Deep Thoughts by Kyle Dubas: On Being Clutch


Not really much of a secret around these parts, but the writers of The Leafs Nation are pretty big fans of Kyle Dubas even though he stole our managing editor away from us. With that it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that when Kyle speaks we are anxious to hear what he has to say.

Today Craig Custance put up a story on whether or not teams can identify clutch players when building their rosters (behind the ESPN insider paywall), while I’m sure you can guess what Kyle’s thoughts are on players being clutch, his answers are wonderful and perfect, and it’s worth sharing a snippet or two before you go out to become ESPN insiders members to read the rest.

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From Dubas:

“It’s affected so much by who is on the ice in the last minute,” Dubas said. “If you’re a good player playing on a good team, you’re going to be on the ice late in the game. It’s proportionately weighted to players in that situation.”

Simple and to the point. This is how Jordan Eberle became clutch via the World Juniors. Playing on the top line with John Tavares, somehow they seemed to earn all the key minutes. You can strain this argument a bit further with Dave Bolland, who was not exactly a top line player when his 17 seconds left goal earned him that label in Chicago, but Bolland was the best faceoff alternative to Jonathan Toews, and best option at center when Toews was too tired to be on the ice. Bolland was more of a one off case like Petr Klima in 1990, and Brad May’s “May Day”, but thankfully for Bolland neither Dave Nonis or Dale Tallon saw him that way. The case around Justin Williams is much more aligned to that of Eberle, being a top line forward. With Williams you have a player who has proven he can be successful in all situations of a game, and as such often he has earned the opportunity for increased icetime late in the game.

“I’ve always been very careful about it. It has so much to do with the quality of team you’re on, the circumstances,” he said. “I do think it takes special characteristics and traits when under pressure to continue to play your same way. I don’t necessarily believe that players get any better and I haven’t been doing this long enough to say it with any authority, but I believe in pressure moments that there are some players by every measure that do get worse. I think it has to do with the quality of competition you’re playing against in those clutch moments.”

The cool thing about all of the players in the NHL is that at some point they likely played on a very good team at some level and they were likely one if not THE go-to player for that team. There is also the fact that being a professional athlete certainly carries a baseline of being a very high pressure situation. It’s safe to say all of these guys thrive under pressure as much as they can, but periodically they may get in their heads more than they should. Rather than attempting to project how an 18 year old, or any person for that matter is going to handle their life experiences as they come at them, it seems like a nice idea to focus on the talent they bring to the sport. I think Dubas has a great grasp on that, where say Brian Burke was prone to recruiting players with “winning experience” and were “big game performers.” This is likely one of the more significant culture changes that the Leafs are currently undergoing and addresses why the Leafs have struggled to fill their prospect pool.

I would certainly encourage everyone to go read the rest of the article which includes a few more quotes from Dubas, as well as Stan Bowman and Dale Tallon. It summarizes how we often forget the little plays that players make, but we focus on their memorable moments, a conclusion that summarizes the problem with solely relying on “the eye test”.

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  • It’s great to see this kind of level headed thinking rather than chasing intangibles.

    You could argue that Toews showed signs of being a clutch player at the WJC when he took those 3 consecutive penalty shot goals to win it… but then you could also argue that TJ Oshie would be a better clutch player than Toews based on what he did in the shoot outs at the 2014 Olympics. Clearly Oshie hasn’t been able to translate this “clutch-ness” to the playoffs because of the players around him (No Keith or Kane types in STL).

    Just keep building the young prospect pool…any maybe Draft Marner because he’s supposed to be like Kane.

  • Brooksterman

    I generally take what Dubas says with a grain of salt as he tends to say the opposite of what other members of Leafs management says. He says they’re going to purely take the best player available in the draft and trade for size later meanwhile Mark Hunter, who will have the final say so on who they draft, has basically said that while you take the best player available he also has a plan on who to draft and keeping a balance of different types, styles, and sizes of players basically saying they will be looking to get a balance of different players and not just small skilled guys but will also be looking for some size and physicality in the draft. Dubas has been a big proponent of us needing more skill while Shanahan said in his press conference that they needed players with more character. Now he says this when there is evidence to prove that there is such things as clutch. Just look at how many times San Jose despite all their talent couldn’t get past the conference finals and Joe Thornton and Marleau continue to struggle in the playoffs despite their big regular season numbers. How else do you explain Rick Nash went from a 40 goal scorer during the season to hardly any in the playoffs. Or how about the fact Justin Williams is only a 20 goal 40 point player during the season but in the playoffs he’s one of the best players especially in game 7’s. There are just some things that analytics will never be able to explain.

    • silentbob

      You’re right, going 100% with analytic’s makes as much sense as ignoring them all together. But that doesn’t mean Dubas himself has weight every piece of information equally.

      I suspect Dubas puts more weight on the fancy stats then other’s, and that is probably a big reason why they hired him, to be that voice which hopefully will be balanced by other voices who view things differently, giving whoever has the final say lots of information to use when making a decision.