In one swift move, Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan spurred a flurry of headlines and a game of front-office musical chairs earlier this month when he named Kyle Dubas the newest general manager of his club.
Though not necessarily a surprising decision, Shanahan’s choice to promote Dubas sent the Leafs faithful into a tizzy as the club lost both previous GM Lou Lamoriello — who opted for a President of Hockey Operations role with the New York Islanders — and assistant GM Mark Hunter, who moved on in search of a better opportunity after losing out on the Leafs’ top job to Dubas.
But while Toronto frets over the decision to break up the band after watching the Leafs attain progress in leaps and bounds over the past few years, Shanahan says he isn’t surprised by the cascade of changes that followed his decision.
“Whether it was Lou, Kyle or Mark, I understood that there was a likely scenario that whichever one I chose, I could quite possibly and quite likely lose the other two,” Shanahan told Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt on Prime Time Sports Tuesday. “I really focused my efforts on not necessarily what we were going to lose but on who we were going to gain.
“Decisions were going to have to be made. If I didn’t make them this summer, I would’ve had essentially all three of them walking up on expired contracts. I don’t think [keeping the trio together] was realistic, and I say that out of fairness to them. When people do a good job, especially in Toronto — with the media that we have here, and the spotlight that is here — people from other organizations want them. Other owners call. Other GMs call.”
With the front office shaken up and the reins now firmly in Dubas’ hands, Shanahan also offered some insight into the line of thinking that led him to choose Dubas over the veteran options in Lamoriello and Hunter.
“I think in the game of hockey, if you sit still, if you’re idle, you’re going to be passed by,” Shanahan said. “So [I considered] who was it that we had that I felt confident was going to take us to the next level and be around for a while, and had a great understanding of the organization.
“I think that this is a complicated job. Lou has obviously done it very well — and Lou was very gracious in mentoring a lot of the people that were in the organization — but I thought that what I had observed first-hand, as opposed to asking other people to tell me who was good, and knowing all the ramifications one decision could make, I still felt that this was the best option for the team going forward. … Certainly the players that Kyle has developed and helped develop with the Marlies that have been coming up to the Leafs reflect how he sees the game of hockey and how it’s going.”
The Leafs president did say he believes Dubas will be interested in adding a seasoned manager to his team, and that the new manager has already approached him with potential options for assistant GM hires. Ultimately, though, it’ll be Dubas’ call who joins the team and how the front office proceeds. And Shanahan, who’s stood firm to his plans from the start, isn’t paying much attention to the noise.
“Four years ago, we went and hired a bunch of people, plunked them in, and heard a lot of the exact same concerns here in Toronto — ‘It’ll never work, too many chefs in the kitchen, personalities are too big, they’ll never work well together,'” Shanahan said. “Here we are years later and everyone’s saying, ‘Oh my God, why break it up?'”
Watch Shanahan’s full interview with McCown and Brunt at the top of this post as he discusses Dubas’ relationship with Mike Babcock, the new GM nearly getting poached by the Avalanche, and the emergence of the Golden Knights.