Maple Leafs’ Kyle Dubas Facing First Real Test as GM

On May 11, 2018, Kyle Dubas was named the 17th general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. After spending four years in the organization as an assistant, he took over as GM following the departure of Lou Lamoriello.

One year later, Dubas is set to experience his first real test this off-season.

A Busy Offseason Ahead

Dubas has a lot on his plate. The Leafs have three forwards who are RFAs, three defensemen who are UFAs and two players who have requested trades.

He has difficult negotiations ahead of him with Mitch Marner. Marner is one of the Maple Leafs’ best players and with salary cap restrictions piling up, the task of signing him to an extension is going to be complicated.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

Rumours of offer sheets being extended to Marner have been circulating all season, as detailed by SportsNet’s Luke Fox. Whether or not the rumour becomes reality does not change the fact that Marner is going to be a tough negotiation.

He led the team in points last season with 94 and will be looking to get paid. He is likely to earn somewhere in the range of $10-$11 million next year and his agent has proven that he is willing to go to the media if he is unhappy with the Leafs.

Dubas’ off-season checklist does not end with Marner. Next year’s Maple Leafs team will look drastically different and this will be the first time that Dubas will be able to put his stamp on this team.

Both Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen need to be extended this summer, which may result in one of them being traded due to cap restrictions. They will not fetch the same value that Marner is projected to but could easily combine for a $9 million cap hit. This would put further stress on the Leafs’ salary cap if they are unable to move some players.

The Leafs have announced that they are working with Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev to find them new teams. Marleau’s production fell off this season and his $6.25 million cap hit is a burden Toronto cannot afford. They will likely need to sweeten a potential deal for a team to take on Marleau’s contract.

Zaitsev publicly discussed his unhappiness playing in Toronto. His contract is worth $4.5 million per season for the next five seasons. It may be difficult to find a team that is keen on taking on that contract due to the amount of term remaining, but the Vancouver Canucks have reportedly inquired about a potential deal.

Nikita Zaitsev, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
Nikita Zaitsev was the last defenseman the Leafs grabbed from Europe who made his NHL debut in 2016. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Leafs defensemen Jake Gardiner, Martin Marincin and Ron Hainsey are all about to hit free agency. Gardiner will likely receive a contract larger than the Maple Leafs are able to offer. Marincin will likely leave after a disappointing season, and Hainsey could possibly return on a one-year deal. Including Zaitsev, Dubas might have to replace up to four defencemen before next season.

When you combine the extensions of Marner, Johnsson and Kapanen, trading Marleau and Zaitsev, and replacing Gardiner and Marincin, you end up facing a very busy summer. Dubas will be tested in multiple different ways all at once and he will have the chance to prove himself as one of the league’s most promising young general managers.

Being Tested for the First Time

Dubas has done a good job in his first year as Leafs general manager. He managed to sign John Tavares to a seven-year deal last summer and he traded for a top-four defenseman in Jake Muzzin. The negotiations of William Nylander were a black mark on the season but on the whole, Dubas’ impact was a net positive.

This off-season is a far bigger task for Dubas than he faced in the previous year. Signing a superstar centre when you have a ton of cap space is easy. Convincing them to come to your team takes skill, but paying them when you have flexibility is not particularly hard. Having to make a similar deal when you have far less cap space is a challenge.

Dubas has said that Marner’s contract is priority number one this off-season. He has the benefit of being the general manager for the entire negotiation this time around as opposed to taking over for Lamoriello, like he did with the Nylander extension. It was a process that Dubas said he learned a lot from.

Marner is a better player than Nylander and this negotiation will mean far more to the Maple Leafs’ future. Getting him signed will be a big test of Dubas’ skills and will mean a great deal to his legacy as Maple Leafs general manager.

Last season, Toronto parted ways with James Van Reimsdyk, Leo Komarov and Tyler Bozak. The team added Tavares, replacing the hole at centre left by Bozak and the scoring production left by JVR. Beyond Tavares, the Leafs filled the remaining voids from within. With Marleau, Zaitsev, Gardiner and Marincin likely leaving the team this off-season, Dubas could be forced to get creative.

Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas
Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The Maple Leafs do not have players of Johnsson and Kapanen’s
calibre waiting in the minors to replace Marleau if he gets traded. Jeremy Bracco is the closest and will likely play for the Leafs next season, but will see most of his time on the third or fourth line. Without other options available internally, Dubas may have to seek options through free agency or trades.

The same holds true for the team’s defence. With Zaitsev, Gardiner and Marincin needing to be replaced, Dubas may plan on promoting Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin or Calle Rosen to fill their void. It is possible that Liljegren and Sandin may still not be ready to play for the Leafs by the time training camp concludes. This would mean Dubas will have to once again look elsewhere to solve the Leafs defensive issues.

After this off-season, this will truly be Dubas’ team. The Marleau and Zaitsev contracts that were signed by Lamoriello will most likely be gone, and he will have been able to further craft the Leafs to match his vision. All the stressful tasks he had to deal with last season are back and amped up to the max. Now we will see if Dubas can pass his biggest test as general manager.