Throughout his tenure as general manager, Kyle Dubas has never wavered in his belief with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ core and now that faith will be tested.
To say patience is wearing thin with Toronto Maple Leafs fans might be the most obvious observation anyone could make.
At the same time, it’s tough to blame Leafs Nation for the frustration they have been experiencing, whether it’s recent or has carried over for years, decades and for some, close to half a century.
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Seeing the team blow a 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens for some brought them to their breaking point and calling for major changes. The outrage was quite similar to what New York Yankees fans probably felt when the Boston Red Sox made their historic comeback in 2004.
Now the spotlight has turned to general manager Kyle Dubas who has to be the calming presence as every move he makes gets dissected more than any other team in the league. One thing Dubas has made clear, he’s not giving up on the belief he has with the core he has assembled.
Speaking to the media for the first time since the Seattle Kraken selected Jared McCann in the expansion draft, Dubas finally gave the answers to the questions some have had during this time. Why did he choose to go with the 4-4-1 protection strategy instead of the 7-3-1 format that most teams did.
"“As we went through it, the determination was that if we were to go with 7-3-1, they would certainly select a defenseman, and that defenseman would likely be Justin Holl — or the market for Holl would be so great elsewhere that they could take him and flip him,” Dubas explained via Maple Leafs Hot Stove. “We went through the rest of our process and tried to determine who they would likely take if we went 4-4-1. Could we replace that player? What is the best way to go about that in free agency? Eventually, the opportunity came along to add another player via trade who we knew may be of interest and then really force Seattle to pick between one of our two players.”"
Dubas also made it clear that to replace what Holl brings to the table at a $2 million cap hit was going to be tough, or nearly impossible. It’s clear Dubas is not as comfortable in the team’s defensive depth to take that risk.
Many teams lost decent players to Seattle in the draft like the Tampa Bay Lightning who will now have to replace Yanni Gourde, or the Calgary Flames who decided to expose Mark Giordano over their younger defencemen. What the Leafs lost, in the end, was Filip Hållander and a seventh-round pick which is not ideal but the cost to force Seattle to pick between McCann and Alexander Kerfoot.
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Looking at the team’s roster, Dubas needs to find a way to improve the team’s depth at forward and on defence with limited cap space. It seems like the focus should be on goaltending considering how crucial it is to have two options that can get through an entire season.
The door hasn’t been closed on Frederik Andersen but that seems like a move both parties could explore if the Leafs don’t find an adequate replacement or Andersen isn’t able to land the deal he was looking for.
What could help the Leafs is getting both Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren playing more games in the NHL next season. The salary certainty of playing both young defencemen on their entry-level deals could help Toronto focus their cap space in more useful areas.
Of course, all this doesn’t matter if the players that Dubas is putting his faith in fail to get the job done again in the playoffs. If that is the case, you wonder how long of a leash Dubas and in a way, he knows that his belief will determine his future.
"“For better or worse, I believe in this group and I believe that they are going to get it done and I believe that they’re going to win,” Dubas said. “I understand that comes with certain doubt because of the fact that we have not broken through in the playoffs, but it’s my belief that they will.“I believe in them as players, I believe in them as people, and I know that decision lies on me and what the risk is for me. We’re going ahead that way. So I’m comfortable with it. I believe that we’re going to see the best version of this group next season that we’ve seen yet and I’m willing to bet everything on that.”"
The heat has been turned up to an all-time high in Toronto, whether this group can handle it is what Dubas is betting on, whether it’s the right choice or not.
Do you think Dubas is making the right choice to remain committed to this group? Let us know in the comments below.