Nylander signing shows Leafs GM Dubas is doing things his way

NHL insider Doug MacLean joins the Starting Lineup to discuss the Maple Leafs deal with William Nylander, and why neither side deserves any criticism, nor should they care what other GM’s think.

You know why I like Kyle Dubas? Because he knows his only job is to put the Toronto Maple Leafs in position to win the Stanley Cup and he doesn’t give a damn about how William Nylander’s contract impacts other teams by driving up the price for their restricted free agents.

Because he has known for the past two months that his most important task was getting Nylander signed in a way that didn’t make it more difficult to sign Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. That’s it. That’s all. Worry about Kasperi Kapanen and Jake Gardiner and whatever else down the road. The salary cap is the worst thing to ever happen to the Maple Leafs: it’s interfering with their ability to keep together a core that they largely drafted and signed long enough to win, and, eventually, it will send them into Chicago Blackhawks post-championship purgatory.

If nothing else, this ought to cure once and for all the notion that the salary cap is a boon to competitiveness and good for the Leafs. It isn’t. No serious Leafs fans should have ever cheered its imposition and the restrictions it placed and places on the Leafs’ biggest edge over every other team in the league:


So I don’t care how Dubas and Lewis Gross had to get here or how long it took them. I don’t care what this does to Sebastian Aho’s contract or whatever. Not my worry. Not your worry. Not Dubas’s. Those who need to find a winner and loser in all this will say he overpaid for Nylander? Not in this particular market he didn’t. Not in this city. Not at this time. He still has pieces to move to add a defenceman and help this team get over the post-season hurdle. The window of opportunity is now – with Morgan Rielly and Frederik Andersen and Gardiner still bargains – and in that scenario there is no overpay.

Here’s the thing: Dubas can’t change how he looks or how young he is, which is why I sometimes get the sense there are people who want him to fail, which is a different matter entirely than being skeptical about his abilities to do his job. The truth is, Dubas is never going to win with some of the old-school guys. He’s too young, likes to play with numbers, does all this new-age stuff by keeping in touch with his players by text or email and precipitated the exit of Pope Lou Lamoriello and another real hockey man in Mark Hunter. Hell, he’s probably never even been hazed.

I’ve never understood wanting to see a sports executive fail. Most of them are enacting a philosophy or plan put in place by somebody else, beholden to a set of economic circumstances largely outside their control. They operate in an odd world: tasked with immense responsibility but then completely and utterly powerless once the game begins. But there is something unique about Toronto, in particular. Former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi had it right when he said there were few cities that could match Toronto when it came to spending more time hammering GMs as opposed to coaches or players.

It probably owes to the fact that nobody has won anything of significance for years, going back to 1992-93. That means the point of emphasis is always on team construction, which by extension led to discussion about management styles and contracts and money. Toss in the fact that the NHL and NBA teams were being run by ownership whose magical touch with real estate and business stood in stark contrast to on-ice, on-court and on-field success and it’s been easy to fire away at the GM.

So that’s John Tavares and Nylander done. Two down, two more to go, and whatever it takes to get it settled. A big-time GM doing big-time business with the biggest team in the NHL in its most important market and doing it his way. Some of you are just going to have to deal with it.


In which we share an Uber ride with Thomas Chabot … remind former players once again that it’s bad form to criticize how the current guys do their business … hope that what goes around doesn’t necessarily come around for the Mets … salute Canada’s U-17 women and their swash-buckling style under Rhian Wilkinson … celebrate an NHL that has never been better.

• Sens defenceman Thomas Chabot is Uber-talented: his two assists against Erik Karlsson and the Sharks makes him the first defenceman to reach 30 points this season. No other defenceman has managed 30 points through Dec. 1 since the Leafs’ Bryan McCabe had 35 in 2005-2006. #ErikWho?

• Brodie Van Wagenen was the agent who landed Robinson Cano his 10-year, $240-million deal in 2014 and now as Mets general manager he’s emptied much of his farm system to bring him back to New York. #TheDevilYouKnow

• Love that agent Allan Walsh called out Jeremy Roenick for his shot at William Nylander holding out.

It’s a good idea for the guys who caved in on a hard cap and escrow to stay out of any current embroglio #Turtled

• Dallas Keuchel is a Scott Boras client. Jon Heyman is a Boras favourite. Keuchel retained Boras after doing his own negotiating and Boras needs to impress him. Translation: not buying that the Jays have interest in Keuchel. #FairGame

• After London 2012, John Herdman suggested Rhian Wilkinson was a future candidate as a national soccer coach. In her first assignment, Wilkinson this weekend coached Canada’s U-17 women to a best-ever fourth place finish, attacking to the end in a 2-1 loss to New Zealand. #Future

• Any guesses as to the only Raptors player to have a positive plus/minus in each of the team’s eight consecutive wins? If you said Pascal Siakam, you’re our grand prize winner. #MostImproved

• Brent Burns of the Sharks went goalless in November before scoring Sunday. Tough to do since November saw the third-most goals scored in a calendar month in league history. The month with the most goals in NHL history was March, 2018. It’s an explosion. #GoodForTheGame

Each week, Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt tackle the most impactful stories in the world of sports and their intersection with popular culture. Come for the sports; stay for the storytelling and cigars.


Josh Donaldson’s going to do just fine in his later years as a client of agent Dan Lozano. Donaldson signed a one-year, $23-million free-agent contract with the Braves this week and that might be the way he finishes out his career. He could do worse than another of Lozano’s clients, Carlos Beltran, who made a total of $96 million after the age of 33 by signing a three-year deal with the Yankees after a two-year deal with the Cardinals and finished out his career on one-year deals worth $15 million and $16 million with the Rangers and Astros – the latter coming at the age of 40 when he won his first and only World Series. Beltran, of course, famously fired Boras to hitch his wagon to Lozano. Donaldson is 33 and is smart to be with an agent who knows how to milk decent paydays out of players with aging defensive metrics in an analytical age.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show weekdays from 9 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN

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