If Dubas Leaves the Maple Leafs, Will Auston Matthews Follow?

There has been a lot of chatter over the past few days about Kyle Dubas, his expiring contract as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the organization’s unwillingness to commit to the GM with a new deal and an extension. Dubas himself says he understands based on the lack of playoff success the organization has had in recent years, but there’s debate about how much of a risk it might be to let Dubas potentially leave.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe

Another question that has started to arise is what a potential Dubas exit might mean for the roster, specifically Auston Matthews. If Dubas leaves (or isn’t extended), would Matthews be more inclined to depart as well?

Dubas Has Done a Good Job

A number of Dubas supporters are getting a bit more vocal since the announcement that the Leafs will wait this year out to see how the team performs before talking extension with Dubas. The GM says he’s confident in his team and many suggest he has a right to be considering he’s done a better-than-adequate job constructing it over the years as the team’s architect.

Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs
Kyle Dubas, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Alana Davidson/NHLI via Getty Images)

As one Twitter account wrote, “Dubas’ Toronto Maple Leafs have won more games during his tenure as GM than Brian Burke, Dave Nonis, and JFJ Jr. combined yet all 3 are still working in the NHL and the Media continue to ask stupid questions about a contract renewal.” Others have defended Dubas, arguing that his deals with the players he has were done with the prospect of a huge television deal and the expansion of legalized gambling on the horizon. It’s not like he could have seen a global pandemic coming and the cap causing a significant hurdle to finish what he’d originally envisioned for this franchise. Even still, he’s built a contender that is in the conversation year after year.

Sign up for our regular 'Maple Leafs Newsletter' for all the latest.

The point here is to focus on how much this potential decision is based on current results (this coming season) or previous results. Does Dubas get credit for the good he’s done or is he solely going to be judged on this final, make-or-break season?

How Might That Affect Auston Matthews?

GMs come and go all the time in pro sports. That’s no different in the NHL where every season it seems like a different team gets a new face at the top and calls the shots for everyone down below. That said, tight relationships between GMs and players may be harder to find. Make no mistake, Dubas and Matthews are close.

Related: Maple Leafs Must Be Willing to Go All-In for a Stanley Cup

On the heels of the superstar forward saying he sees Toronto as a “special place to play”, it is “a city that lets me be myself” and his adding, “I consider it home now”, Chris Johnston writes that the Maple Leafs should be concerned with how Matthews digests the news of Dubas’ exit if that’s how things play out.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Johnston writes that Dubas has leverage in that regard and that the timing certainly isn’t ideal. He explains:

His [Dubas] negotiating position will be improved by orders of magnitude if this ends up being the team’s breakthrough season. And even if it doesn’t, ownership would be taking a massive risk by cutting ties with Dubas on the precipice of a summer where Auston Matthews is eligible to sign his own extension. Dubas has a strong relationship with the reigning Hart Trophy winner and his agent Judd Moldaver. They’ve already engaged in some degree of dialogue about the path ahead. Everyone is comfortable with the process.

What happens if the Leafs throw a new GM into the mix as they are trying to negotiate a new deal, arguably the most important one in franchise history? Moreover, what happens if they fire someone that means a lot to Matthews as they are trying to convince him to stick around? Some will argue that Matthews isn’t likely to tie his future to one person, but athletes have left organizations for less and this was a summer in which Kevin Durant threw out an ultimatum for his current team, the Brooklyn Nets. Things worked out, but at one point he threatened to leave if they were going to keep their current coach and GM.

Matthews isn’t Durant, but you get my point.

Who Does Matthews Trust?

Even if the Maple Leafs fall short this season, it might be important to Matthews that he has someone he trusts in charge of a retool. Should the Leafs not make the postseason or not get out of the first round, there will be changes. The question will be who should make them? The follow-up question will be whether Matthews wants to be involved.

If it isn’t Dubas, will Matthews have faith that a new GM will be able to do what Dubas has done — build a contending team year after year that their star player has confidence in? Sure, things haven’t worked out the way Dubas, Matthews, or the ownership team would have hoped. That doesn’t mean things won’t and if Matthews sees a Dubas exit as a step backward, he may elect to play the ace he’s got up his sleeve.

When Matthews is eligible to re-sign with the Maple Leafs (July 1, 2023), his no-movement clause also kicks in. As Johnston points out, “he essentially has full control over the circumstances surrounding his next contract.”