Be Nice and You’ll Last Forever

TORONTO (Mar. 13) — As far as the Maple Leafs are concerned, there cannot be a nicer guy in the local media than Chris Johnston. In fact, Chris is just nice, period — whether he’s writing a column in the Toronto Star or chatting on TSN as part of The Insiders. To this day, I’ve never seen or heard Chris utter a truly critical word about any person or subject in hockey; particularly the “home” team. Which is precisely the tone of media coverage expected by the television networks that are co–administered by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

This was demonstrated by arguably the “nicest” paragraph ever written about Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. It appeared in Johnston’s latest Star column, submitted from the National Hockey League GM’s meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.: Maple Leafs ownership elected not to extend Dubas last summer following another first–round loss by the team. That was a risky decision because of how favorably he’s viewed leaguewide and the likelihood they’d find themselves in a familiar position this season — once again among the NHL’s strongest regular–season performers, but facing a difficult playoff series with Tampa Bay. What more does the MLSE board need to see to stick with a 37–year–old who will almost certainly be pursued by other organizations if he becomes available?

The answer to the puzzling question, above, is quite simple: Almost everything.

It can be argued, rather easily, that no GM in the 106–year history of the Leafs assumed the role in a more–favorable circumstance. The Leafs have been putting up franchise–best numbers in the regular season under Dubas almost solely because he inherited William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Nylander was drafted in 2014 as part of the David Nonis administration; Marner (2015) amid the interim stewardship of Mark Hunter and Matthews (2016) under Lou Lamoriello. Not that these men had to extend themselves, cerebrally. Even the clinically insane could have chosen any of the Big 3 with the early draft holes granted the Maple Leafs. This is not to suggest that Dubas, as assistant GM, had no input into the selections. But, the final decision was always someone else’s. Find me another young manager in the NHL being elevated to the big chair with such a triple blessing… with elite players that combined, last season, for 129 goals and 283 points. You’ll be looking forever.


And, what has Kyle done with the gifted triumvirate since he took over from Lamoriello in the summer of 2018? If the playoffs matter to you, absolutely nothing. It’s been suggested that Dubas had major influence on the signing of free agent John Tavares, who left the New York Islanders just more than six weeks after the GM switch in Toronto. Yet, it was surely Brendan Shanahan and then–coach Mike Babcock doing most of the legwork in luring Tavares to his home town. The prime tasks accorded Dubas in the nearly five years since his appointment have been to solidify goaltending; improve the defense corps and re–arrange the third and fourth–line deck chairs each summer with his pittance of leftover cap space. Though Kyle made two decent acquisitions — Jack Campbell and Ilya Samsonov — the Maple Leafs have been devoid of playoff goaltending assurance throughout his tenure.

Not since Jim Gregory was GM (1969–79) has the club drafted, signed or developed an elite blueliner (Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull). As such, Kyle did the best he could by locking up Morgan Rielly for eight years at an annual cap hit of $7.5 million. Which is essentially Rielly’s value, yet still a trifle rich when you consider that two–time Stanley Cup champion Victor Hedman earns merely $375,000 more per season. In fact, Dubas was so evidently dissatisfied with his blue line that he undertook a frenzied remodeling prior to the trade deadline, moving out his most–skilled player at the position (Rasmus Sandin) while acquiring veterans Jake McCabe, Eric Gustafsson and Luke Schenn. It didn’t speak particularly well for nearly half–a–decade’s work with the critical defense spot.

So, you might wonder why such a respected columnist and TV panelist as Chris Johnston would ask “what more does the MLSE board need to see” in order to retain Dubas. Other than playing “nice” with the home team, it’s a question that came out of left field. The Leafs haven’t won a playoff round in four attempts under Dubas; the club’s vaunted attack erupting for a total of three goals while losing decisive matches to Boston, Columbus, Montreal and Tampa Bay (the last three on home ice). If the absolute minimum — one playoff–series win — is the criterion for a contract extension, it had better occur this spring. Coming into the current season, Dubas had not earned additional years at the helm; MLSE was correct in refusing to lengthen his contract. Yet, why would Shanahan be viewed differently than his hand–picked manager? It says here that if the Maple Leafs fail to advance beyond the opening Stanley Cup round for an incredible seventh consecutive year, both men should be looking for work.

As for Johnston, a baseless question is bound to earn high marks from MLSE. It pays to be “nice.”


13 comments on “Be Nice and You’ll Last Forever

  1. As I have stated before in this forum. Mr Dubas has done an average job. Some of his decisions have been good, and some, not so much. If the team has a deep playoff run, then in all likelihood he will be granted an extension. I think the heavy lifting will be a few years down the road when the lack of draft picks and good young prospects begins to impact the team’s performance.

  2. Nothing like baiting the foolish.
    That’s exactly what you’re reading here.
    Dubas has done a good job and if they win a round this year will get an extention and will have earned it. The haters bring up all the negatives but every year the Leafs have faced a very good opponent in the first round. When the first round losing started the guys were very young, now they are reaching maturity, and I hope it shuts up the clowns. Time for the circus ? to leave town for good.

    1. “Every year the Leafs have faced a very good opponent in the first round”

      Oh yes, because the 2020-2021 Montreal Canadiens and 2019-2020 Columbus Blue Jackets were among the best teams in the league those seasons.

    2. Winning one round is enough to “earn” an extension?
      I can’t tell who’s “foolish” in your scenario but if it comes to pass I’m pretty sure the “clowns” are running the circus.

    3. This isn’t even the best team the Leafs have had over the last six years. They have lost several significant players due to Kyle’s mismanagement of the salary cap and replaced them with plugs with a couple of exceptions. If you think the big four up front can carry this team through four rounds of playoffs you are dreaming. And come next year you either sign Auston for $15 million or you have to trade him. The window is now and it’s barely open. And by the way, Kyle has already emptied the cupboards for the next guy so any legitimate rebuild starts in 5 years from now.

  3. You are so right, when Kyle was handed the reins he had Mathews Marner, Nylander and JT basically had already decided that he was coming home. Kyle was a couple of defenders and a bottom six away from contending for a Cup. At that time Kyle had this small but talented player syndrome, he thought that would bring a Cup home. Then to make matters even worse, Kyle thought it was a good idea to hire Sheldon for the coach. Since then Sheldon has been outcoached in every series he’s been behind the bench. Here we are with Sheldon behind the bench trying to figure out what to do with these player’s. Heck I haven’t seen one lineup since the deadline that I would go into the playoffs with. Kyle did a pretty good job this deadline, at least he brought in a couple of defenders with some bite to their game and a couple of gritty bottom six player’s, but does Sheldon have any idea what to do with them. You had to question why in the world would Sheldon put JT on the wing and ROR centering the second line, Kyle has given Sheldon one of the best team’s down the middle with Mathews, JT, ROR, Kampf, and if Sheldon was smart he’d create a shutdown third line with Lafferty, ROR, Acciari, a line that Sheldon could put out against anyone. When it comes to the second line, it’s either Janrkrok or Knies. The fourth line with ZAR, Kampf, Kerfoot. Don’t understand why Kyle didn’t move Kerfoot and use his cap for that left winger or even needed more was goalie insurance. Two things that send this team home early: Sheldon’s coaching, or goaltending or a bit of both. If this group fails again Kyle, Shanny, Sheldon and his coaching staff will all be finding new homes. Kyle tried to make adjustments to bolster this lineup it won’t be long before we see if it was enough… or if the excitement will be in the off-season for us Leafs fans. Will Sheldon be outcoached again? You can bet if Sheldon can’t put this lineup together before the playoffs start and he’s moving players all over the place, that’s what will end this team’s playoff aspirations in a hurry. Leave the AHL coaching style in the minors where it belongs; just put four balanced lines and three defensive pairings together and let them play already. Burn that blender. Cheers.

  4. I guess you could argue the fact CJ is floating this ridiculous notion that Kyle should be extended is a trial balloon from MLSE to see how it’s received by the masses. A preemptive strike to cushion the blow when they announce that Kyle is, indeed, returning after a 5th-straight series loss. Seeding/framing is quite common today as far as messaging is concerned. If something sticks out like a sore thumb there’s a good chance there’s fire with that smoke. Something likely not considered when it comes to Dubas, is he is very much a “woke” GM. MLSE is pushing an image of the organization that Kyle exemplifies. To find another GM that would be open to the things Kyle embraces and espouses may be difficult. So, ultimately the retention of Kyle Dubas may have absolutely nothing to do with winning but everything to do with social issue image projection. It would be hard to argue they could find a better fit, if that’s the intention.

  5. I’ve never seen a sports executive get so much adoration from the media as Dubas. It’s gone way beyond giving him the benefit of the doubt. From the coverage you’d think he’s assembled a blemish-free powerhouse of a team that is in the midst of a dynastic run of multiple championships while having a deep reserve of ready-to-go minor leaguers.

    I also have to say I’m sick of hearing about “expected” goals and other advanced stats in Johnson and others’ writing. I find it lazy when an opinion columnist leans on stats to fill the column as opposed to giving their opinion on what they see when they watch the game/player.

    I agree with Faber, Dubas should have been drafting this sort of bottom of the line up players instead of little fellas with supposed hockey smarts that can’t crack a desperate NHL line up. That he doles out draft picks so freely in trades indicates TO ME that his drafted players just aren’t good enough and not valued by other organizations for trades.
    I think Shanahan’s hesitation is two-fold. First, firing the guy he elevated places him in the crosshairs and makes him responsible for the failure of his hiring. Second, he’s guilty of a bird-in-the-hand issue. If he ditches Dubas who would he replace him with? I can see that perspective, but while thinking about it I realized there is ALWAYS someone smarter or better prepared coming up behind, and an organization just has to be smart enough to find them.

  6. Howie
    I almost choked on that paragraph when I read it in CJ’s column. Even worse is certain media members applauding Kyle for his deadline moves in making the Leafs tougher to play against. He should have been drafting and developing those players for the last five years, not selling the farm to get them now. Instead we get Pontus and company.
    Shannahan surely sees the same things we do. What is his hesitation on making a change?

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