In what is the least fun May tradition I can imagine, I tend to go back and read some of the things we've written here at PPP in the offseason. There's differences in the details over the years, but here's the basic formula:
Something is Wrong with the Leafs
They lost in the playoffs, therefore there is a reason.
Is it the players?
They did not score enough and/or the goalie was bad.
Is it the coach?
A rising chorus of yes, he is terrible in proportion to the years since Mike Babcock was fired.
Is it Kyle Dubas?
A rising chorus of maybe in inverse proportion to the quality of Mitch Marner's play in the playoffs.
And now finally this formula is broken with the exit of Kyle Dubas, stage left. I fully expect Sheldon Keefe to dutifully trot off after him any day now.
The question is going to be, does the management think the players are enough. And which players precisely?
First though: Stop trading John Tavares and Morgan Rielly, they have no-move clauses. No, they aren't waiving them. No, really, they aren't doing that. No you can't put them on waivers just to get rid of them.
I confess that, while it's popular to believe that teams should be "shaken up" when they don't win like you think they should, I've never really got the point from a roster construction standpoint of trading one of the top players on the team unless you genuinely want to convert a forward into a defender. And then, my question is who is playing on the wing now? You can make one winger into two, and I would be here for that in the right circumstances.
Yesterday, when I discussed Auston Matthews new deal, I was a little amazed at the sheer volume of hot takes suggesting maybe the Leafs should just get rid of that guy. And my first thought was, and who is your 1C now?
I know the fantasy trades exist in massive number where other teams behave in ways necessary to make the narrative of the trade work out, and the end result is nearly always a roster full of players with a big brand identity who add up in quality to... less than what left. Sometimes, that's the point of these scenarios. A nice safe and emotionally undemanding "step back" where all the good players are traded for assets and the team... flounders for years like the Oilers or something. Beyond the immediate goal of having a team not expected to win next year, I don't get it.
I'm not sure any new GM of the Leafs would look at Matthews, Nylander and Marner and say, "Ugh, look at these losers, they gotta go." I think most people would think a good GM can build around that core effectively. And that is the big knock against Dubas and his employers. This all should have worked at least a little better.
The deal yet to be made with Matthews might impact decisions on other players in the broadest sense because of cap concerns. At the same time, the cap is going up, and rapidly after next season, so that might not be the big deal everyone has become accustomed to.
I think it would be very bold, and maybe a little foolish to make big player changes at the core when a new coach hasn't even had a practice with them. There's a lot of room to make changes at the non-core in ways that might get you more than two goals a game in the playoffs.
In the coming days we'll hear a lot of criticism of Dubas's choices. I don't agree with everything he did, and I've become absolutely convinced (fully using hindsight goggles) that letting Zach Hyman walk was the epic fail. But the past is behind us, and it can't be changed.
Whatever happens, it's my hope we never see a situation like the Ryan O'Reilly deal play out as it did, where he arrived, played well, and then was given a playoff role that amounted to "slightly upmarket David Kämpf".
Because for all it's a meme that Sheldon Keefe and Kyle Dubas are too close, it's hard to find a coach less willing to play the players his GM acquires. I'm tired of it. I'm tired of Keefe, and I'm really tired of how everyone talks about him. I hope he's gone by this afternoon.
As for a new GM, real life isn't the culture war. Kyle Dubas is not a numbers-obsessed nerd, he is a hockey lifer with a business degree. His replacement does not have to be some portly middle-aged guy who really wants you to tell him about heart and who thinks the NHL lost a great one when John Scott retired. That's just the narrative formula that gets you wringing your hands, it's not reality.
The Leafs aren't hiring Dave Nonis or Peter Chiarelli either.
My candidates (not in preferential order):
- Erik Tulsky, because someone who wrote for SBN deserves to run a hockey team
- Mathieu Darche (currently with Tampa)
- Brandon Pridham
Another name out there in the Penguins search is Devils AGM Dan MacKinnon. One more interesting person is Jeff Greenberg who was one of the finalists for the Chicago job and is an Associate General Manager in Chicago under Kyle Davidson who beat him out for the job of GM. I have no idea if Chicago would let him go, or if the Leafs would be willing to be that off the board (his prior job was with the Cubs), but that kind of hire would be very intriguing.
There's lots of people in hockey of all sorts. People who can build on the foundation the Leafs have. You don't tear your house down because the living room needs to be painted. But sometimes you do have to rip it back to the studs to really fix what's wrong. The Leafs, it seems to me, are looking for a renovator not a building contractor.
We will, as it is said, see where this goes.