Entering the 2022-23 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders each have the same goal. That goal is to win the Stanley Cup. Anything less than that is not good enough.
It’s for that reason that the two GMs of these teams are facing immense pressure to win now. Both Kyle Dubas and Lou Lamoriello know that another failed season could lead to some big changes. Each could be facing their last chance to succeed with their current teams.
Setting the Scene
To understand the full significance of this season for both Dubas and Lamoriello, we need to go back in time. Dateline July 2015. With Dubas already in the fold with the Maple Leafs as an assistant GM, the team needed to find their next GM.
This was coming off a season in 2014-15 in which the Maple Leafs finished with just 68 points. Dion Phaneuf was their captain. Phil Kessel was their leading scorer. Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri were manning the middle. And Morgan Rielly was just finishing his 20-year old season.
The 2014-15 disaster cost Dave Nonis his job. The Maple Leafs needed an experienced voice who had championship pedigree. They turned to Lamoriello to help right the ship. He stepped down as president of the New Jersey Devils to join the Maple Leafs.
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After finishing in last place in 2015-16, Lamoriello helped the Maple Leafs qualify for the playoffs the next two seasons. Although they lost in the first round in those series, there was a sense that things were starting to head in the right direction.
With that in mind, Lamoriello left his position as GM on May 11, 2018 to transition to the role of a senior advisor after the Maple Leafs hired Dubas as their GM.
Here’s what Dubas said after being hired by the Maple Leafs as their new GM: “I think the three years here working with Lou Lamoriello are what gives me the confidence that we’ll be able to continue to move this ahead in the structure and system that we have here today. If it didn’t feel right with the office staff, if it didn’t feel right with the coaching staff, with our management team, I’m not the type of person to just rush in and do this because it’s a GM job.”
However just 11 days after Dubas was hired, the Islanders hired Lamoriello as their president of hockey operations. Suddenly the two would become rivals. That was only the beginning of what was to come. Less than two months later, the two teams would become the center of attention in the hockey world.
The Tavares Decision
The biggest story of the 2018 offseason was starting to play out. John Tavares elected to test free agency. After talking to six teams including the Islanders and Maple Leafs, Tavares couldn’t turn down the chance to go to his hometown team.
Dubas was a driving force in helping this become a reality.
“I think we were very hopeful, we thought we made a very good case,” Dubas said. “All we did was present the people that we have here, the coaching staff, the leadership from Brendan on down, and the rest of our staff here. I think the most important part was presenting the players that John was going to play with, and in the end … that’s why players want to come to different places, because the players that they’re going to play with and be with every day on the team. And our guys were very, very good letting him know how we operate and what he could expect here.”
Lamoriello did everything he could to try to convince Tavares to stay with the Islanders. This included the hiring of coach Barry Trotz. But it was Dubas and the Maple Leafs that ultimately won out. It seemed the Maple Leafs were heading upwards under a new GM.
But to this point, it’s been Lamoriello that has enjoyed more playoff success since the Tavares decision.
Dubas vs. Lamoriello By the Numbers
Since the 2018 offseason, there have been three full seasons played and a partial season interrupted by COVID. Here is a breakdown of how each GM has done with their team.
- Dubas: Four playoff appearances (which includes the Toronto bubble): Zero playoff series wins. All four series went the distance before the Maple Leafs lost in the deciding game.
- Lamoriello: Three playoff appearances (which includes the Toronto bubble): Six playoff series wins (including a win in the qualifying round). One trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019-20 before losing to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Despite losing Tavares to the Maple Leafs, Lamoriello and the Islanders have had the better results when it’s mattered most. But now, each GM is facing their most important season to date with their respective team.
The Final Act?
Now each GM could be looking at their last chance to find the ultimate success with their current team. Why their last chance? It’s simple. Expectations.
The Maple Leafs and Islanders consistency have amongst the highest expectations in the league to win. That is taken to another level on both teams after the way their respective seasons ended.
For Dubas, despite perhaps their best playoff effort in his tenure, they lost in the first round again. With Jack Campbell leaving for the Edmonton Oilers, the Maple Leafs needed to address their goaltending. Dubas elected to trade for Matt Murray and then signed Ilya Samsonov. By doing so, Dubas put his stamp on this team. If it leads to the Stanley Cup, he’ll go down in Toronto history. However if this blows up, he could be out of chances.
For Lamoriello, he made the bold decision of moving on from coach Trotz and hiring Lane Lambert after an underwhelming season. Lamoriello cited the need for a new voice in making that decision. Lamoriello put himself on the line in doing this. Another failed season could lead to a change at the top including with Lamoriello himself. Considering most fans think the Islanders have had an underwhelming offseason, the pressure is on to win as expectations are still sky high.
In both cases, winning is required to keep things on track. An early playoff loss or missing the playoffs entirely could and should spell the end of each tenure. They each made critical decisions that will ultimately make or break their teams.
Is this truly the end for Dubas in Toronto and Lamoriello in New York? If either have disappointing seasons in 2022-23, they’ll be out of chances and their teams will start looking for new directions at the top.