Biggest Stories of 2023: Matthews-resigns, Dubas departs, and the Maple Leafs win a round

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
6 months ago
As we approach the end of 2023 it seems like a worthwhile time to briefly reflect on some of the biggest news stories that hit the Leafs this year. There were plenty of big moments, the most recent being John Tavares’ hitting the 1,000 point plateau. The additions of Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and the other snot related players certainly stands out as news too, but there really are three defining events this year that were not only impactful at the time but will continue to impact the direction of the Leafs franchise for years to come.

The Leafs defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning

While the quick exit from the second round of the playoffs certainly left a sour taste in the mouths of Leafs fans and management alike, there was that brief euphoria of Toronto making it into the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the Pat Quinn era. The Leafs talent seemed to have shown up and while they didn’t look perfect by any stretch, they were a top eight team in the regular season and they managed to be a top eight team in the playoffs, they could at least say they met their expectations.
Unfortunately, the Panthers happened. And I don’t know why people were calling for facing a team that just knocked off the record setting Bruins was ever a good thought to have but I guess anyone who was wanting the Leafs to face the Bruins wouldn’t have been in the right either.
Anyway, the Leafs loss once again led to a referendum on what is wrong with the way the Leafs are constructed and once again the dots were connected to the Leafs needing to be tougher and the Leafs core needs to show up in big games more often. I’m not entirely sure how goaltending and defence got a free pass, especially since that’s where we are again at this moment, but I guess people really did like having Luke Schenn back and Joseph Woll was supposed to solve everything.

Kyle Dubas is fired

Technically Kyle Dubas was fired. Technically Kyle Dubas was also trying to make a play for a promotion and also being non-committal about whether he wanted to return as the Maple Leafs GM. As far as firings go this one seems like both parties can take credit for the breakup and blame the other one, depending on their mood at the time they are asked.
The Dubas era of the Leafs was an interesting one and Kyle was fortunate enough to take the reins with Matthews, Marner, and Nylander as his building blocks. Bringing in John Tavares was quite an achievement as well and put Toronto on the map as a team that would be pushing to be a contender every year that Dubas was in charge.
There are a lot of good moves you can associate with Kyle Dubas, bringing in Jake Muzzin, Jack Campbell, Ilya Samsonov, TJ Brodie, and Mark Giordano are all examples of his front office getting it right. The team also drafted very well often with a limited number of picks as Kyle Dubas would frequently use the picks as currency at the trade deadline, a time of year that yielded some mixed results.
When it comes to the bad during the Dubas era it’s easy to point to the Kadri, McCann, and Marchment deals, so we’ll absolutely start with those. Kyle Dubas’ “own rental” approach to expiring free agents burned the Leafs more than once as well and overpaying for Nick Foligno set the team back.
Admittedly, I’ll argue the good outweighed the bad with Dubas, and I think he was always better suited to a President of Hockey Ops role, like the one he has in Pittsburgh as he sets a vision for the hockey club better than he executes it at times. His craftiness in combination with Brandon Pridham was great at managing a flat salary cap that no one in hockey predicted they would have to deal with, but also makes a case that Dubas should have maybe been a bit shrewder when it came to contract negotiations. Dubas also proved the benefit of having a GM and coach on the same page, as having Sheldon Keefe use players in the role Dubas acquired them to play rather than having Mike Babcock trying to teach Tyson Barrie defence was a real eye opener.
The Dubas era in Pittsburgh looks like it is off to a slow start, but the situation is also fairly different. Watching Dubas dismantle the Crosby era and rebuild and retool a team that was near bankruptcy before Sidney showed up won’t be an easy task.
As for the Maple Leafs, the Brad Treliving era isn’t one that has been met with heaping praise or confidence either, but like with Kyle Dubas, the Leafs have enough talent to cover up the mistakes of their GM. More so than Treliving, it will be Brendan Shanahan on the hot seat this year and it will be interesting to see how that shapes the second half of the Leafs season.

Auston Matthews until 2028

More Auston Matthews is always a good thing. And with the rising NHL salary cap it is now starting to look like $13.25M AAV will be a bargain despite it briefly making Matthews the highest paid player in hockey.
The contract coincides with a new CBA being put in place as well as a chance to see the direction of the salary cap in the coming years. He shouldn’t be too old when his contract expires that he can’t pull in one last significant payday.
From a Leafs perspective it also creates an interesting internal barrier. With Auston Matthews being the star player of the core group, does his salary prevent someone like Mitch Marner from trying to ask for more?
Matthews being the first of the Core Four to sign signals that the Leafs will still be icing a competitive team for the foreseeable future. He keeps Toronto as a free agent destination and encourages Toronto’s top players to stick around.
What Leafs story was the most impactful in your eyes? What deserves an honourable mention? Tell us in the comments below.
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