I have been rather critical of several GMs in the past that have certainly proven me wrong - namely Sakic's situation a few years ago about how his team lacked an identity, and Yzerman's dealing with Stamkos even though I believe that situation was still handled clumsily - and I have defended some of Chiarelli's moves - that Griffin Reinhart deal with Barzal was available and that Lucic contract I could not possibly defend. I really dug at Bergevin for his summer in 2017 when his summer in 2018 was spectacular by GM's standards with his supremely victorious trades in both the Pacioretty and Galchenyuk situation.
So Dubas might surprise me. But then again, he might not. His short tenure has been, to me, a comedy of errors, each leading to a more absurd conclusion.
His last year handling the Leafs I'm certain has many scratching their heads. It almost seems like every decision he's made since taking the helm has made his proceeding situations more difficult.
His first big move was signing John Tavares. At this point, the Leafs had a decent roster at center with Matthews, Kadri, and probably the option to re-sign Bozak. Matthews is the talent, Kadri is the shutdown, and Bozak is the utility. This is a very Lou Lamoriello like configuration. But then you're chasing another center, despite having Matthews, because teams look at Pittsburgh - which to me is the exception to the rule - and decide to want to overload at the center position. That Malkin chose to play #2 to Crosby was a blessing for that organization.
So it's one thing to make a pitch for Tavares, but another thing entirely to offer him the contract they offered. Now obviously one has to have a salary structure, and in many fandoms now, you have the idea that your skill and seat-fillers should be paid 15M/y and everyone else should be paid 500k. And some markets clearly focus more on the product than the circumstances (Entertainment is held in priority to winning). Lou wasn't like that: of NJ's three Cups, two of them were fortress wins while the 2000 team was simply one of the most stacked NHL teams ever iced.
Would Lou have thrown 11M/y at Tavares? It's rumoured he might have, but rumours around uncle Lou is usually smoke and mirrors. It's not to say there would have been no pursuit, but Lou looks at his team and fills out his needs first, so his pitch would have likely been "here's where you fit in, and here's how much term and cash we're willing to offer, and if you feel your services are more-so desired elsewhere, then so be it". I mean, Lou DID make a pitch to Tavares as GM of the Islanders, which is certainly where they could have used him and kept Barzal at 2C producing like mad, but Dubas obviously "won" on that negotiation.
I put "won" in quotations - because when you get the player you covet, you do not always win. It is similar to someone being on a lifeboat and reaching into the water for a person. You have to make sure that you hold more leverage than those in the sea so that when you grab that man's hand, you don't end up pulling yourself into the sea rather than him onto the boat. Many contracts signed on July 1 were terrible mistakes, and Lou's made more than his fair share of them - Tallinder and Clowe come to mind.
When Dubas got JT, it rocked his proverbial boat and he might have pulled too much cargo on board.
(A lot of people hate the salary cap - fans from big market teams that is - but I've loved it from day one, because it's the NHL's declaration to the fans that no matter what team they cheer for, they're going to be competitive. The competitive integrity of the game is absolutely vital to the growth of the game, because unlike the suckers in the BPL paying to see third rate teams lose to the Manchesters, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea all the time, some people aren't going to spend money knowing their teams will perennially be awful and just become a farm team for the five or six big guys. In the BPL, there's really no point in having more than the six teams. Management has a lot more weight on the chances of success in the NHL versus many, many other leagues.)
So there was too much cargo now on his ship - that made the next decision harder: signing Nylander.
The second move in this comedy of errors was the Nylander situation, which was humiliating both for Nylander and the franchise. Nylander, as a young player, had already put up two solid 60+ point campaigns.
When Dubas pulled Tavares onto his boat, this was one of the ramifications - he had a pretty transparent salary structure developing, and agencies representing the other guys were smelling something foul. They knew the boat was getting tight. They know feast or famine when they see it: if JT is feasting, they're going to ask other players to famine. Not on their watch. Now Dubas has to start sorting the feast and the famine.
(Not under Lou! But Dubas thought he could handle JT at 11M/y and the rest would just be crunching numbers rather than agencies turning into sharks).
So Nylander's situation, and look at it from his agency's perspective, is that he was going to ask to be a career second liner making six million a year. The kid is 22 years old coming off a 61 pt season (at +20!) and they were already going to set the ceiling above him. What if the agency thought he was going to be a first liner? Well, not on a team where Mitch Marner is challenging that same role. Why is Nylander going to get a limit set on him?
What should Dubas have done?
His options were: trade him for a defenseman, and he was more than a legitimate option for many teams out there,
entertain his ask, which probably was in the range of 7 - 8.5. (I did some research: Simmons said at the time it was closer to 8).
Now first off: I probably wouldn't have thrown 11/y at JT, but I would have ensured I had enough cargo for what Nylander, Marner, and Matthews would be demanding; I also know that you have a hard time building a championship core from a bunch of forwards, one defenseman, and a good goaltender.
But given these options, Dubas and his camp waited and waited and waited right until December until a last minute signing. This decision came back to haunt him as Nylander had a poor year by his standard. Yet he went over to the World Championships and had a sublime performance which perhaps begs the question of whether he is actually a #1RW calibre player.
He was signed at an affordable 6.9 and change but what exactly were his options? A lost year in a salary dispute doesn't exactly look good on the resume of your character - ask Yashin. The team had control, but I certainly understand the agent and the player's perspective - his spotlight got shifted as soon as JT signed, which means he wasn't going to be considered a primary player, but a secondary player, and he was going to be expected to be paid like one.
If a player thinks he's a primary but the team thinks he's a secondary: problems will arise.
Now we move on to the third error: Auston Matthews.
As a first overall pick who scored 40 goals in his first year, it's fair to assume that Matthews immediately came into the league as a premier sniper center. Sniper centers require a different dynamic of wingers around them: I personally prefer my playmakers to be center and my snipers to be wingers, but you make do if that player succeeds best in that role.
Do I think he's one of the best centers in the league? No. His assists never outranked his goals. Look at all of the best centers in the league, present or past, and almost nobody has this anomaly to their stats. Center, as a position, isn't "most important player", it's supposed to be "most present player", and the one thing I've always had against Matthews is that I know he can score goals, but I'm not so sure he makes everyone around him better akin to playing on a line with McDavid or Crosby or that he has a solid 200 ft game. You look at McDavid, Crosby, Malkin - they usually have a 2:3 or 1:2 ratio on goals and assists. That means that not only are they scoring threats, they absorb pressure from the other team to alleviate pressure for their other linemates to succeed.
Bobcock's utility has been precise: he sticks Matthews with support players because he knows of the gap. Matthews is one of the most gifted goal scorers in the league - but he needs two guys around him that help him have possession. That's why we see him with Hyman. And this is also why we see Marner with Tavares, because they're both playmakers and that can open up space for one another, so they piled on the points. On Matthews wing, your job is to open up space for Matthews and clean up whatever he leaves.
Why do I say all of this? Because I'm evaluating how much he's worth. Even a sniper center like Draisaitl has more assists than goals. Consider Edmonton's wingers!
I evaluate Matthews at 9M/y. That's what he merits on his goals. He's not won anything; he's not gotten by one round of the playoffs; he's not known as a complete player. But 9M/y is fair amount for the amount of sheer offense he offers and that you can stick a couple of support (+/-) players with him and you've got a potent NHL second line.
Dubas gave him 11.6M/y for 5 years instead, which buys him one extra year beyond free agency. It almost sounds like Matthews and his people came to the table and Dubas' pupils turned into hearts and he was like "OMG like why are you so great? I'll give you 10, no, 11!"
When of your roles as GM is to evaluate your team properly and how much each player gives you a chance to succeed. Now Matthews is an "on ice product" and "puts fans in the seats" but does he help your team win? If Lou was there, there's no chance Matthews would have gotten 11.6 if he had complete autonomy.
Now comes to the latest chapter (or inspired by Shakespeare, the 4th act!) of the comedy of errors: Marner.
He looks at Matthews' deal and he says "Am I worth less than Matthews?"
It has been shared by TSN media that Marner lost out on some bonuses on his ELC where Matthews didn't, so they were saying there was some extra salt there. Lou's "fault" but something that was supposed to check the ego of his players. Hence: why Marleau received what he did - again, to check their egos and to turn them into pros. No checking egos under Dubas, apparently! He made the laughable deal of throwing Marleau to a buyout with a 1st round pick to wash it down since his options were limited. Lou wouldn't have put the team in a salary strapped position that would have forced the Marleau deal - he had already made that mistake.
Dubas, in giving Matthews that extension, just set the price for Mitch Marner. So Marner's camp says "11.6, 5 years".
Dubas will be like "c'mon, you as good as Matthews?". Marner pulls out a stat sheet that shows his 1.15 ppg is higher than Matthews 1.06.
"But come on, guys like Draisaitl make less and look at what they do".
Marner again pulls out a stat sheet that shows his 1.15 ppg is higher than Matthews' 1.06.
You see, contrary to what many Leafs fans think, the "Dreger Cafe" didn't drive up the price for Mitch Marner. Kyle Dubas drove up the price for Mitch Marner, both when he signed JT to 11/y and Matthews to that 11.6/y extension.
Marner has to famine while Matthews' gets to feast? So I understand Marner's perspective.
To be honest, though: I wouldn't pay Marner 11.6. I'd give him 9.5, which would be an excellent deal for a right winger. But that's hinged on what I'm paying my other guys! I'm not going to pay him 9.5 when I'm paying Matthews 11.6: that's insulting.
Lou's famous NJ system was that no one is getting paid more than Brodeur. His salary structure was strict! Why did he enact that system?
BECAUSE OF THIS! He was never ever going to insult his Hall of Fame goaltender.
So let's get into the fifth act: trading a shutdown center for an offensive defenseman and a decent 3C. Tyson Barrie for one year, looking for an 8M extension. Can't wait to see what Dubas does about that because under this structure, he's not getting anywhere close to 8M in Toronto!
I don't think Barrie is worth 8M, and it'll be interesting to see how long he'll last if they actually expect to play him with Morgan Rielly. IMO, Toronto needed more shutdown, but they traded more shutdown for something they already had in abundance: offense.
Let's not call it an error, yet! But Dubas is clearly trying to find a new way to win in the NHL! Which will probably be a repetition of ancient errors.
Now I golf, and there are some important life lessons in golf. If you pull out your driver at the tee and rip one, and end up in a scruffy situation on your second shot, you "take your medicine" and use an entire shot just to put yourself on the fairway again. You control the bleeding. But if you try to pull off a miracle shot after you've made a bad shot, you're more likely staring at a triple or quadruple bogey than you are at a birdie or a par... unless your name is Phil Mickelson.
Dubas is no Phil Mickelson of hockey: he generated a lot of excitement pulling JT into the city, but he ended up behind a tree, and he's looking at a quadruple bogey, here.
But alas, he has to take his medicine - even more medicine after that Marleau trade - and move out one of Marner, Nylander, or Matthews. He doesn't have to admit he made a mistake, but it'll be in the deals. Otherwise, this comedy of errors is headed towards a tragedy because of Kyle Dubas' hamartia.