TORONTO – On the day before the Montreal draft – the site where both Kyle Dubas’ quest for a budding goalkeeper and Pierre Dorion’s plan to dump a once-great paycheck intensified – the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs asked a very direct question. ask.
Is your job at stake this season?
“It is a fair question. I feel like it’s on the line every year and I’m judged at the end of every season. I don’t necessarily feel there is more pressure; I just think it’s very important for me personally to help deliver for the organization,” said Dubas.
“For me, the pressure doesn’t change from day to day. Every day I get up and try to do everything I can to help our organization, and of course the ultimate goal is for us to be successful in the play-offs.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform for the people who hired me and the people I work with. And that will never change.”
Years from now, if we look back at this city’s Kyle Dubas era—a run that sparkles with wild regular-season highs and, so far, crushing post-season lows—we’ll probably crush the blue paint.
We may vaguely remember Garret Sparks or Michael Hutchinson. The hockey nerds could name Michal Neuvirth’s last stop for Nowhere, that wasted 2021 pick on third-stringer David Rittich, or Harri Säteri’s fateful waiver claim.
We will certainly remember Frederik Andersen walking out the door for nothing, as an ailing backup, after five workhorse seasons. Then bounce back to win the Jennings Trophy in Carolina.
And the general manager’s misguided guess on injury-prone gearhead Petr Mrazek: three years, three groin pulls, three eights in his rescue rate.
Dubas is a shrewd director, aggressive in correcting mistakes, stingy with term on the edge.
Dubas is also always catching up when it comes to a real plan in the net.
That’s partly due to the Maple Leafs’ organizational failure to field and develop a good homegrown goalkeeper who has remained in the NHL since James Reimer, a 2006 fourth-rounder who is now entering his 13th campaign in the major competition.
That’s partly due to the inherent crapshoot nature of goalkeeping. Paradoxically, it’s the sport’s most important position and the thinnest on elite talent and the hardest to fill with predictability.
That is also partly due to the fact that Dubas gave his keepers too little priority.
They said, “Build your squad from the fold.” Dubas found — and paid — his attackers first. He had a different way.
Which brings us to the most critical off-season of the GM’s tenure, that job at stake, and a vision that will be unshakable through outside opinion†
Dubas wouldn’t give a term to Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper (aim for six years in the neighborhood of $6 million a year) or late bloomer Jack Campbell (who is aiming for $5 million apiece for five years). The former seems to be going to Washington, the latter to Edmonton.
Despite Campbell’s strong numbers, solid playoff performance and fanbase connection, Dubas Campbell has never made a competitive offer.
“He’s a fierce competitor,” teammate Mitch Marner told Breakfast Television Monday. “He’s an exceptional player, an exceptional goalkeeper. We’ll see what happens to him. I think he knows he’s got the whole city behind him. He’s got our team behind him. And hopefully something can happen (on a extension).
“Whatever it is, a lot of guys will be happy for him because he’s that person who always brings joy and a smile to you.”
Hours later, Dubas officially sent Campbell out the door, sending Leafs Nation into a tizzy.
He traded Ottawa for Matt Murray.
Dorion, desperate for a bad contract he signed in 2020, took a third-round pick in 2023, a seventh-round pick in 2024 and kept 25 percent of Murray’s salary.
Murray will be on the Maple Leafs books for the next two years for $4.6875 million against the cap (same term and about $900,000 more than Mrazek costs).
Following their due diligence on the oft-injured Murray’s medical condition Sunday, the Maple Leafs agreed to pay $11.25 million in real dollars to Murray for two seasons — the final two seasons of MVP Auston Matthews’ (and William’s) current contract. Nylander).
Barring an exchange of more salary, Dubas now has $6.36 million in cap-room to (a) absorb raises for RFAs Rasmus Sandin and Pierre Engvall, (b) upgrade a forward group that Ilya Mikheyev, Ondrej Kase, Colin Blackwell and Jason Spezza lost, (c) re-sign Ilya Lyubushkin or find another rough right-shot defender, and (d) explore the backup goalkeeper market.
Trading with Matt Murray is undeniably a bold move.
A swing so hard it rips Dubas out of his shoes on a 2-0 count.
If the GM connects, if 28-year-old Murray avoids serious injury and performs at his 2018-19 level, Dubas deserves to hit us with a big, fat “I told you so.”
All that fame and fierce loyalty to the Soo Greyhounds alum with the shiny playoff resume (29-21, .921, two rings) will have paid off in spectacular fashion.
Toronto’s Dubas, coach Sheldon Keefe and goalie guru Jon Elkin may have been right in understanding the character and foreseeing a triumphant kickback.
But what if Murray is still what he was in Ottawa, where he was fired from the AHL, struggled to string meaningful starts and lost his job to younger, cheaper talent?
Well, asking if Dubas’ job is at stake becomes an even fairer question.
† Calgary: It’s going to be harder this season to imagine Johnny Gaudreau in a Flames uniform. When he leaves, Plan B also includes swinging in front of the gates.
† Winnipeg: Historically, the Jets have spent more time seeking value than bidding war. This year there may be money to spend, but there are big gaps to fill.
† Ottawa: Instead of building for tomorrow, in an endless loop, the senators tell their fans and their young core what they all stand for today.
Sportsnet continues to roll out previews for every Canadian team ahead of the free agency opening on July 13. Check back later for updates.