Kyle Dubas is about to find out what being in charge of the Toronto Maple Leafs is all about.
The Leafs promoted the 32-year-old on Friday, making the Brock University graduate the 17th general manager in franchise history.
He’ll be taking over a team that’s seemingly put its darkest days behind it, yet has another step to take before being considered a Stanley Cup contender.
Here’s what Dubas will have to take care of in his first off-season as GM:
The Leafs will have to make a decision on what to do with their three key outgoing free agents: Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, and James van Riemsdyk.
Toronto’s cap situation looks fine for now, but with a young core that will be playing on big-money extensions in the coming seasons, the Leafs can’t afford to spend too much on declining veterans.
All three players have provided value in their own unique ways during their stints in blue and white, but with limited cap space and roster spots, it’s quite possible that Dubas will have to cut ties with three of Toronto’s longest-tenured players. If not, it’ll be up to the new GM to find space for one, two, or all three of them.
(Also pending UFAs: Roman Polak, Dominic Moore, Tomas Plekanec.)
Lock down the core
The “Big 3” of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are all eligible to sign the first extensions of their young careers this off-season.
Of those, only Nylander is actually slated to be a restricted free agent, but you can bet the Leafs would rather not spend a whole season talking about the prospect of franchise saviour Matthews headed towards RFA status.
It’s a situation the Edmonton Oilers faced last off-season, when they got Connor McDavid extended as soon as possible, then inking RFA Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year deal of his own (at an $8.5-million cap hit).
You can bet Dubas would much rather use Boston’s David Pastrnak (six years, $6.67-million cap hit) as a comparable for Nylander and Marner, and getting his core guys locked down at a reasonable rate will go a long way towards being able to retain complementary pieces like Andreas Johnsson (RFA this summer) and Kasperi Kapanen down the line.
Fill out your depth forward spots
Assuming not all (if any) of the pending UFAs are signed, there will be room on the NHL roster next season for some fresh faces.
The Leafs have spent two consecutive trade deadlines shipping out second-round picks to upgrade their fourth-line centre spot, and you wonder if Dubas will look to have his answer there for 2018-19 by October.
Dubas has spent the past few seasons building a stacked Marlies team that could have the answer in Miro Aaltonen, Trevor Moore, or even the massive Frederik Gauthier. There’s also Swedish free-agent signing Par Lindholm who could potentially fill the role.
Young wingers like Kapanen, Johnsson, Josh Leivo, Carl Grundstrom, and Mason Marchment, among others, will get a chance to fight for spots.
Round out your defence
The blue line is seemingly set, with Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey, and Travis Dermott likely pencilled in for 2018-19. Dubas will have to decide whether the sixth spot goes to Connor Carrick (RFA), a Marlie like Andreas Borgman or Justin Holl, or an external acquisition.
Polak seems unlikely to be brought back, but we’ve thought that before. The heavy Czech is a Mike Babcock favourite and can reliably kill a penalty.
There will no doubt be room for improvement (more on that later), but getting NHL-quality depth on the blue line should be a priority for the new Leafs GM.
Pick a backup
This is something Steve Dangle wrote about last Monday, and he goes into detail as to what the Leafs’ options are with regards to a No. 2 netminder behind Frederik Andersen in 2018-19.
Curtis McElhinney was excellent this past season, but so was Garret Sparks in backstopping the Marlies to great heights. Sparks will need to clear waivers in order to be sent down to the AHL next season, so it’s quite possible Dubas will have to pick a goalie to keep and another to lose. Recent trades involving backup goaltenders haven’t brought back much in return.
RFAs Calvin Pickard and Kasimir Kaskisuo are both candidates for the backup role as well.
Filling out next year’s roster is one thing, making it better than its predecessor is another.
Expectations in Toronto are only rising, and after two straight first-round exits, pressure will start to grow as the Leafs look to win a playoff series for the first time since 2004.
For Dubas, that could mean going after blockbuster trade targets like Dougie Hamilton or Erik Karlsson, or attempt to acquire less glamorous – yet reliable – names like Jason Demers, or David Savard.
This summer’s free-agent crop is thin on defencemen, but righties like Mike Green and John Carlson could be an option.
On offence, John Tavares will be sought after by just about anyone who can afford him, but veteran centres like Paul Stastny or Joe Thornton would provide the Leafs with enviable depth down the middle.
The Leafs won’t be in any rush to make a big move, but can’t afford to remain stagnant in a loaded Atlantic Division that’s only getting better.
We’ll see what Dubas can come up with.