Maple Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas: Using Anger as a New Negotiating Tactic 

Around my house, the term geek is a term of respect. We’re all geeks. But that doesn’t mean we’re not competitive.

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Maybe that’s why I like Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas as much as I do. He appears to be the last thing from competitive, but I believe he’s every bit of a competitor as the players on his team.

Dubas Is Growing Into the Role of a General Manager

I also think Dubas is learning more about becoming an NHL general manager, year by year. Last year, I saw the first glimpse of his anger when he refused to give in to the Edmonton Oilers’ request to trade the negotiating rights for the departed Zach Hyman for a pittance. Instead of taking a “small token of gratitude” from Oilers’ general manager Ken Holland so that Hyman could be signed for an eighth season, Dubas simply said No!

Zach Hyman Edmonton Oilers
Zach Hyman left the Maple Leafs for the Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He was angry and didn’t play ball. It cost him something very minor, but it helped put the Oilers into even more salary-cap difficulty than the Maple Leafs are in this season. 

Related: Zach Hyman Trade Revisited

Maple Leafs’ fans seem to believe that their team is the only one up against the wall with the salary cap. False. Most of the teams who’ve been winning recently (and some that haven’t) are in deep salary-cap despair. The pandemic has caused issues for almost every NHL team.

Dubas Is Showing His Anger About the Sandin Negotiations

Now we see that Dubas is angry again. In an interview yesterday, on the face of it, Dubas didn’t appear to be too worried about a potential offer sheet for pending RFA Rasmus Sandin. However, reading the context, it’s hard not to get the feeling that Sandin’s agent Lewis Gross has been “threatening” Dubas that an offer sheet is on its way. 

By the way, Gross is also William Nylander’s agent so wise readers might believe there’s something of a backstory behind Dubas’ ire.

William Nylander
Toronto Maple Leafs’ William Nylander speaks to reporters in Toronto on Friday, April 27, 2018. The next time the Maple Leafs play a game, they???ll know the status of winger William Nylander. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Anyway, as Dubas noted yesterday, “If there’s going to be an offer sheet, the sooner the better so we can make our decision and move on.” Dubas did remind fans that he also believed that Sandin is a big part of the team’s future. That should be true.

The Inside Part of the Dubas’ Narrative

However, there’s another part of the narrative. The way that Dubas has been speaking about both Timothy Liljegren and Sandin is interesting. He barely mentions one without mentioning the other. In almost every sentence, when he speaks about Sandin he adds something about Liljegren – and vice versa. He’s constantly linking them together in his conversation with the media. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Sandin Tosses Some Shade at Nylander [Video]

So what does that mean? It’s likely to mean that he wants to sign Sandin for about the same $1.4 million per season that he signed Liljegren for. Like it or not for the Sandin camp, that’s the way the story is being shaped from the Maple Leafs’ perspective. They’ve risen through the system together, and the team looks forward to them playing together for a good, long time.

On the plus side for Sandin, it likely means that the team sees him – sooner or later – as being a high-pairing defenseman. Sandin might just have to wait a bit longer if he stays in Toronto. Jake Muzzin is still around.

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On the negative side for Sandin, the truth is that his being a left-side defenseman makes him more expendable – if need be – than Liljegren, who’s a right-side defenseman. The question is whether Sandin will take the long view?

The Bigger Problem for Sandin Is He Has No Arbitration Rights

The biggest issue here for Sandin is that the team has control. He does not have arbitration rights until next season. And, his injuries didn’t allow him to show his stuff well over the past season. He might be stuck, except …

Related: Maple Leafs Need to Change Their Pattern and It Starts With Sandin

So, that’s where an offer sheet for Sandin that’s much over $2 million might become problematic. And, if Sandin’s agent plays that way with Dubas – if I’m right about the mood Dubas is in – and his client wants to stay in Toronto, it might be a risky gamble.

Could it be that Dubas would match an offer sheet over $2 million, or might the Maple Leafs invoke the bigger picture themselves and allow Sandin to leave. It would surely create a different environment for any other of Gross’ clients who were planning to negotiate with the Maple Leafs as long as Dubas were the general manager.

Where Does This All Leave Sandin?

Right now, Rasmus Sandin wants more than the Maple Leafs are willing to spend. Where does that leave him?

The big “if” here is the possibility that Sandin signs an offer sheet. That would be an interesting development. Without an offer sheet, Sandin has little power and will likely stay with the Maple Leafs – unhappy as he’ll be that his contract won’t be much higher than his sometimes defensive pairing partner Liljegren.

We’ll see soon. Crunch time is coming.