How Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is handling hockey’s Twilight Zone

Kyle Dubas spoke about the importance of sticking to a plan, even if media and fans are calling for something entirely different.

TORONTO — Under normal circumstances, Kyle Dubas lives the kind of fast-paced, knowledge-thirsty lifestyle needed to become a NHL general manager in your early 30’s.

Today?

He’s not so different than you and I.

The Toronto Maple Leafs GM is finding some levity in the time of COVID-19 by watching Season 3 of Ozark and finishing up the Homeland series. He’s even decided to pick up the kind of book you’d rarely find in his hands: The novel Ohio, by Stephen Markley.

“I don’t read much fiction, but I figured to get the mind working a little bit I’d do that,” said Dubas, who typically devours all the relevant non-fiction he can find.

It dawned on him over the weekend how unusual it is to be heading into his third straight week at home with wife Shannon and two-and-a-half-year-old son Leo. Consider that among the silver linings to be found amid a global pandemic that’s thrown the future of the NHL season into question and brought life to a standstill.

“Once we’re able to find a solution and a vaccine and be able to get this under control … [I don’t know that it’s ever possible] to be able to have this much time in a row with our family,” Dubas said Tuesday on a conference call.

What doesn’t seem to be of top concern to the 34-year-old is the fate of the 2019-20 season. File that under big-picture problems he has no control over. Dubas has instead busied himself during the NHL pause by keeping the lines of communication open with Leafs players to make sure they have all the information and resources necessary during this period of self-quarantine that’s now been extended through April 15.

He’s also devoted time to helping the scouting and player development departments function as well as possible during a period where no high level of hockey is being played anywhere in the world and the date and location of the 2020 entry draft remains ‘TBD.’

The idea is to be ready to react no matter what happens next.

“It’s so hard to know which way we’re going and how we’re going to get there,” said Dubas.

This is hockey’s Twilight Zone.

Front offices are essentially caught between where they’re going and where they’ve already been. There’s sincere hope at the top levels of the league that we’ll still see a playoffs and Stanley Cup awarded at some point, and yet teams are already entering the pseudo-off-season — with the ability to sign free agents from Europe and the NCAA, plus their own draft picks from prior years.

As for the potential resumption of the paused season, Dubas indicated he’s been part of no discussions with the league about what that may look like. He’s aware that the NBA is at least considering the possibility of sequestering teams in one location to limit their exposure to the novel coronavirus and get the playoffs in, but isn’t sure if a similar approach could work for the NHL.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” said Dubas. “It hasn’t been anything that’s been discussed with the teams.”

The book may already be closed on his 2019-20 Leafs — an up-and-down 36-25-9 outfit when the season was halted on March 12.

Dubas has no choice but to cast at least one eye forward to next year. He’s involved in ongoing discussions with a number of European-based free agents, including 25-year-old Russian winger Alexander Barabanov, who has long been coveted by the Leafs.

“He’s not tall, but he’s a very strong winger. Tremendous playmaking ability, great skill level in tight,” Dubas said of Barabanov. “But I think that one of the other things we like most about him is his ability to make plays under pressure and his ability to win pucks, protect pucks, when people come after him and use his strength to be able to do that.”

There are also high hopes for prospect Nick Robertson, who had 55 goals in 46 games for the Peterborough Petes when the Ontario Hockey League season was cancelled earlier this month.

Robertson won’t turn 19 until September and is ineligible to play in the American Hockey League next season. That means the five-foot-nine winger will either have to suit up for the Leafs or be returned to the OHL.

“He’s one of the more focused and hard-working prospects that I’ve seen in my time in hockey. He knows the areas that he needs to continue to work on — he’s got a great read on that,” said Dubas. “I think come training camp, we’ll give him every opportunity to potentially make the team and put the ball into his court and see what he can do in the fall.

“We hope.”

That’s assuming life has returned to something that looks like normal by then.

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