When you hear Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas speak about his team, two words make a regular appearance – ‘believe’ and ‘people’. For Dubas, it’s always who you are as a person and the talent second. Don’t expect the Maple Leafs to invest time, energy or resources into someone they don’t believe is a good person, regardless of how bright and shiny the potential looks. This has become the focal point for the executive and is being shown off perhaps more now than ever. He’s sticking with his guns and believing in his strategy and the people. Dubas has made it clear – this Maple Leafs’ core is expected to break through next season.
When Dubas was hired as general manager, some questions were raised about the 32-year-old’s readiness, and President Brendan Shanahan was quick to make one thing clear – there’s no doubt about him being ready. Now, the entire hockey world knows that’s the case, especially with some of Dubas’ more creative and savvy moves over the years. He thinks the same about the core of his roster, and believes they’re ready.
Don’t Expect Any Leafs Veterans to Be Dealt
If you consider this Maple Leafs’ core has only been together for three seasons since John Tavares signed back in 2018, and you see across all sports how long it usually takes a foundation of teammates to win a championship, it should remind sports fans it takes time. However, that doesn’t mean there can’t be adjustments along the way and Dubas admitted over the weekend the team looked passive at key moments. Certainly, something a killer instinct could fix this, but changes won’t come from afar, but from within. The core needs to develop the killer instinct to take over in Game 7s and elimination game overtimes. It’s about finding that extra gear when it matters most to take over the game and control it. It’s about not being reactive to an outcome and taking control of the destiny – unfortunately, that hasn’t transpired just yet in Toronto, but Dubas believes it’s coming.
Here’s the Leafs GM speaking about his team’s best players who won’t be going anywhere:
Zach Hyman likely heading to Edmonton creates an additional hole Dubas and company are going to have to fill, but as the executive put it, question marks in July are expected. Hyman brings a ton of intangibles to any team he’s a part of and that’s not even including the number of icings he beats out. There was no doubt the veteran forward played the game the right way, and he’ll continue to do so while enjoying his hard-earned money in Edmonton on Connor McDavid’s wing. The Leafs are happy for Hyman and it was obvious with the way Dubas spoke about him. Sometimes cost and benefit don’t add up and it appears it’s one of those times for Toronto.
Maple Leafs Will Provide Prospects Opportunity For Success
One thing that was evident during Dubas’ media call was how he would never want to block any of his prospects from developing, and a handful of them will be given the opportunity to compete for NHL spots once training camp opens. Dubas mentioned the likes of Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren as two defensemen he’s focused on. It sounds like both will be given every chance to step in for regular minutes in 2021-22. Sandin was essentially Dubas’ first big trade acquisition and someone he’s very familiar with, so it was only a matter of time before he was handed the keys.
As for Liljegren, Dubas was the assistant general manager when he was drafted, and this player is someone the Leafs believe can be an impact player in the league. Untimely injuries, Justin Holl’s development and a strong season from Zach Bogosian have all played a factor. Perhaps next season will be much different for the former first-rounder.
Two other names that were mentioned immediately by Dubas regarding forward help from within were Nick Robertson and Joey Anderson, the latter of whom appeared in one game last season with the Maple Leafs. Two players, both at the same position, yet over three years difference in age. Regardless, they will be 20 and 23, respectfully, when training camp opens and the only number that’s going to matter is if they can put their jersey number in the opening night program.
It’s been tough for Leafs Nation seeing the likes of Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen and now Zach Hyman potentially leaving. Toronto has lost some of their hardest workers. One good thing for Leafs Nation is the fact Robertson, in particular, has a motor that’s unmatched. If he’s capable of finding the perfect balance of max speed, appropriate effort, and finishing ability, he’s certainly a candidate to take over as a major aspect of the team’s secondary group. Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe are huge believers in Robertson as a person and as a player, and that should show more than ever next season.
Every single offseason, all Dubas is trying to do is upgrade the roster and find ways to make the team better. The Maple Leafs need to make adjustments after another first-round exit and you can expect to see plenty when next season opens. From different elements tactically, to personnel with secondary pieces, the team will have a different feel next season. The games in October are important but everything should and will be judged off postseason success. This Maple Leafs core has yet to shake hands after a playoff series and then proceed to celebrate with hugs and cold beers together. Dubas believes next season will be the year and he’s willing to bet everything on it.
Shane’s been a part of The Hockey Writers team since 2020, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor, his versatile perspective on game results and everything off the ice produces diverse content. You can also find him on the Maple Leafs Lounge podcast with Peter Baracchini and Alex Hobson. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween