Maple Leafs Commentary: Not Extending Dubas a Smart Move

On the opening day of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ training camp, it was revealed that team President Brendan Shanahan had opted not to extend General Manager Kyle Dubas’ contract. As a result, Dubas is signed to a contract that expires at the end of the 2022-23 season.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Dubas’ Quinella, Babcock & Bunting

That situation likely means that Dubas is on a “show us” contract. He’ll have to prove himself over the coming season to keep his job.  

Typically This Situation Is Not Ideal for a General Manager, Except That …

Normally being on an expiring contract is not regarded as the ideal situation for a General Manager because it puts him into a “lame duck” situation. It is often believed that players might not buy into what a lame-duck general manager plans if they feel he might not be around beyond the present season. 

Kyle Dubas Toronto Maple Leafs GM
Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs GM (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In this case, Shanahan might have acted strategically. Assuming that he would like to keep Dubas in his current job, Shanahan made a calculated risk that not extending might work as motivation for the team’s core players. All five of the core players on this team – Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly – have been paid handsomely by Dubas. They also seem to have a good relationship and rapport with Dubas and seem to enjoy playing for him. 

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All five players have stated on record that they need to step up this season. They realize they need to get over the whole “losing in the first round of the playoffs” hump. Knowing that Dubas’ job is on the line if they fail might just be the extra motivation that helps get them (and the rest of the team) over that hump. 

Could Head Coach Sheldon Keefe’s Job Also Be In Jeopardy? 

The employment of Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe is tied to any decision made about Dubas. Is Keefe’s job also in jeopardy? Michael Traikos tweeted a Las Vegas line about who the first NHL coach to be fired will be. Keefe tops the list at 13 to 2 odds. 

Sheldon Keefe and Manny Malhotra Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe and Manny Malhotra, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When we first read this, we thought this betting line seemed ridiculous. Keefe has had the best regular season of any Toronto Maple Leafs’ coach in team history in their first 185 games. His record in those games is 116-50-19, which is a .678 percent winning percentage. He also just finished coaching the team to its best regular season ever, finishing 2021-22 with 115 points. 

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But, all fans (even beyond the Toronto area) know about the team’s failure to win a single round in the playoffs in the three seasons Keefe has been the coach. 

If Keefe Keeps Winning with This Team, Is that a Tougher Accomplishment?

Now Keefe is starting the 2022-23 season with a team that doesn’t look as good on paper as the one that finished the 2021-22 season. Keefe has also been “gifted” by a goalie who cleared waivers last season (Matt Murray) and one that failed to get a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent from the team that drafted in him the first round of the 2015 Entry Draft (Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals, 22nd pick).

Ilya Samsonov Washington Capitals
Ilya Samsonov, when he was with the Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What happens if both goalies struggle badly to begin the season? Could Keefe face an early exit? When the Maple Leafs fired Mike Babcock in November 2019, the team had a 9-10-4 record after 23 games to start the 2019-20 season.  If the Maple Leafs were to have a similar start to the 2022-23 season, could Keefe’s job actually be on the line? 

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Could there really be something to the Las Vegas oddsmakers picking Keefe as the first NHL coach fired this season? Do they know something we don’t? And, if Keefe leaves, could Dubas be far behind?

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]