It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas, maybe longer than we thought. As the Zoom call started, a full-bearded, somewhat older looking man appeared on the screen. I’m not talking like Elliotte Friedman or Tom Hanks in Cast Away, but in the ballpark.
Dubas, who traded in his fresh-shaved look for the quarantine beard, made a few adjustments to his glasses and then dove into an in-depth 40-minute interview.
How the Flat Cap Impacts the Leafs
When the NHL announced the salary cap would remain flat, at $81.5 million, Toronto was a team that many pointed at as being hurt by the decision, but Dubas doesn’t see a problem.
I know that seems to be the narrative of the team, and there is a lot of talk about it,” he said. “If we were facing a situation where some of our core players were up at the end of this year and were unrestricted, or they had a large amount of leverage as some of our past players have had, I would maybe feel differently and say that we’re going to have to make a major move and delete from our core, but with everybody signed going into this offseason, I think we’re going to have some space to take care of our restricted free agents that we have and potentially look at some of our own UFAs.
Those unrestricted free agents include Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Jason Spezza, Kyle Clifford, and restricted free agents Travis Dermott and Ilya Mikheyev.
Advantages for the Hub City Leafs?
The Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers are the only teams that don’t have to get on a plane to get to the hub city. Dubas says he could make a case for it being both an advantage and a disadvantage. “There is a bit of familiarity with the facility, but there are no fans in the rink, so we don’t have that advantage.” So little advantage that the Leafs will actually be in the visitors dressing room when they are the visiting team.
Dubas also sees it as a challenge with families so close but still out of reach. “We are all going to be sealed away from them, even know they are not that far, especially if something were to happen that you couldn’t leave for, but was being dealt with very close to you, I think that posses its own challenges.”
Playing an Extra 5 Games
Toronto was a playoff team when the season stopped but now has to play into the playoffs through a qualifying round. “I don’t think it is unfair that we have to play a qualifying round once-so-ever,” Dubas commends the league and the return to play committee for what has been developed. “I think the NHL has done a great job… recognizing playoff races weren’t over and to have teams that were in the race kept alive.”
A Healthy Leafs’ Roster Minus Andreas Johnsson
Toronto, like every NHL team, dealt with a lot of injuries. The Leafs’ blue line is 100 percent healthy for the first time this season, “I think the injuries that we had through the year were more of a blessing.” Dubas says that experience will pay dividends in the coming weeks by giving Toronto a lot more depth as in-the-system players got a lot of ice time.
The GM says Andreas Johnsson’s rehabilitation is on-track, and he could be on the ice for the second round of the playoffs.
Can Nick Robertson make the team?
Every prospect invited to training camp has a legitimate chance at making the roster, Dubas says. The general manager explains that there are 30 players at camp, instead of the 70-to-80 at a regular training camp, which leaves the door wide open for prospects to impress the coaches.
“What I’d say to all of those players is they’ve got a chance to make an impact they are competing with one another, and Nick is one of those players that’s competing.”
The Matchup With Columbus
In just a few short weeks, the Leafs will play the Columbus Blue Jackets in the qualifying round. “We know they are going to be a very difficult opponent for us,” but, Dubas says the focus is not on the competition. “We’ve got to take care of ourselves first and foremost, for the first little bit, and they get ready for Columbus in the final days of it and make sure we are putting ourselves in the best spot to maximize where we are at as a group.”
Happy to Have Hockey Back
Dubas says he never thought he would look forward to being in an arena in July and August. Still, he is happy hockey is back. “To have the ability to sit in Scotiabank Arena and watch three games the entire day is going to be pretty awesome. I’m excited for that just as a hockey nerd.”
If that’s the definition of a nerd, sign me up, and send me a pair of wide-rimmed Dubas style glasses. The NHL qualifying rounds start on Aug. 1.