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Kyle Dubas had the passion and some forgettable moments with the Maple Leafs

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Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
3 months ago
Reunited, and it feels so good.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have departed the windy city and have made their way to Pittsburgh to take on Kyle Dubas and the Penguins. The reunion is set for Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada, and what a stage it will be. While Dubas may have fallen short when it comes to exceeding all expectations thrown his way, there’s little doubt about it, the Leafs were very lucky to have him leading the ship as GM for five seasons.

Dubas Had the Passion in Toronto

Throughout his tenure, it’s hard to argue anybody cared more than Dubas. He wanted to win so bad, he believed in his team every single season and was always so aggressive trying to upgrade the Leafs roster.
From taking swings in free agency and on the trade market, to getting in shouting matches with opposing fans during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as Leafs GM, Dubas bled blue.
The players loved playing for Kyle and it’s obvious his ability to connect on a personal and professional level with the Leafs truly hit home and there’s surely a soft spot that’s still to heal after one of the more bizarre break ups in NHL history. Something Dubas hasn’t fully addressed publicly.
Some players were asked about what Dubas meant to the team and it’s obvious the love is real. Captain John Tavares, who signed a seven-year $77 million contract during free agency the summer of 2018 admitted the GM was the biggest influence in his decision:
I had a tremendous relationship with him. Probably the biggest reason why I came to Toronto. Honestly, I know it was a crazy time for him. We exchanged a few texts. I tried calling him a couple times and we weren’t able to connect via phone. I think things just kind of progressed and I think, whether it’s myself here or the other guys or him in Pittsburgh, there’s a lot there. I think sometimes it’s just good to kind of push forward and as time goes on there’ll be more time to reflect and obviously connect and catch up.
Sounds like Dubas has missed some phone calls since becoming a Pen. Tavares wasn’t the only one commenting on Dubas this week as Mitch Marner mentioned how he’s wishing the Penguins GM nothing but the best in Pittsburgh and loved how much his old boss trusted his group. You can’t deny that Dubas cared so much about his players, on and off the ice and he stuck it out with the core of the team as long as he possibly good.
Nobody in the organization worked harder than Dubas. He led by example, he cared about the people, and it didn’t matter if you were the best player on the team, or worked as an usher near the dressing room, he made time for people, got to know their name and connected. Dubas broke barriers for young hockey executives and did it with class, integrity and of course, passion for the Maple Leafs.

The Forgettable Four

It wasn’t always rainbows and lollipops for Dubas in Toronto and that’s not just referencing how things went down this past summer. As Leafs GM he missed a few times on some big swings and here’s four of the more forgettable moves from his tenure:
  1. Trading Nazem Kadri to Colorado: Dubas had no choice after President Brendan Shanahan had seen enough with a second playoff suspension for Kadri in 2018-19. The Leafs sold very low on the pesky centre and shipped him and his very reasonable $4.5 million AAV to the Avs for Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot. Barrie put up 39 points in 70 games in blue and white before signing in Edmonton the next summer, meanwhile Kerfoot was a semi-consistent and versatile bottom-six forward for the Leafs. Kadri went on to win the Stanley Cup in Colorado and stepped his game up in a major way.
  2. The Nick Foligno Debacle: It’s hard to know how much medical information Dubas had from Columbus but there was little doubt, at the time, the Leafs got damaged goods. Foligno was fighting a back injury most of the season and having a long layoff thanks to COVID restrictions, likely didn’t help. Multiple draft picks were shipped out of Toronto, including a first-round pick and Foligno never scored a goal as a Leaf throughout his lengthy 11-game pit stop.
  3. Maple Leafs Could Use Jared McCann: The Seattle Kraken expansion draft was rough. Leafs fans, as many felt the team should have protected the newly acquired Jared McCann instead of depth defenseman, Justin Holl. Holl ended up becoming the whipping boy for fans with some outrageous moments, including throwing the puck out of his own zone, and all McCann’s done since is light the lamp in Seattle. 27 goals in his first season, 40 the next, meanwhile Holl now resides in Detroit and many Torontonians would have likely packed his bag for him if asked.
  4. Petr Mrazek Wasn’t It: The Leafs needed goaltending depth after the 2020-21 season, but Mrazek was not the answer. Dubas would give the veteran netminder a three-year contract worth $11.4 million and the injury woes got the best of Mrazek’s Leaf tenure. 20 games and a .888 sv% is all Dubas got out of the Czechia native as the GM had to drop 13 spots at the 2022 draft, moving out of the first round, just to convince the Chicago Blackhawks to take the final two years of Mrazek’s contract off his hands.
While Dubas had some head-scratching moments leading the Leafs, we can’t forget about he swung and made contact. Signing Tavares, trading for Jake Muzzin and Jack Campbell, going for it last season with Ryan O’Reilly and company, and Leafs fans can thank him for Matthew Knies, who looks like he’ll be a top-six forward for years to come. Dubas was a breath of fresh air for the Maple Leafs after having to play for the drill sergeant, Lou Lamoriello. ‘Uncle Lou’ didn’t want players to have fun, there were rules all over the place on dress code and music and hiring Sheldon Keefe to replace Mike Babcock is also something Dubas can hang his hat on. He made it fun to play hockey in Toronto and his passion and personal touch are things the players and staff appreciated tremendously.
The Maple Leafs are set up for success and Dubas is a massive reason why. Complain all you want about the contracts, but elite players make elite money and William Nylander’s $6.9 million AAV looks really good right about now. It’s a good thing Dubas waited him out, isn’t it?
It’s going to be nice for the Leafs to catch up with their old boss in Pittsburgh. It’s easy to tell he’s missed and the unexpected break up seems to be a deep cut that has yet to fully heal for the players. While the Leaf players are looking forward to the stop and chat, somebody needs to have the camera rolling if Shanahan walks into the building.
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