Why The Leafs Need A Different GM

TORONTO (July 20) — God save the Core–4.

It has to be the motto of the Toronto Maple Leafs as they head toward a seventh opportunity to emerge from the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. With the same failed group munching on 50 percent of the salary cap. And, still, with question marks galore on the defensive side of center ice — words that have applied to the hockey club throughout its record 55–year championship drought. Will Kyle Dubas ever make an attempt to solidify his very average blue line… in front of goaltending, once more, that no one in the game can foretell?

Clearly, there are options available (right now) and lots of time to explore them prior to next season. Nothing of significance, however, can materialize amid Toronto’s perennial cap crunch unless the general manager is willing to open his mind about manipulating the blessed forward nucleus of John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. By next year at this time, as fans of the Leafs are well aware, the GM will have to make a call on Matthews and Marner, whose mega–contracts automatically become unmovable in July 2023. Providing Matthews, in particular, the hammer for 12 months before he can walk as an unrestricted free agent.

On this 53rd anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first boot–print in lunar dust, the Leafs are evidently still afraid of taking “one giant leap”, preferring “one small step” at a time. It hasn’t worked. In fact, it’s been a disaster for the current administration. Every year, in this month, the club loses a solid, serviceable veteran via mismanagement of the cap. Every year the club necessarily loads up on cheap, interchangeable parts that have no chance to provide a boost in the playoffs. Every year, there are questions about goaltending, with no long–term solution. And, every spring, the vaunted Core–4 goes golfing after the first round. As such, it can be argued, justifiably and blatantly, that the Maple Leafs need another person in the big chair. Not because Dubas is incapable of improving the club’s chance to pose a Stanley Cup threat. But, rather as a result of his abject unwillingness to try something different.

With some of the biggest personnel decisions of all time on the horizon, the situation cries out for an impartial voice. There is absolutely no evidence that Dubas will alter the composition of the team. Next up, given the irrefutable pattern, will be Kyle relinquishing yet another first–round draft choice to create cap room: Alex Kerfoot ($3.5 million) and Justin Holl ($2 million) the most–likely candidates to clog up a lesser team’s payroll for the privilege of selecting in the top 32 (providing, of course, it can be done, as both marginal players, astoundingly, own modified no–movement clauses). Before additional damage occurs, it is essential that a person unattached to the Core–4 be placed in charge of the franchise–altering moves that lay ahead; someone devoid of the emotional baggage that accompanies such a no–trade “promise” as the one Dubas absurdly made to William Nylander.

Jason Spezza part of front office changes for Maple Leafs | SaltWire
The only outlier is a change of course that prompts Dubas to offload the final two years of Nylander’s $6,962,366 cap hit. I keep returning to Nylander because there is no way the current hierarchy will consider (at this point) trading Matthews or Marner (Tavares cannot be moved). Nylander, in spite of his more–than–reasonable salary, is the lone option available to potentially hoist the Blue and White from its playoff quagmire. But, it appears that Dubas would swallow a Cyanide capsule before arriving at such a decision. That’s why a new GM is urgently required.

An unprejudiced individual might be open to freeing up cap room that would accommodate such a player as John Klingberg, the best defenseman still available on the open market. Such a move would require most of Nylander’s cap leverage and would come with an element of risk, as with all major personnel decisions. But, it says here the Leafs would evolve into a better, more–balanced team by adding a semi–elite blueliner. And, honestly, how much of a gamble would it be for a team that hasn’t emerged from the opening playoff round in nearly two decades? It’s not as if a string of championships is on the line. But, again, there is nothing at all to indicate that Dubas can un–wed himself from the nucleus that has taken the Maple Leafs nowhere during his four playoff years on the job.

And, if Kyle won’t consider a trade for Nylander, what happens next year when God Himself (Matthews) potentially indicates he will not sign a long–term extension here? Can we reasonably count on Dubas to make the most–critical call in modern franchise history? One that may involve swapping the 60–goal shooter before the trade deadline next season? What about Marner, who will have two years of complete control over the club by July of 2023?

It is, in my view, imperative that the Leafs entrust an experienced and dispassionate hockey executive with these complex arrangements. Sadly for fans of the team, it cannot happen with ownership and management rolling in dough and lounging in easy chairs after every playoff disappointment; always taking the path of least resistance.

As such, there are likely darker days ahead, a la Calgary, for the NHL’s most–resilient followers.


With the passing, on Tuesday, of Larry Jeffrey at age 81, there are now eight surviving members in the above photo of the 1967 Stanley Cup–champion Maple Leafs.

Still with us (age in brackets) are Brian Conacher (80), Ron Ellis (77), Peter Stemkowski (78), Mike Walton (77), Dave Keon (82), Frank Mahovlich (84), Bob Baun (85) and Bob Pulford (86).

Gone are Jeffrey, Bob Haggert (trainer), Milan Marcetta, Jim Pappin, Aut Erickson, Marcel Pronovost, Allan Stanley, Eddie Shack, Tom Naylor (assistant trainer), Johnny Bower, Larry Hillman, Red Kelly, Tim Horton, Terry Sawchuk, Punch Imlach (GM/coach), George Armstrong (captain), John Bassett, Stafford Smythe, Harold Ballard (owners), King Clancy (assistant GM).


19 comments on “Why The Leafs Need A Different GM

  1. Wow, pretty harsh analysis of the GM. Guess what… good teams are made up of good players who get paid well because they’re good; and the more good players you have the better chance you have of winning the Cup. As the Matthews, Marner & Nylander contracts expire, they’re going to get (and deserve) even more based on their performance and stats. It’s like you forgot Matthews is a Hart trophy winner, Marner is an elite playmaker and Nylander will be considered undervalued if he repeats as a 30+ goal scorer in the remaining years of the contract. Would you prefer the contracts of Toews, P. Kane, Karlson, Price, Seguin, Benn, Doughty, Kopitar based on their recent play? Remember, 31 out of 32 GMs are failures every year. You seem to expect the best of all worlds from the GM when it ultimately comes down to how the players perform. Let him do his job!

    1. Howard is spot on here. Jim Collins wrote a great management book called Good to Great. It should be a mandatory read for every executive at MLSE. The premise is about what makes certain high performing companies outperform their peers. It provides insight as to why some companies make the “leap” and others don’t. Jim posits that “good is the enemy of great”, and that is the EXACT malaise that MLSE has. Brendan has allowed himself and Kyle to continually rest on “good” and fail to act and do what is necessary to become “great”. Few people or organizations make the leap to great because they accept good as “good enough”. I would wager a large sum that Masai Ujiri has read this book. The hockey side of MLSE is wasting a golden opportunity. A group read of this exceptional book would push them all to realize that action must be taken now to tweak this team to move it from good to great. If not, good simply won’t get this team to the promised land.

      1. Great book and you are spot on. There are some really good comments in this forum but I’m still stunned that the majority of Leaf fans are willing to give Dubas & a Shanny their 7th free pass!! These guys stubbornly think they are smarter than everyone else even though they’re in year 7 of the 5 year rebuild. Our system is depleted … full of small players unattractive to other teams. Dubas has to go before he trades Knies to fix another one of his mistakes.
        Masai recognized a bold move was needed to be great and he pulled the trigger on Kawhi. This “experiment” should be over and get a professional GM who is worthy of representing this treasured franchise.
        Most of this team is now cobbled together annually with cheap misfit toys. Very sad.

    2. Toews, Kane… seriously< They won Cups. Shanahan also needs to be shown the door for letting this happen.

    3. Kane, Toews, Seguin, Doughty and Kopitar all have Stanley Cops. Big difference. They performed like the stars they are when required, unlike Toronto.

  2. Dubas has to use his first round draft pick to find
    talent for the leafs, not to sweeten the pot to move out a bad contract. Also with all of the money MLSE has, could they please hire someone that knows about goaltending. They might as well put the goaltender’s name on the back of his sweater with velcro, every year we have a new saviour.

  3. Dubas should have traded Nylander during the sit out. Instead Dubas capitulated and all potential since then has been lost.
    Maybe the team is not as good as everyone thinks since many regular season games are nothing more than shinny.

    Realize that you will lose the trade if you deal Nylander. All GM’s know who he is and his much talked about shortcomings Unfortunately regular season talent doesnt transmit to playoffs. Plus the same players who wouldnt play for Babcock will mope and whine because a top four player was dealt.

    Blow it up before its too late. There’s few if any draft picks, no cant miss prospects a weak defense and suspect goaltending. (even with Campbell) His past hockey trades have been huge losses. He’s had plenty of time with a maximum budget to right the ship.
    Time for a change.

  4. Here’s a question for you. Let’s say the Leafs decide to move on Nylander. You can bring back Chychrun OR Tkachuk. Obviously the deals would look totally different. Toronto would need to give up much more for Tkachuk and Arizona would likely need to give up a bit more on the Chychrun deal. But those are the principle components.

    For me, I’m going the route of the big snarly defenceman (with a shot that might scare people) + additional cap space coming back. Curious what your thoughts would be.

  5. Maybe Matthew Knies gives the Leafs a boost after the NCAA playoffs end but it’s generally difficult to imagine a better regular season than this most recent one or a different outcome in the playoffs with the roster that has been assembled thus far. Dubas is prepared to die in the bed that he’s made for himself. Of course we will all tune-in to watch Custer’s Last Stand. However, I highly suspect that his tenure won’t be romanticized in the same way that American historians have portrayed the fall of the Alamo.

  6. I have been saying since Shannahan promoted Dubas to GM it was a mistake; he should have extended Lou for two more years so that he would have done the contracts of Nylander, Matthews and Marner. I doubt Tavares would be here because Lou wouldn’t have given him the 11 million and the other three would have been forced to sign for considerably less. The Leafs wouldn’t have to fight the cap hell like they do every year!!!

    1. Signing Tavares was Dubas’ biggest blunder trying to speed up the rebuild. Not saying JT was not worth that money but it upset the balance and raised the bar for paying the young stars. We should have kept Kadri.
      The core 4 cannot be happy with the big turnover with discount players or reclamation projects ( Murray). This season is make it or bust and I’m fearing and predicting the latter. I thought Dubas was smarter than this.

  7. It’s a hell of a lot more than Dubas, although he is a terrible GM. It goes higher than him. Shanahan and MLSE are to blame as well. I find it funny, that as tough as Shanny was as a player, he is president of the softest team in the league. And MLSE are only in it for the money.

  8. I think the tragedy of this Leafs era is that even though having two franchise players and other quality core pieces to build around, the team had no builder. This is the most talented Leafs team I’ve seen in my life and the most disappointing, frustrating. Having Dubas manage and Keefe coach has been the downfall of this team. It would be so interesting to have fresh eyes manage and coach this team.

  9. I heartily agree Howard that new management is required, but let’s be honest…the change should have been made after the loss to Colombus. It wasn’t, and another year was wasted with the loss to Montreal. Yes, this year the effort was marginally better, but the results were the same. I think there are several aspects to this conundrum. Firstly, ownership does not seem to have any urgency in maximizing the potential of having two of the best hockey players in the NHL here in Toronto right now. Secondly, Brendan Shanahan does not appear to be worried about his job, and so he is happy to let Kyle Dubas remain in position. Thirdly, Mr Dubas apparently believes that the die is cast with respect to the current roster. Maybe he is afraid he will “lose” any trade he makes. Maybe he thinks that any trade will only make the team weaker. In a way, I agree with that, in that despite all the failures in the last 5 or 6 years, what changes can now be made that would actually make the team better? I agree moving one of the top 4 (realistically Nylander) should bring a substantial return, but they can’t bring back a player who makes more money (because they have handcuffed themselves cap-wise). The talent level on this team once you get past the big 4 up front and Morgan Reilly is nothing to write home about. Although I would like to see another Cup in my lifetime (I was 10 when they won the last one), I am resigned to waiting for the current group of players to move on after their current contracts expire. Hopefully by then new (competent) managers will be in place, and we can start putting together a proper team. Amen and end of sermon!

  10. I am hoping they get off to a horrible start and his hand is pushed to make a move he may not wish to. I have said it before and will say it again, the Toronto Blue Jays won consecutive World Series titles BECAUSE Stand Pat [Gillick] finally decided to make the unpopular move. When Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff were traded to San Diego, fans were up in arms. Two years later [with Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter], all was forgiven. Dubas has never even looked that way. I hope it costs him his job, not because I want him to suffer, but because he has not proven he can build a Cup contender.

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