Dubas.

As far as Mark Hunter, drafter extraordinaire goes, he’s had some years to head up the draft — as far as we know, and we should recognize that we don’t actually know how much input other people have had in the sphere — but at this point in the year, the draft work by the Leafs should be largely complete, and that is intellectual property owned by the Leafs, not Hunter.

He hasn’t written his draft list in invisible ink on a wall somewhere in a secret location. It’s not like the Leafs will have to start over now and scramble for draft day. And Hunter’s contract, which prevents him from taking a new job until after the draft, was obviously written with this very situation in mind.

Now, as for timing, I feel like this has taken longer than it should have. I said back before the promotion of Dubas was announced that the timing needed to be now or August. And they chose now, and sometimes big corporations move slowly, but some new hires should be coming on board quickly to keep things moving smoothly. I’m not going to be surprised if that’s already in the works.

It was handled fast in Nashville:

The Leafs need someone to take what Kyle Dubas built in the AHL and really make his ideas into reality. With the ECHL affiliation not yet official, the time is now, this summer, to build this three-tiered system for real. They need to build that system out of free agent signings as much as draft picks because they haven’t got a lot in the pipeline or an excess of picks.

And that leads right into the other person they need to hire: someone to get those players, identify trade targets, find undrafted players to fill the minors, and keep the machine rolling along as the NHL team progresses. The departure of Hunter might well be a chance to ease up on the emphasis on the OHL in Leafs scouting, as well. Everyone scouts the OHL. You find the diamonds in the rough in the places no one else looks.

So count me as someone who doesn’t think the sky is falling because Mark Hunter wants to go find a team of his own to win with.

Now you give me your two cents. Is this a disaster?

Poll

Should the Leafs have kept Mark Hunter?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Chain him up in the ACC until the draft is over!
    (144 votes)
  • 38%
    No one is indispensable.
    (783 votes)
  • 36%
    Time for new blood, so it’s fine.
    (739 votes)
  • 17%
    They should have made him GM, and left Dubas on the Marlies.
    (347 votes)
2013 votes total Vote Now