Maple Leafs' process in Kyle Dubas decision looks more questionable by the day
Whether you think Dubas is a top-notch GM or not, it's becoming clear the Maple Leafs' decision to move on isn't based on solid logic.
The Toronto Maple Leafs' decision to part ways with Kyle Dubas is defensible in a vacuum, but as more information trickles out about their choice, the worse it looks.
Dubas has a resume that's far from unimpeachable, and there's a chance his replacement helps drive the kind of postseason success that's been elusive for this franchise. From a results standpoint, the decision may look fine for Toronto in the years to come.
Even so, it's starting to seem awfully unlikely the Maple Leafs' choice to move on was made for the right reasons.
On Friday, Brendan Shanahan laid out a timeline for the move in an unusual level of detail. If you take the Maple Leafs president at his word, his mind was changed after Dubas spoke to the media on Monday and expressed some consternation about the toll the GM job had taken on his family.
According to Shanahan, there was a "dramatic shift" in his thinking after the press conference.
While his decision to part ways with Dubas likely came down to multiple factors, there are three primary ways to interpret the situation.
Shanahan began to doubt Dubas had the stomach for the GM role after he expressed some doubts in public.
This was ultimately a contract dispute where Dubas asked for more money and/or control over decision making than the Maple Leafs were willing to give.
Dubas and Shanahan's working relationship deteriorated due to the latter using his power to impact transactions, as reported by The Athletic's James Mirtle.
If No. 1 was the driving force behind the decision then Shanahan comes off as harsh and lacking empathy for someone expressing themselves honestly. Being the GM of the Maple Leafs is a job that comes with plenty of pressure and public scrutiny, and Dubas feeling the weight of that in a difficult moment for the team is a relatable human response — not a sign of weakness.
If it's No. 2 that's reasonable to an extent, but the Maple Leafs print money and losing an executive they want over an amount that's inconsequential to the franchise seems silly. It would also be easy to present that situation as just an unfortunate reality of the business, instead of going as deep on the series of events as Shanahan did. Even if something related to the scope of the role was the sticking point rather than the financial component, that's something the team wouldn't have to elaborate on in public.
Perhaps No. 3 is the best explanation.
That means we're talking about a power struggle which doesn't paint Shanahan and the Maple Leafs in the best light. In this case, Shanahan felt that having a tight grip on decision-making was more important than collaborating with Dubas. It's possible that Shanahan is the superior hockey operations mind, but it's also worth noting that he came to the Maple Leafs with a background as a NHL executive and disciplinarian, not a prolific team builder.
On his part, Dubas did nothing to shed light on the situation when he made a boilerplate statement on Tuesday.
— Kyle Dubas (@kyledubas) May 23, 2023
Things look a little worse for the team in light of Chris Johnston's comments on "The Chris Johnston Show" on Monday.
Johnston said that Shanahan phoned the team's top players to share the Dubas news and that they "came away from those conversations believing that Brendan Shanahan's intention is to bring the entire Core Four back."
That's another reasonable approach with no context, and it's far from a guarantee that none of Toronto's big-money forwards gets moved. However, in light of the team moving on from Dubas, it's tougher to justify.
The most reasonable criticism of the former GM's team-building strategy was his massive investment — and unwavering belief — in Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
Giving those players their lucrative contracts made the Maple Leafs a relatively inflexible squad that had a difficult time accumulating adequate depth elsewhere on the roster. Those stars, outside of Nylander, also tended to underperform in the playoffs relative to their regular-season production.
If you're going to kick Dubas to the curb, the best logic to explain that decision is that his top-heavy roster construction was not viable and he hitched his wagon to the wrong horses. Although he made a couple of dubious moves in the crease, the GM generally did a great job of plugging holes around his top players considering the salary cap constraints he was working with.
Although it's impossible to know how this all shakes out yet, right now it looks like the Maple Leafs seem to be acting like they fundamentally agreed with their former GM's most controversial decisions, but still think he needed to go. While few executives have navigated an oppressive cap as skillfully as Dubas, the Maple Leafs apparently believe they'll find one who can do it even better.
They may end up being right, but even if dropping Dubas ends up being the right move the Maple Leafs will have taken questionable route to the correct destination.