Every September, TSN’s Bob McKenzie opens the hockey preseason by interviewing as many NHL GMs as will sit still for him. His interviews with Lou Lamoriello are excellent, and introduced Leafs fans to the first GM of the new era. Now, McKenzie has opened the 2018-2019 season with almost an hour of Kyle Dubas.
I’m going to give away the ending first because it’s the heart of the interview. While joking about his love for professional wrestling, Dubas says the following:
I think if you went out to the wrestling ring and said we’re just going to focus on optimizing our process every day, Vince McMahon wouldn’t put you on too many shows.
Wrestling — look away if you like to pretend it’s real — isn’t real. It’s 100 per cent the entertainment business in the guise of sport. Hockey, NHL hockey in particular, is not 100 per cent the noble pursuit of sport. It’s an entertainment business as well, and what Dubas is bringing to the Maple Leafs is not some kind of Corsi-driven hockey team, but a process-driven business enterprise, where the goal — the result desired — is excellence on and off the ice.
Now, that aside, this is a really fun interview, and the clips making the rounds of Dubas deftly not answering questions very directly on who will be the captain and when will contracts be signed are the least interesting. Well, to me, anyway. Here, you go though:
On contracts: He does say that the team is happy to negotiate with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews during the coming season, but if they aren’t up for that, he’s fine with that too. The more imminent deal with William Nylander is not something he seems very stressed about.
He says he knows you won’t believe him, but his management team sorted out for themselves that John Tavares was not going to cost the Leafs one of their top players down the road. He makes it very clear that doing that would be contrary to the process and also a bad business decision.
The captain thing: The Leafs are not likely to have a captain this year unless someone comes along who really looks like they’re ready for the job. He name checks Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey as the guys who head the leadership group.
Now to the good stuff.
What is the goal for the team?
Dubas says he wants to come in every day focusing on how they play and improving their process. He does make direct reference to zone exits as a key area of the on-ice process that leads to success.
He wants to focus on the division and challenge those two teams at the top more.
I realize this now sounds like we’re all in a meeting talking over the quarterly reports, but that’s what process talk gets you. If you want the guy gruffly saying “everyone has to produce” because the puck goes in if you will it, don’t you know, you want the interview with the Hurricanes new coach.
"you've got to do the things we're asking you to do, otherwise you're not safe. So it was the right move. I think the guys understand you've got to come ready to play and do what we're asking. Otherwise you're not a Hurricane. We can't have you."— Andrew Schnittker (@aschnitt53) September 4, 2018
This is sort of a recognition of process, but it also implies that the player is responsible for the results too, and his future will turn on those results. Which is not what Dubas is on about. More on that later.
Meanwhile, Dubas goes on to discuss the environment he is tasked with building that allows the young players to grow to their full potential and for the signing of John Tavares to pay the dividends the fans expect.
I now move to Serge Savard, who had this to say recently about his old team:
General manager Marc Bergevin cited his players’ poor attitude for the Montreal Canadiens’ struggles last season, but one team legend and former Habs GM thinks it might be bigger than that when it comes to how the front office is dealing with captain Max Pacioretty.
”Max Pacioretty is a fine gentleman – he’s a great human being with a nice family,” Serge Savard told TSN Radio 690 on Tuesday. When you have problems, it’s like a family – you have three or four kids – you have a problem, you solve the problem. It’s not only the players’ attitude, it’s the management’s attitude and you’re responsible to solve those problems.”
M. Savard seems to be saying that the GM bears some of the responsibility for creating the atmosphere where no one is ever complaining to the press about players producing or about their attitudes. Teams that are full of drama are more in line with what Vince McMahon sells, but when you are running a serious business you behave differently. More mature, one might say.
Dubas talks about communicating his expectations (directly to the players, not via the media), and he discusses some of the younger players either on the Leafs or in the system. The shocking part is that he wants them all to focus on the process, not the longer term goals.
What is this Process?
In explaining his love of the process, he discusses the book “The Score Takes Care of Itself”. One thing he brings up at this point is being unemotional which he returns to as a theme in the discussion. The way he talks really reminds me of Laurence Gilman’s discussions on working with teams and staff.
“Each individual process creates the culture of the group.”
Dubas discusses how his own passion for the game, his immersion in the wins and losses, made him a less effective manager in the past. He says he learned that he had to be more dispassionate, at least in affect. This really sounds like Lou Lamoriello. I’ve said this before, but the two of them are very similar, although the way they present themselves leads people to think they are seeing opposites.
Speaking of his opposite, he talks about Mike Babcock in ways that will seem familiar. He says, clearly amused, that Babcock likes to say he doesn’t want any surprises. If you’ve ever watched Mitch Marner, William Nylander or Auston Matthews play, you should know he doesn’t mean in terms of creative play, even if many people think he only wants grinders who have no skill.
Who plays where?
On the lines, Dubas makes clear — after talking about the process of producing an environment and system for the players — that Babcock makes the lineup, but you should expect Matthews plus Nylander and Tavares plus Marner. The rest of the lineup sounds very open.
There is a discussion about Babcock’s love of Roman Polak, Matt Martin and Leo Komarov that is ... well, it’s about the perception of an extreme difference fans see between Dubas and Babcock. In other words, will Dubas take away Babcock’s toys? I don’t believe much in the “coach’s toys” meme, so I’m not the person to discuss this. You’ll have to watch and come to your own conclusion.
What I will say on Dubas’s subsequent talk of “intangibles” and player types is that he has a history of putting guys like Matt Martin or Roman Polak on his teams, but he finds the best-possible hockey players in that class. As an aside, I think the Leafs thought they had that with Martin, and guessed wrong there.
I’m not sure Dubas is being totally sincere in this portion of the interview, but who knows? He sounds like he’s picking his way through the minefield that is the “hockey men” vs “computer boys” culture war. I’m not qualified for either group, so I don’t pick sides.
How to balance the Ice time?
This is the sticky question that will haunt this team all season. The first game with a lot of penalties in it, as the refs crack down on whatever it is they’ll pick for this season, will result in the wrong people playing the most all-situations ice time, and the usual suspects will purse their lips and tweet the numbers.
It’ll be technically true and largely irrelevant.
But the real meaty question is five-on-five ice time, and that question is layered. I’ve heard it expressed as, “Do you even need a fourth line?” But it should be, “How do you get the top three lines on the ice enough in every game?” When the Leafs face a team that overplays one super line, they might have to overplay the Kadri line to match them up, as was a problem last season. That failed largely because Leo Komarov plus Nazem Kadri didn’t actually do all that well against the league’s best players.
Read Kevin’s take on line matchup options here for a look at how that balancing could work in the Leafs’ favour:
McKenzie phrases this question by asking if Dubas had to go get buy-in from his players on how the minutes will get shared out. The answer is one about how they already had a culture of putting the overall team strength ahead of individual glory, which is just another way of saying you play for the logo on the front, not the name on the back.
I’m not sure this won’t be an occasional cause of conflict for the players. So much of what elite athletes do is measured by ordered lists. They have grown up seeing the results they achieve influence their futures, so much so, no one is surprised that that Hurricanes’ coach said what he did. It can’t be easy to convince them that now it’s all about the process and we’re all just oarsmen on the same boat, oh, and there’s two numer ones.
I am sure the press will be like the proverbial dog on a bone on this one.
Dubas says the goalies will figure out in training camp who is in and who is out. He is obviously open to a trade, and he can hardly say otherwise. Everyone can add this up.
He explains the concept again of why the team hasn’t traded yet for the amazing top-pairing star defender everyone wants. Dubas thinks the current defence is fine, or he says so with verve, anyway, as he has before.
The thing that strikes me is that he talks about a long, long, super-damn-long list of NHL or NHL-adjacent depth defenders and he does that like it’s totally normal to have four or five times the depth of most teams. Last I looked, you can still only play two at a time.
Dubas will not be pinned down on which left wing goes where, but you will see Tyler Ennis, Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen on the roster. He’s a little unclear about Josh Leivo, and talks about trades, but then says he will work out on the Leafs. I found this a little oddly phrased, but it’s neither a dismissal nor a ringing endorsement of his play.
He is very clear Carl Grundstrom will be in the AHL. I find it interesting that he basically describes Grundstrom as the grit with goals guy the Leafs don’t have, and in my mind, that lack is the reason why Babcock overplayed Komarov, but Dubas has not managed to do anything about that so far. The process turns at its own speed sometimes, I guess.
Dubas says he’s going to meet with the older leadership group and some younger players, as well as the management group, and they’ll discuss the hair and beard rules. I say he’s passing around a current photo of William Nylander and asking yes or no.
Dubas makes clear that he wants to hire from the largest pool of people he can. This is exactly the same process the Leafs have been using for years in scouting the entire world. The more diverse in all ways your staff is, the better you are. The more diverse your staff are the less often your organization makes mistakes from well-meaning ignorance. You start seeing the whole picture with more clarity.
Please watch the whole video. You can see the areas where Dubas being careful with his words, and where he’s not, and he’s a lot of fun to listen to. For someone who talks about processes all the time, that is.
Now it’s your turn. Imagine you are part of the process to decide if beards and long hair are now going to be okay. When presented with this picture, do you vote yes or no?
Yes or No on more hair on the Leafs?
This poll is closed
Does Kadri still have that bit he ripped out of Thornton’s beard?