The Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas enters the 2022-23 season on an expiring contract. And, to listen to him talk, that’s exactly the way he wants it.
Dubas became the team’s 17th general manager in May 2018. This will be his fifth season at the helm of the team. His boss Brendan Shanahan has served as the President of the Maple Leafs since 2014 and signed a six-year extension in 2019. Together, and with Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe, this threesome is largely responsible for the current plight of the Maple Leafs as a team.
But this season, Dubas is on the spot for the team’s success or failure. He obviously knows what very well.
What Dubas Said (and How He Said It) at Day One of Training Camp
Yesterday, in addition to the regular interviews that are always part of the beginning of training camp – who’s injured, what players he’s looking for to show up big, etc. – the interview turned to Dubas’ contract status.
What is Dubas’ status entering this season? From what I understand from reading, he was not offered a contract extension before this season began. So, in some ways, Dubas’ status is similar to young goalie Ilya Samsonov, who signed a “show us” contract for a single season. That is, Dubas himself is on a “show us” contract as well.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into yesterday’s conversation at the beginning of the Maple Leafs’ training camp, but I wonder if there’s a chance that Dubas will pull the rug out from under his own feet if his team doesn’t perform better this coming postseason than it did last postseason.
He sure set up that scenario in the worst case. Or, in the best case, he set himself up to be seen as a big part of the team’s success. Either way, he’s labelled himself as the target for any good or ill that becomes the Maple Leafs this season.
This Is Now the Team Dubas Built, And He’s Centering His Faith on It
Dubas was asked directly why he didn’t sign a contract extension. The specific question was worded this way: “Can you explain why you have decided not to sign an extension until the end of the season, even if that is on the table?”
Dubas answer was to the point. It also served to put himself directly in the line of fire. He made it clear that he’s responsible for this team and needs/wants to be judged in response to its success or lack of.
Dubas noted that he cannot control what the organization decides to do in terms of his contract status. He noted instead “I only control what I can do each day. My view of it is that, if we have the year we are capable of, the team plays the way it is capable of and executes at the end — which is what we are building towards — my situation will get taken care of without issue. I don’t worry about that.”
He then fully supported and aligned himself with the group he’s put together, noting that it was “the people that we have here — the players and the staff” that he believes in.
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He then doubled down by adding: “I think it is a special group.” And, he made it clear that, because he’s responsible for constructing this group, he’s “more than happy to go through the year, be evaluated on the year, and have the decision made (about his contract status). I believe in our group and know what we are capable of.”
Dubas Affirms Confidence in His Players
Dubas then invited personal critique of his accolades or failures by affirming his total confidence in his players. That’s not new for Dubas. Like him or not, he believes in his team and reaffirmed his total confidence in it.
He set high expectations for this season. He noted: “I have full belief in our players, in our staff and our group that we’re going to have a great season and my focus every single day will be continuing to support them.” In other words, if they do have success his support can be linked to it. If they don’t have success, he wasn’t able to support them enough.
By the Way, Dubas Didn’t Forget to Acknowledge His Work and Team Ethic
Finally, Dubas laid out his total work ethic in regard to the team by saying that “I think anybody that truly knows me or that it’s ever worked with me, knows that that’s all I’ll do every single day is pour every single thing I have into doing what’s right for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In continuing to set the team up for success in the short and long run.”
In other words, if the team isn’t successful it’s in part because Dubas’ best wasn’t good enough.
What Does This All Mean?
In the end, Dubas accepted the challenge completely. Whether he’s happy enough to be on a “show us” deal or not, he didn’t blink. If his team fails, it’s on him. If it succeeds, he set it up so that he gets part of the credit.
Seems fair to me, and it is what Maple Leafs’ fans have been calling for this entire offseason.
Let me share one radical thought. I predict that if this season does not go well for the Maple Leafs the organization will not have to fire Dubas. He’ll quit on his own.