Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Shanahan & Dubas

There’s so much to write about the Toronto Maple Leafs that it’s tough to pick what to report on. The space between letting Kyle Dubas go as general manager (GM) and hiring a new GM has made for a lot of chaos, so in this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll focus on that topic.

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Who’s doing what this morning? What philosophies about team building trump decisions about contracts? How does the chain of command work? Perhaps it’s all running like clockwork, but without a clear leader, I would guess there would be some checking and double-checking. 

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If anything, team president Brendan Shanahan has to be busy fielding question after question. He’s the clear boss, but also the one person I have not heard mentioned for the job of GM. It makes me wonder about the possibility of a surprise here.

Item One: GM Candidates Will Come Out of the Woodwork

In a conversation between NHL insider Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek (below) regarding the vacant GM position, Friedman discussed why Brad Treliving would be a suitable candidate. Friedman mentioned that Treliving’s name emerged quickly because he’s the most recently available candidate with significant experience. 

Friedman also mentioned that numerous and surprising names will be popping out of the woodwork because being the Maple Leafs’ GM is a highly sought-after job, especially to reshape the team’s future. 

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In addition, Friedman emphasized (and you can tell he respects) that the organization is thorough. They’ll leave no stone unturned in their search for the right candidate, and they are committed to doing everything possible to make the team successful.

One person’s 56-year Stanley Cup drought is another person’s challenge.

Item Two: Maple Leafs’ Players Were Blunt About What Didn’t Work

Speaking of Friedman, in Monday’s 32 Thoughts Podcast, he made several key points about the Maple Leafs. First, he believes the biggest decision for the organization this offseason is what to do with Auston Matthews, who will be entering the last season of his contract in 2023-24.

Auston Matthews Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Second, Friedman mentioned that, during the team’s exit interviews, some players were concerned that Matthews would not sign a contract extension if significant changes were made before the draft. He implied that Matthews is watching the situation closely and would weigh the team’s actions and direction before committing.

Third, Friedman compared Matthews’ situation to David Pastrnak‘s last season with the Boston Bruins. The Bruins believed he wanted to stay but were patient and signed him to an extension just a couple of months ago. He suggested that Toronto will take a similar approach if Matthews isn’t signed, expressing confidence in their ability to get a deal done next season, but that seems risky with Dubas gone.

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Finally, Friedman mentioned how tough the exit interviews were; players bluntly expressed their thoughts about what went wrong, which led him to believe that candid discussions will be held about the team’s shortcomings and the areas that need improvement. He also suggested that, because the players were honest about what didn’t work, this could lead to changes within the organization.

Item Three: Auston Matthews Unsure Without Dubas to Negotiate

Speaking of Matthews, as most fans know, he’s entering the final year of his contract, which expires on July 1, 2024. However, signing an extension seems unlikely without a GM in place. Prior to Dubas’ dismissal, there was hope that, because the two are close, they would be able to reach an agreement.

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The sense of urgency is well-founded. Matthews’ full no-movement clause takes effect on Canada Day, and unless he’s traded before then, he will remain with the team for the 2023-24 season.

However, if he does not sign an extension this summer, after July 1, he can’t be moved and the Maple Leafs might risk losing him without compensation when his contract expires. Given the rumours that Matthews really wants to play in California with (perhaps) the Los Angeles Kings, the uncertain situation has many uneasy.

Trevor Moore Los Angeles Kings
Might Auston Matthews be suiting up with former teammate Trevor Moore with the Los Angeles Kings?
(Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Matthews’ contract carries an $11.64 million cap hit for next season, and he’s expected to get considerably more on his next deal.  

Item Four: The Issue of Signing Unrestricted Free Agents

Although attention has focused on the need for someone to negotiate contract extensions with Matthews or William Nylander, another issue is the need for someone to re-sign the unrestricted free agents the team wants back. If you’re David Kampf, Luke Schenn, or Noel Acciari, you have to be unsure of your status with whoever the team’s new regime will be.

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The Maple Leafs face the challenge of having to retain valuable assets during this transition period. I’m assuming that Shanahan will pass on the information to Brandon Pridham, who will do the legwork. However, other teams were given permission to speak to Pridham about a job as GM, which makes this situation uncertain as well.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

It’s possible that Matthews was honest about wanting to stay with the Maple Leafs long-term, but I wonder if that means only if the team stays the way he likes it. He often talks about the “love in the room” or his teammates who “love” to play with each other. If that crumbles, then what, especially since Dubas’ advocacy for the Core Four has been chipped away? What if Marner is traded before July 1?

Mitch Marne and Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Will Mitch Marner like Rasmus Sandin be leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs?
(Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

I keep reading that the organization needs a tough negotiator to deal with Matthews and others. I don’t think that will work. The way I see it, Matthews will not sign a contract extension. He will play out next season and see what shapes up. However, I can’t believe the Maple Leafs are willing to let the situation move that far down the road.