TORONTO – After consternation from some corners about his promotion, Kyle Dubas knows the next few weeks could do wonders for his image.
Less than a month after he was named Toronto Maple Leafs general manager – which led to fellow assistant GM Mark Hunter’s and grand poohbah Lou Lamoriello’s exits – Dubas is about to embark on a critical stretch.
That stretch begins Saturday as the AHL’s Toronto Marlies – the team he oversaw as his primary responsibility in his previous capacity – open the Calder Cup Finals against the Texas Stars.
“I would be thrilled [to win the championship],” Dubas said. “It would give validation to a lot of the processes that people have questioned, whether it be in Sault Ste. Marie or here.”
Dubas, 32, became the NHL’s second-youngest general manager when he was elevated by Leafs president Brendan Shanahan on May 11.
It marked a rapid rise after four years with the Leafs, which followed three seasons as the GM of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
The keys to the hockey operations side of the franchise are firmly in Dubas’s possession after Hunter and Lamoriello departed soon after his promotion.
Instead of Hunter heading up the NHL Draft later this month, that responsibility falls on Dubas. The Leafs’ first pick is 25th overall.
Dubas claims he uses an “all-encompassing approach” where he works closely with area scouting directors and new assistant GMs Brandon Pridham and Laurence Gilman.
“I feel very good about our preparation and our processes that we have in place,” Dubas said.
With Pridham and Gilman as his lieutenants, Dubas is comfortable with the makeup of his front office. He isn’t looking to add anytime soon.
“If you can improve, you’re always looking to,” he said. “But we’ll look at that once we get through the draft. There won’t be anything imminent here in the next number of weeks.”
A salary cap and contract negotiations specialist, Pridham was promoted from within. Gilman, meanwhile, was an external hire after he helped formulate the rules for the NHL Expansion Draft and served as assistant GM of the Vancouver Canucks from 2008 to 2015.
Dubas believes they both bring respectful dissent to discussions, which gives him pause for thought before any decision is put in ink.
“It’s been a great dynamic so far,” he said. “I’m sure as we get more comfortable with one another in these roles it’s only going to get better.”
For the next few days, however, Dubas’s focus is on the Marlies.
It remains to be seen how a berth in the AHL final – or even a championship – will impact the Leafs. It can only help as the big club tries to mirror that success in the years to come.
“Being here, playing in June, is a massive experience for the young players on our team and getting them conditioned for that exercise,” Dubas said. “That’s what we want to do with the Maple Leafs.
“Now that they have this experience, they can draw on it. That only helps each individual player.”
It might even help Dubas, too.
While an AHL title would be swell, he’s well aware there’s more at stake with the Leafs’ springtime forays.
“It would just eliminate one more question from the pile,” he said. “If we could get to no questions left that’d probably be great. There’s a much larger task to get there.”
A glimpse at next year
With holes to fill on the 2018-19 Leafs roster, the Marlies post-season run has given players a bigger audition in front of management.
Without mentioning specific names, Dubas said several players have opened some eyes and have given themselves a longer leash at training camp in the fall.
But the one who’s really seemed to put himself in good stead is winger Andreas Johnsson.
Johnsson, who finished the NHL season with the Leafs and played in six Stanley Cup playoff games, has 15 points in nine post-season contests with the Marlies.
He’s second in AHL playoff scoring – first among active players – after a season that saw him produce 54 points in as many games.
Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe said the two-way forward has been even more impactful since his return.
“With his confidence and the talent that he has, he’s turned it up a notch offensively,” Keefe said. “He has extreme confidence that he can make a difference every shift. He’s been a very complete and, frankly, dominant player for us.
“He came down from the NHL with the attitude of coming down to make a difference.”