WINNIPEG — What is Kyle Dubas going to do next?
Will he take a full season to recalibrate or have the circumstances of the past several days — which included his dismissal as Toronto Maple Leafs GM on Friday morning — invigorate him quickly enough to take another job in the near future?
There are plenty of observers who feel Dubas’ words at the podium got him in trouble and that’s no surprise.
Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan certainly didn’t pour any water on that theory as he laid out his reasoning and timeline to come to the decision on Friday afternoon.
Until Dubas chooses to speak — or rather, if he opts to share his side of the story, either in a one-on-one or at a podium of his own — there will be a lot of unanswered questions as we await the full picture.
What was evident by his words and demeanour in his season-ending press conference was the toll these past five years had on him and his family.
I don’t know Dubas on a personal level and haven’t exchanged much other than a hello to him over the years, but he’s not a masterpiece theatre graduate.
His words seemed genuine and weren’t an orchestrated bargaining ploy, even if his agent provided a counter offer with increased compensation late in this process, as Shanahan suggested.
Dubas sounded like a guy who needed a quick vacation to unwind, even though that wasn’t going to be possible until after the NHL Draft and free agency, given the hard choices ahead for the Maple Leafs when it comes to the Core 4, the coaching staff, etc.
Dubas didn’t suddenly forget it was a privilege to be an NHL GM, especially one in his home province.
Did he end up overplaying his hand?
Sure, but let’s not pretend he’s committed some unforgivable sin.
There’s been a lot of talk about transparency over the past several days and let’s make it abundantly clear that Shanahan’s willingness to share the level of detail he chose is both welcome and encouraged.
It’s great for the sport and gives writers and broadcasters plenty to write and talk about.
Dubas is someone I’ve always enjoyed listening to.
He’s smart, articulate and often a lot more open than many of his more experienced colleagues.
Here’s hoping this turn of events won’t change that in his next job, whenever that may be.
As for where it may be, Dubas is going to be in demand.
He’s a rink rat with unbridled passion for the sport and he’s going to be even better at the job the second time around, given his experiences to date.
Given the recent turn of events, it seems silly to try and predict where Dubas will end up, not to mention when.
But despite other jobs that could be appealing, it’s easy to wonder what it might do for the Battle of Ontario should Dubas and Jason Spezza ultimately find their way to employment with the Ottawa Senators after the ownership situation is sorted out.
Now that would make for some great theatre and certainly add some spice to that rivalry — and folks, remember that I’m from the Prairies, not the centre of the hockey universe.
The Senators are on the verge of contention. Having someone like Dubas involved in some capacity, along with someone like Spezza who has close ties to the organization, would be a great thing for the sport.
Of course, it’s possible Dubas would prefer to step away for a year and get a better handle on the landscape before he commits to his next challenge.
No matter what he decides, it figures to be a major storyline over the coming days and weeks and rightfully so.
As for the potential candidates to be the next Maple Leafs GM, colleague Luke Fox has you covered.
It was a tough turn of events for the Arizona Coyotes this week. The entertainment district project in Tempe was voted down and dealt another damaging blow for a franchise that has been on the receiving end of a number of gut punches after relocating from Winnipeg.
Whether or not this latest setback ends up being the finishing blow remains to be seen. The Coyotes took to social media, putting up a tweet asking fans where they’d like the next arena plan to be pursued.
You have to appreciate the attempt to pick themselves up off the mat and history has shown commissioner Gary Bettman isn’t going to give up on Arizona unless he absolutely has to.
But at some point, the NHLPA and NHL owners are probably going to get fed up with the current situation and get to the point where something needs to be done to get this sorted out.
Having attended the first Coyotes game at Mullett Arena earlier this season, it was a fun atmosphere as a one-off but this was never anything more than a temporary solution.
You can’t have an NHL team playing in a college arena that seats roughly 4,600 fans for an extended period of time.
It’s a bad look and it’s also bad for business.
Given what happened in the referendum this week, the Coyotes are likely going to need new Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia to come to the rescue or for another part of Arizona to roll out a warm welcome and plan in the near future.
Otherwise, alternatives will be fully investigated and options outside the market will become the priority, even if that started out as the last resort.
This was supposed to be the plan that solidified the Coyotes in Arizona for decades. Instead, the future of the franchise is cloudier than ever.
That’s not good for anyone and it’s already had an impact on the on-ice product. Arizona’s 2022 third overall pick Logan Cooley decided to return to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers for his sophomore season instead of turning pro.
Not that returning to school and pursuing a Frozen Four title is a bad idea, but Cooley is considered to be NHL-ready. If he’s having questions about the future, you can be sure there are going to be players on the current roster that aren’t happy about what transpired either and might want GM Bill Armstrong to do something about it.
WHAT ABOUT BOB?
Since the NHL is such a copycat league, it will be interesting to see what this Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s ridiculous playoff run is going to do for the perception that teams require a 1A-1B tandem or if a workhorse starter could be back in vogue.
Now, it’s important to remember that Bobrovsky lost the job at various points this season, briefly to Spencer Knight and later to Alex Lyon, before reclaiming it in Game 4 of the opening-round series with the Boston Bruins.
Bobrovsky holds a sparkling 9-2 record with a 2.32 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in 11 starts and 12 appearances. Along with a league-leading 17.3 goals saved above expected, he has quieted many of the critics who have been crushing the Panthers for years about his hefty $10 million AAV.
A quick look around the other teams in the final four shows the Dallas Stars as the other club in the workhorse category with Jake Oettinger. The 24-year-old started 61 games and appeared in 62 during the regular season and has started all 14 playoff games.
The Vegas Golden Knights have used Adin Hill and Laurent Brossoit, while having two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick in reserve with All-Star netminder Logan Thompson on the shelf with an injury.
The Carolina Hurricanes are a rolling with a tandem of Frederick Andersen and Game 2 starter Antti Raanta. Prospect Pyotr Kocketkov waits in the wings, ready to take on an expanded role in 2023-24 after making 24 appearances (compared to 34 for Andersen and 27 for Raanta during the regular season).
All to say that there are still several ways to go deep in the playoffs and those who believe in having a clear-cut No. 1 have a bit more ammunition to bring to their offseason personnel discussions.
What can’t be debated is the importance of having a solid backup and even an experienced No. 3 guy on the depth chart who isn’t necessarily the top prospect, depending on the level of seasoning and the situation that presents itself.
One final note on Bobrovsky, given how well he’s been playing, it’s been interesting to hear Panthers players answer questions about him during the Eastern Conference final.
“He’s unreal,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov told reporters after Game 1. “Every interview I give, I talk about Bob. He’s still unreal and we still love him.”
Make no mistake, it’s not that the Panthers are growing tired of talking about Bobrovsky, they’re simply running out of adjectives to describe how well he’s been playing.
KRAKEN PUSH FOR MORE
The Seattle Kraken are one of the most inspiring stories to come out of this NHL season, even with an emotional Game 7 loss to the Dallas Stars that comes with plenty of scar tissue.
To recap, the Kraken were a contender in the Pacific Division all season long, eventually finishing with a 46-28-6 record (100 points). This represented a 40-point increase in the standings, good enough to earn the first wild card berth in the Western Conference.
That earned them a date with the Colorado Avalanche, who just so happened to be the defending Stanley Cup champions, not to mention a team that won the Central Division by going on a late-season heater.
Instead of being intimidated, the Kraken played an inspired brand of hockey and knocked out the Avalanche on the road in Game 7 — securing the first series win in franchise history.
The Kraken also went toe-to-toe with the Stars before they were eliminated. This will be filed under the important lessons learned category.
They’ve already built a strong nucleus, which includes Calder Trophy favourite Matty Beniers, and you can expect Kraken GM Ron Francis to have another busy summer.
Seattle stockpiled 10 picks in the 2023 NHL Draft, including three second-rounders. One would expect several teams to be gauging Francis’ interest in moving at least one of those for an opportunity to bring in someone that could help the Kraken immediately.
As for free agency, the Kraken have some important business to get done. Seattle has five unrestricted free agents (goalie Martin Jones, rugged D-man Carson Soucy and forwards Ryan Donato, John Hayden and Joonas Donskoi, who missed the season due to a concussion suffered in preseason on Sept. 29).
The Kraken also has five restricted free agents (D-men Vince Dunn, Will Borgen and Cale Fleury and forwards Morgan Geekie and Daniel Sprong).
Dunn is going to earn the biggest ticket out of the group after putting together the best season of his six-year NHL career with 14 goals and 64 points in 81 games.
He’s coming out of a two-year bridge deal that carried an AAV of $4 million and he’ll be looking for a raise after garnering Norris Trophy consideration.
Francis showed last summer that he isn’t afraid to take a big swing, inking winger and Stanley Cup champion Andre Burakovsky to a five-year deal worth $27.5 million.
Is it possible that not having Burakovsky and his skillset available for the postseason might encourage Francis to bring in another offensive weapon this summer?
He should and he probably will.
Now that the Kraken and their fan base got a taste of playoff hockey, they’ll want to build on what was a historic season.
Taking that next step when expectations are on the rise is a difficult one, but it’s also a fun part of the journey.
“They should be proud of what they accomplished this year, but you should also be a little disappointed and frustrated that we didn’t get to the next step. We were that close,” Francis told reporters after conducting exit meetings. “We didn’t have to say that, our players were saying that to us. They understood that they had a good season, but they were not happy that they didn’t advance beyond this (second) round.
“The message is make sure you’re putting the time in the gym and on the bike and getting yourself in the best possible shape because we have a lot of work to do next year and it starts from Square One. I think our guys are very understanding of that task ahead.”
THE COACHING CAROUSEL
It’s the time of the year when some things are coming into focus and others will require a bit more patience.
Candidates are beginning to emerge, while some teams could be waiting for an opportunity to interview people still involved in the conference final or sensing others could end up in the unemployment line before long.
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe is someone who would quickly become a person of interest in several markets if the incoming GM decides to make a change.
The New Jersey Devils gave head coach Lindy Ruff an extension after a remarkable run that included a trip to the postseason for the organization for the first time since 2018 and just the second time since losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup final.
So that leaves current vacancies with the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.