Some Kyle Dubas strategies the Maple Leafs might want to hang onto

Photo credit:© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
10 months ago
Most GMs have different strengths and weaknesses. Kyle Dubas’ greatest strength was his vision. Even when you wouldn’t buy into every move he made you could still see how it was moving the Leafs in the direction they should be going. That also seems like it will be the hardest thing to replace.
There are a lot of things that Kyle Dubas did well that are important ideas to hold onto and others (like trading down consistently at the draft) that we might be happy to see go. We’ll focus on the good today and here’s what I’d hope to see from the next GM as well.

Being a bigger player after day one of free agency

For the most part, the success stories the Leafs have had in free agency haven’t come from bidding on the bigger names in free agency and instead, it has been about having a bit of patience and finding players that have been undervalued. Kyle Dubas has targeted a lot of Group Six (early UFAs based on a lack of NHL games), and RFAs who didn’t receive qualifying offers and this has been his bread and butter. Michael Bunting, Ilya Samsonov, David Kampf, and Ondrej Kase are some of the players that have landed on the Leafs in this fashion and it has generally worked out well.
You can also point to Nick Ritchie and say there are times when it didn’t work out as well, but that was still a low risk/high reward gamble that you can respect the hustle on.
It’s easy to make mistakes in free agency (Petr Mrazek, hello), and with a team that has a good core intact, much of its blueline, and some promising prospects to fill in key holes in the lineup card, being smart and avoiding potential albatrosses makes a lot of sense to help keep the Leafs competitive.

Doing Right by European Free Agents

The Leafs have brought over some significant European Free Agents during the Dubas years. Ilya Mikheyev was certainly a success story. Kirill Semyonov and Mikko Lehtonen, not so much. Alex Barabanov has been but only after getting a better shot in San Jose. That’s the thing that Dubas did well. He built a strong reputation as a GM who wouldn’t keep European free agents buried in the Leafs system and if there was a team in the NHL that felt they could give them a try on their roster, Dubas moved them.
Giving Barabanov away for nothing might not look like a stellar move, but Dubas having that reputation as someone who would make sure players would get their NHL shot helps with future recruitment from overseas. It would be nice to see the Leafs continue to embrace that philosophy.

Reclamation projects

Conor Timmins for pennies on the dollar was certainly a highlight of last season and you can look at the acquisition of Alex Galchenyuk before him as another example of the Leafs GM chasing low risk/high reward opportunities and putting a lot of faith in the Leafs player development system. Others like Dryden Hunt and Denis Malgin didn’t go as well, but there is still something to be said for a GM who is chasing upside on a budget.

Drafting for skill beyond the 2nd round

I feel like a lot of GMs (or maybe it was just Lou, Burke, and Nonis) start going away from the top of the roster upside when they are drafting in the later rounds and begin looking at a bunch of junior third liners and shutdown defensemen that have size or tenacity and skill gets ignored. Under Kyle Dubas the Leafs have traded a lot of picks but they’ve maximized the ones they have and that’s where prospects like Ty Voit and Ryan Tverberg show a lot of promise instead of grabbing a 6’6″ defensemen out of the QMJHL with skates made of concrete.
Dubas did a good job of finding that blend of size and skill in the early rounds where it’s available, bringing in guys like Minten and Knies, but when it became one or the other in the later rounds, choosing skill seems like the stronger choice.
Why draft the next Jordie Benn when you can find him in free agency a few days later on a league minimum contract?

Using MLSE’s deep pockets

This might have been part of Dubas’ undoing as he at times made the Leafs an LTIR haven, traded players after their bonuses were paid, or would take back salary that was higher than the player’s cap hit, but the fact that he was often able to spend $20M-$30M more than the salary cap would allow was giving the Leafs their best shot at a competitive advantage.
Of course, not being able to turn that extra spending into playoff success isn’t going to make him popular, and the increased spending might be a reason why there wasn’t full autonomy for the General Manager to make every move he wanted to make, but if the Maple Leafs are going to be one of the top teams in the NHL, this is going to be a strategy used to keep them there.

Evidence based decision making

I’m sure this isn’t uncommon around NHL front offices, but after a number of years under Brian Burke this was a breath of fresh air. Having a GM make decisions based on data, tracking, and analysis and not just guts is something I wouldn’t want to see the organization depart from.
As I said, there were things that are worth changing about Kyle Dubas as well. The salary commitment to four players is one that I think deserves some healthy debate, as does taking the “player’s GM” approach in some instances, but overall the seems like there are more positives that should be taken away from Kyle Dubas’ tenure than negatives.

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