Monday’s press conference changed everything for Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Despite the disappointing second-round loss to a team that finished 19 points behind them in the standings, no one was really expecting to learn anything new a little less than 72 hours after Game 5 during their end-of-season media day. A true update was even less likely after the team announced president Brendan Shanahan would not be speaking, deciding it’s better to do so once he and Leafs ownership had definitive answers on the future of the organization, including the GM and coach.
So for a few hours, we listened to the players and coach provide token clichés: Auston Matthews and William Nylander reiterated how much they enjoyed being in Toronto, nothing to see there; Mitch Marner doubled down on growing up a Leafs fan and wanting to stay, while acknowledging it was not for him to decide; coach Sheldon Keefe had already conducted 28 exit meetings with his players, it was business as usual for him.
That doesn’t mean Keefe’s job is safe moving forward, but the Leafs coach looked armed and ready to reaffirm his desire to stay in Toronto, answering unequivocally that he “loves this job, loves this opportunity, loves this challenge.”
It was all to be expected. Until the GM took centre stage.
When Dubas finally took the podium following Keefe, he gave an honest, public reflection of himself and instead of providing answers on his future, raised way more questions when he announced that he was not ready to fully commit to returning.
No one — from the media to the MLSE board to Shanahan — anticipated hearing Dubas’s spectacular indecision.
Pressure can come from many different directions and there’s no doubting the emotion he showed at the media conference was real.
Dubas was distraught.
“It’s been a taxing year on them and that’s very important to me,” he said referring to his wife and children. “My family is a hugely important partner in what I do. So, for me to commit without having a fuller understanding of what this year took on them is probably unfair of me to answer.”
Compared to when I played, society is more aware and understanding of mental health and MLSE, at the corporate level, has bought in. Their financial commitment in the last five years has given players, staff and their families the best opportunity to succeed outside of the game.
Medical advisers, psychologists, analytics, nutritionists, and even sleep disorder specialists have a place within the organization. MLSE have become the envy of the league when it comes to having established sports science departments and their commitment to inclusion and diversity. No stone was left unturned when it came to establishing a team who could help players and staff find success and stability.
And all those departments the billion-dollar empire has in place were established to alleviate the exact external pressures Dubas felt Monday — to help him keep his eye on the prize: winning.
Now there are those who feel that the GM, who’s finished five seasons with the Leafs, deserves time and privacy to take care of matters far more important than chasing a Stanley Cup.
But let’s be clear: if Dubas is suffering from burnout at age 37 then he should take the time to address those important challenges and not commit to signing the contract extension he has been offered.
And from MLSE’s standpoint, with all we now know, is he truly the right person to lead this group going forward?
It’s not being heartless, it’s simply pragmatic. The people who rank above Dubas need answers today. While other teams like the Calgary Flames, New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins are in full swing already reshaping their management teams, the Maple Leafs can’t and shouldn’t wait.
Dubas’s emotional state made him feel his hand was forced Monday, stating he could not commit to coming back as GM — there is no shame in that.
In fact, I don’t blame him. It’s a big ask for anyone who isn’t physically, mentally, emotionally all in. After seven years of franchise failures, year eight may not be an enviable position to be in. On the other side, this may be the exact moment when Shanahan needs to say, “Kyle, your head and your heart are not in the space we need and we have to move forward in another direction.”
The other option for the Leafs is to simply wait and hope their GM finds the fortitude required for this incredibly demanding job.
Regardless of the answers the Leafs may or may not receive in the coming days — Dubas said he needed more time to go through the decision with his family — there is no turning back from Monday’s media wrap up.
The irony in all of this is that Dubas helped create a support network within the Leafs organization to help buffer his players and staff from a gruelling hockey season in this emotionally demanding hockey market.
Maybe Dubas is finally taking confidential advice from the experts around him and putting the oxygen mask on himself first.
Monday was anything but business as usual in Toronto. We can expect more of the same in the months ahead.
Some insiders believe the contract extension Dubas has been sitting on is worth roughly $4 million annually and includes access to the company jet … A rejuvenated Luke Schenn has made himself a hot commodity on the upcoming free agent market. The Leafs have made it crystal clear to him they want him back. The question is at what price … One NHL executive said he wouldn’t be surprised to see his Schenn’s price tag come with a $2.5 million to $3 million average annual value on a three-year deal … Don’t feel too sorry for Arizona Coyotes CEO Xavier Gutierrez after Tempe voters turned him down for a new sports complex. He still will have a viable option of selling the team to someone who wants to relocate or work out a deal with the Phoenix Suns. Based off what the Ottawa Senators are expected to sell for — reportedly close to $1 billion — many insiders feel Gutierrez could still walk away with seeing his club make a $300 million to $400 million profit for all his troubles.
Change(d) my mind:
On Vegas centre Jack Eichel not being mature enough. In his post-game comments after eliminating the Edmonton Oilers he was all about the team and the great group of guys in his locker room. He’s come a long way from blaming everyone else but himself in Buffalo.
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