Two versions of Brendan Shanahan exist. V1 was ready to extend Kyle Dubas as GM of the Leafs last fall, again at the deadline, and then again in March. He was still up for up to last Wednesday. V2 decided on Thursday, shortly after Dubas's agent submitted a new contract offer, that he was firing that guy. On Friday V2 explained the whole thing as best he could.
Our question today is a simple one: Which version of Shanahan did the right thing? V1, who wanted to keep Dubas, or V2, who wanted to fire him.
Species: Clearly v2.0 needed more beta testing before its first public release. It’s shocking to witness a relationship deteriorate so rapidly that neither side understands it is happening. Shanny’s press conference reflected that in all of its awkwardness. Hopefully Grandpa Cliff was tasked to take Lil’ Mitch out to a local Dairy Queen, buy him a Blizzard, and then explain that the divorce wasn’t his fault. We’re accustomed to MLSE having the competence to handle these situations elegantly, so seeing this play out like a messy soap opera episode is quite a shock. All that’s missing is the reveal of Dubas’ heretofore unknown evil twin brother being hired as the next GM.
To answer the original question, I don’t know exactly what to think as we only have the V2 Shanahan timeline to go off, and critically it misses some days during which Shanny appears by his own recollection to have talked himself out of rehiring Dubas. But then that timeline doesn’t make sense because how could he go from “here’s a solid multi-year contract offer” to “you’re fired” in only 48 hours? We’re missing something. I don’t know what specifically because there’s a lot of possibilities. One is that Dubas tried to play 4-D chess and botched it leading to a stalemate where no one wins.
Another possibility is that he played 4-D chess and has succeeded to get exactly what he wanted. The cynical voice in my head says the whole “I’ll be GM of Toronto or nowhere” was a bit, and that is one that he has carefully nullified. Dubas is on record saying those family issues existed, but those are now all resolved because he agreed to come back; but now those meanies on the Maple Leafs said “No!” and by doing that they have released him from that “Toronto or nowhere” promise. If true, that’s some real 4-D chess, but hasn’t 4-D chess moves always been his gambit? So Dubas is signing as a GM for some other team (the Penguins) sometime next week?
All that being said, what’s done is done: bandage on the playoffs loss ripped off; steam from Shanny and Dubas has been released from the pressure vessel; warp core breach is averted. But what now and who and when? I don’t know, other than there’s more to come beyond yesterday’s announcement of Jason Spezza and the Marlies staff leaving/fired. This feels like a whole reprogram of the team is going to happen. A real Shanaplan 2.0 for which maybe this season will be the beta test? Every move and any move is on the table now, and not like those times when an established GM says “every move is on the table,” and they really don’t mean that. This time it’s true.
Leafs fans are “living in interesting times.”
Hardev: Shanahan might wake up one day in the near future and wonder if he should’ve let V2 do that presser. But the cold hard truth about the team is that the front office doesn’t win the games, the players do. Whoever the new GM will be a fresh pair of eyes on every player the Leafs have. Before I go further, I trust V1 and V2 Shanahan to be able to find the right GM. I could be wrong, but from a roster construction standpoint Dubas wasn’t perfect. He took a few years of Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, and Nick Foligno to figure it out, and with the clock ticking that stings. There are some good GM candidates out there, I’m interested in what they think of this roster moving forward and if my glasses were a little pink without me realizing.
This is all clear as mud right now, but the reports about Dubas wanting full autonomy with the hockey club line up well with everything else we know. A level of authority that would’ve made Shanahan obsolete, and it doesn’t sound like that was on the cards. It was likely what was different in the last contract offer that meant the end. It was an offer not expected to be accepted. It was Dubas’ resignation letter in some ways.
Back to the players. I think I convinced myself this team had more than enough offense back in 2017 and didn’t adjust my priors enough over the last six years. They need more offense, and real talent from at least one more guy. Can that be found this summer? If not, the smart move may be to take a step back from contending and re-tool. Trade Marner at the draft for DeBrincat or Pettersson, sell Nylander at the trade deadline and Tavares at the next one. The mainstays should be Matthews, Rielly, and hopefully a blossomed Knies. I think a good GM who isn’t married to this core will figure out if Dubas was right about the core or a re-tool is needed. I’ve lost trust, personally. Brigstew, you’re going to be really important to us moving forward. (brigstew interjection: o7)
Cathy: The very first thing I wrote for the new site (back in March) had this summary of Dubas's status in it:
Don't feel sorry for this man or worry about what he deserves – he chose this path. He linked himself inexorably to Sheldon Keefe and to his core players. "We can and we will," wasn't just a stirring announcement of his faith in those players, it was Kyle Dubas putting all his chips in on Blue. He has to get something for that bet. He has to prove he has a successful team building process. His deadline deals have to pay out. The regular season has to produce a playoff team that really looks like a contender.
I think that on the whole, I'm fine with Dubas moving on as a concept. It should have happened as Dubas just moving on, not this soap opera, but the point now is not how Dubas was replaced, just that he is gone. I actually mostly agree with V1 Shanahan that Dubas did have a good summer and a good trade deadline. I don't and never have bought the line that the RFA contracts were this big failure of manly negotiation. But it isn't a good/bad question. I don't set the bar at did you do everything right, I set the bar at did you get a reasonable return on the assets invested?
I don't think Dubas did, and I don't just mean playoffs. It's very true that the Leafs banged up against Stanley Cup Finalists a lot of times in a row. And it's also true you should win those series if you're a serious contender. I like most of the players on this team, I think the core are very talented. If you want to critique a contract, you could pick Morgan Rielly's or you could pick the one that isn't there – a defender who can take all those third-pairing guys and carry them into the playoffs. Or the other one that isn't there – a genuine top-six left wing.
Dubas is, in a lot of ways, TJ Brodie. He's very good most of the time. He understands the game very well, and he plays with his whole heart. But there are times TJ Brodie isn't enough, and there were times Dubas wasn't enough. I wanted Zach Hyman on this team so bad, and the margin between the deal Dubas was willing to do and the one that got it done for Edmonton was not large. But it precluded Rielly's extension and/or it precluded believing in Jack Campbell for another year. I would have traded Mitch Marner to do it – a move only Vegas would make. Dubas needed a little more Vegas in him.
Dubas also needed a little less loyalty. For me, as objective as I can make myself be, Sheldon Keefe should have lost his job in 2022. Yeah, that would have meant two years on an ill-advised extension would have been on the books while Mike Babcock was on the books, so maybe my complaint is the length of the extension Keefe got. But the things that went wrong in 2021-2022, went wrong again this season. The same things. The same regular season things, the same playoff things. I don't think Keefe is bad either. Just rigid and unresponsive – he's tried nothing and he's all out of ideas.
So it's fine to have change. To have a new GM, and there better be a new coach, they better be willing to eat that last year of Keefe's deal. I think Shanahan actually got to the right answer in the wrong way and badly timed. Maybe V1 was a little too loyal, and too comfortable with the things Dubas did well and ignored the things he just never did. It's hard to take your personal feelings out of the equation. I just wish I had more confidence in V2's ability to get the job done now, to find a new GM who is genuinely worth all this bloodletting.
Chris Johnston, echoing Dubas's words from Monday, called this hasty. And it was hastily done. Not planned. And that's what worries me. The clock is ticking, and unless Shanahan has a fairly elastic definition of "experienced" this team is going to end up, not with a "dinosaur" as GM, but with a mediocre man.
I find it really hard to even imagine Dubas on this supposed five-year extension, with Shanahan willingly tying his futre to Dubas in that way. I mostly wish Shanahan had figured all this out back in March and started planning.
Hardev: Maybe at the end of the day Shanahan just wanted Dubas to be married to him and not to his core.
Brian: Can I say that both versions of Shanahan were a bit right? I think it was right to want to have extended him, but with what happened at the end of season press conference and after that… I don’t blame Shanahan at all for wanting to wash his hands and start fresh, even if I still would have preferred to have Dubas remain as the GM.
I think that Kyle was a good NHL GM, maybe even a very good one. He did great things for the organization from the bottom on up. He brought in smart people. He helped implement a great system for developing and scouting prospects. He was a great person for the things he said and did. I love that he cared so much for his own players and people – how he was the first to run down to see Mikheyev and Tavares and others when they had awful injuries, and stayed with them as the team traveled to the next city. I love that he went to Pride with Rielly and others.
I have to give him partial credit for me getting into scouting prospects. The first time I really did it was in part because I was fascinated about the things he said and the players he picked and the logic he mentioned behind his decisions and thought process.
And I think specifically with the Maple Leafs, he did a good job managing everything he was dealt. It was on the one hand pretty ideal – he inherited a young and exciting core. On the other hand, he had some tough contracts to get off the books, and he had a hail mary sales pitch to John Tavares to load up the core even more. He had Mike Babcock to deal with, the RFA contracts for the core to deal with, and then the pandemic and how that fucked the salary cap to deal with. He also his highest draft pick – Rodion Amirov – have his career and life completely derailed with brain cancer. How much more promising would the Leafs look right now if both Knies and Amirov (one year older than Knies) were starting to break onto the roster with good, young, skilled depth? And through that, he built record-setting Maple Leafs rosters… for the regular season. I don’t fully blame him for Toronto’s inability to win a playoff round until just this season. I think he did mostly a good job at building rosters that could compete, and they did always make it close didn’t they?
But they didn’t, in the end. He can’t be completely blameless for it. He had a particular strategy for building the team’s depth and its defense that I can somewhat understand but didn’t fully agree with. He turned the team into a slower and more methodical one. One with depth that was built around slowing and shutting down the other team, rather than being able to score goals of their own – or at least not skew so extremely to the all defense. And I get it, those players were the cheap ones he could get as free agents because they’re undervalued, and he had almost no cap room to work with. But there were cheap free agents who had an offensive game that could have been had. Some even signed PTOs, but Toronto never seemed to be in on them. Would they have made the difference in any of the playoff series they lost? Couldn’t tell you, and it’s not fair for me to assume it.
In the end, I just keep coming back to the thought that Kyle Dubas was a good GM – in many senses of the word – but just not good enough. I’m not doom and gloom that Shanahan will bring in a traditional Hockey Man who will run this team into the ground. He is the one who went out and found Kyle Dubas after all, and I’m sure was involved in bringing in other non-traditional people to the organization – Hayley Wickenheiser, Ryan Hardy, and others. He could shock us all and go out and get Eric Tulsky for all I know, so I’m going to reserve judgment until I see what they wind up doing.