Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

The break ended shortly thereafter.

Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

“I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

“I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

“Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”

Maple Leafs hire Brad Treliving as team’s new general manager

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO — Brad Treliving has a new job.

And the Maple Leafs have a new plan.

Treliving was hired as Toronto’s general manager less than two weeks after firing Kyle Dubas.

The 53-year-old Treliving left the Calgary Flames in April following nine seasons that included five playoff appearances and two 100-point seasons.

“Brad brings a wealth of knowledge from his years of experience as a general manager and hockey executive in Calgary, Arizona and beyond,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “He has earned tremendous respect amongst his peers throughout his years in the NHL and has built excellent relationships at all levels within the game.”

Treliving joins the Leafs at a crucial juncture in the wake of Shanahan’s stunning dismissal of Dubas on May 19.

The Original Six franchise, whose Stanley Cup drought stands at 56 years, won a playoff series for the first time in nearly two decades with a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning this spring, but then lost to the Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers in five games.

Dubas, who had been Toronto’s GM since 2018 and didn’t have a contract beyond June 30, suggested at an end of season news conference May 15 he wasn’t sure he wanted to remain in the role – at least in part because of the stress on his young family.

A roller coaster five days followed, with Shanahan ultimately firing the 37-year-old Dubas despite previously wanting to keep his GM, and the now-unemployed executive eventually indicating to his boss he wished to stay.

Treliving is the third GM – joining Dubas and Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello – hired in Toronto by Shanahan, whose so-called “Shanaplan” aimed at getting the storied franchise back on its feet when he came on board in 2014 has seen unparalleled regular-season success, but just that one series victory in eight attempts.

“I’m thrilled to join an Original Six team and recognize how much the Maple Leafs mean to this community,” Treliving said. “This is a very exciting day for my family and I.”

Treliving has a lot to deal with as he settles into his new office at Scotiabank Arena.

Treliving, who served in the Phoenix Coyotes’ front office for seven seasons before arriving in Calgary, will have to decide the future of head coach Sheldon Keefe, while stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander can sign contract extensions as of July 1.

Matthews and Mitch Marner have full no-movement clauses ready to kick in the same day. Nylander will have a 10-team list.

The NHL draft is also set for the end of June in Nashville, Tennessee, while the Leafs have 12 roster players primed to hit free agency at noon EDT on July 1.

The Flames, who missed the playoffs this season, won the Pacific Division in 2021-22 under Treliving before falling to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round.

Johnny Gaudreau then stunned the organization by leaving Calgary for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency last summer. Fellow star forward Matthew Tkachuk added another wrinkle by informing the team he didn’t plan to re-sign.

Treliving subsequently dealt the winger to Florida as part of a package that included forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar heading to southern Alberta.

Huberdeau then signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension with the Flames that kicks in next season.

Tkachuk, a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate as playoff MVP, and the Panthers open the Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Despite the departures of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, the Flames looked like contenders ahead of the 2022-23 season.

The acquisition of Huberdeau and the signing of center Nazem Kadri was expected to fill the void left by Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but the mix wasn’t right for a group led by hard-nosed coach Darryl Sutter.

Huberdeau and Kadri finished well off their career-high points totals of the previous season – the former went from 115 with Florida to 55 in Calgary – while subpar goaltending was an issue much of the season.

Treliving now turns his attention to Toronto.

Just like last summer, he has lots of work to do.

Kyle Dubas out as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs after 5 seasons

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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for a new general manager after the team announced that it had decided to part ways with Kyle Dubas.

Toronto won a playoff series this year for the first time in nearly two decades. The Maple Leafs eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing to the underdog Florida Panthers in a disappointing second-round showing.

Dubas’ contract was scheduled to expire June 30.

“I would like to thank Kyle for his unwavering dedication over these last nine seasons with the organization, including his last five as general manager,” Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “Kyle fostered a great culture within our dressing room and staff, and consistently pushed to make our team better season over season.”

Shanahan was scheduled to address the media at Scotiabank Arena.

An emotional Dubas, 37, said he wasn’t sure if he would continue on as GM, citing the stress on his young family.

Dubas joined the Leafs in 2014 as an assistant GM at age 28. He managed the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies to a Calder Cup title in 2018.

He took over as Toronto general manager from Lou Lamoriello in May 2018 as part of a succession plan under Shanahan’s direction.

The Leafs experienced unprecedented regular-season success under Dubas – viewed as a young, bright hockey mind with a forward-thinking approach to analytics – over his five years in charge.

Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

The Leafs lost to Boston in seven games in 2019 and fell to Columbus in the 2020 pandemic-necessitated qualifying round. The team blew a 3-1 lead against Montreal in a disastrous 2021 collapse before showing promise in a tight, seven-game loss to Tampa in 2022 that set the stage for last month’s breakthrough.

Dubas offered unwavering support to Toronto’s so-called “Core Four” of offensive talent consisting of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander.

“As a person, he’s been unbelievable throughout my whole time here,” Marner said of Dubas after the Leafs were eliminated by Florida. “Definitely a special person to have around. He cares a lot for his players and his staff.

“Something that we’re all pretty lucky to have.”

Kyle Dubas unsure if he will remain as Maple Leafs GM

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TORONTO — Kyle Dubas has made plenty of high-profile moves in his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

From big-money signings to blockbuster trades to firing a Stanley Cup-winning coach, he’s been at the center of the action since being elevated to the general manager’s role five years ago.

His next decision will have a major impact on both himself and the direction of the organization.

Dubas said as the team reflected on its second-round playoff exit that he needs time to figure out if he even wants to continue as GM with his contract set to expire at the end of June.

“It requires me to have a full family discussion,” Dubas, his voice shaking with emotion, said at an afternoon press conference. “My family is a hugely important part of what I do. For me to commit to anything without having a fuller understanding of what this year took (out of) them … it’s probably unfair for me to answer where I’m at.

“We haven’t been able to have those full discussions yet, but it was a very hard year on them.”

Dubas added he won’t be leaving the Maple Leafs to join another club ahead of next season.

“I definitely don’t have it in me to go anywhere else,” Dubas said. “It’ll either be here or it’ll be taking time to recalibrate (and) reflect on the seasons here. But you won’t see me next week pop up elsewhere.”

The Maple Leafs won a playoff series for the first time since 2004 when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round before falling to the Florida Panthers in a disappointing five-game setback that sullied a breakthrough nearly two decades in the making.

“I think the world of Kyle,” Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “He’s a world-class GM. I’m not in charge of what happens with his contract. But everything he did was in the team’s best interest.

“The players are the ones that were on the ice.”

If he stays, Dubas said he’d look at any changes to the roster – including the nucleus of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander that he’s staunchly backed at every turn – that gives Toronto a better opportunity at success.

“I would take nothing off the table,” he said. “Everything would have to be considered.”

Dubas took questions alone this year on a breakup day that moved at a glacial pace after sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with team president Brendan Shanahan last spring following a fourth consecutive opening-round disappointment. Shanahan was nowhere to be seen this time, but the team indicated he would be available “in the coming days.”

“I’m responsible,” Dubas said when asked if anything should be read into the absence of his boss. “The decisions made on trades, on roster, on everything – they’re on me. I feel like I should sit and take responsibility for them.”

Dubas’ decision – whether it’s up to him or Shanahan – is one of many facing the Leafs in what could be a tumultuous summer.

Matthews and Nylander are both entering the final year of their contracts and can sign extensions as of July 1. Matthews and Marner – the latter’s deal runs two more seasons – both will have their no-movement clauses activated the same day. Nylander will possess a no-trade list of 10 teams.

Tavares, meanwhile, will be 33 years old and will counting $11 million against the salary cap next season.

“I love it here,” the Leafs captain, who signed in free agency in 2018 as Dubas’ first move, said when asked about waiving his no-movement clause. “I made a commitment here for seven years, to be a Leaf, and I want to be here.”

It’s no secret that Matthews, who indicated he’d like to stay in Toronto and wants to ink an extension this summer, and Dubas have a good relationship off the ice.

“Built a really good culture here,” said last season’s Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP. “Expectations don’t get met or you fall short, people point the finger.

“But my experience with Kyle has been a real positive one.”

Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe has been attached to Dubas for the last decade, and his future with the organization could also be tied to what happens with the GM.

“Kyle and I have a lot of history,” Keefe said. “I believe in a lot of things he’s done here to put us in a position to succeed. I have tremendous amount of respect for Kyle … in terms of what happens from here, it’s out of my control.”

There are plenty of other questions that need answering in Toronto. Veteran center Ryan O’Reilly – acquired from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline as part of the Maple Leafs’ big swing – is an unrestricted free agent. The same goes for forwards Michael Bunting, Alexander Kerfoot, Noel Acciari and David Kampf, along with defensemen Luke Schenn and Justin Holl.

Marner, who grew up a Leafs fan just north of the city and was asked about the possibility of getting traded before Dubas spoke, said he hopes to remain.

“I’ve been very fortunate to play for this team,” he said. “I want to continue to play for this team and hope I get to play for this team. It’s all I ever dreamed of as a kid.

“Hopefully I get to continue that honor.”

Once there’s clarity on Dubas, the rest of the Maple Leafs’ summer will start to come into focus.

Free agent moves highlight Kraken’s mixed present, future outlook

Free agent moves highlight Kraken's mixed present, future outlook
Christopher Mast/NHLI Images via Getty Images

Despite what the Golden Knights maybe tricked them into believing, it was never going to be “easy” for the Seattle Kraken. Really, it shouldn’t be annoying when they operate like most other NHL teams — meaning, often with a lack of imagination and innovation. But it is.

Look, the Seattle Kraken team-building strategy us especially nerdy types had in our heads may never have been truly realistic. And, considering a wonderful 2022 NHL Draft haul highlightedbut not limited to — Shane Wright, the Kraken might just pull off the unlikely. Maybe they really can enjoy competitive teams today, and still build up the sort of prospect pool that will reach greater heights tomorrow.

Still, it feels like the Kraken could’ve been even bolder with a short-term pain, long-term gain strategy.

At the moment, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the Kraken are spending a lot of money for a team that mainly just looks … OK. That might sound nice, but it could be a lot less desirable if they’ve doomed themselves to puck purgatory. They could very well be too good for a 2023 NHL Draft that is getting hype for being tide-turning, and they may also not be good enough to matter. (Thus, they might not even make the playoffs.)

That could be about as underwhelming as a Pirates sequel that takes place in space because everyone truly ran out of ideas.

Kraken continue growing tradition of mixed-bag free agent moves

Last offseason, it was already a little frustrating that the Kraken passed on opportunities to weaponize salary cap space at the expansion draft. Trades that happened just after the expansion draft showed there was some runway for such tinkering, even if GMs “learned some lessons.”

(Let’s be honest: every year, free agency casts serious doubts over how much GMs “learn.”)

Most prominently, the Kraken added Andre Burakovsky (27 years old, $5.5 million cap hit through 2026-27). In a vacuum, that deal made some sense. Most promisingly, Burakovsky adds an element of offensive dynamism that the Kraken sorely lack.

Yet, even that Burakovsky contract feels less appealing when you ponder the larger state of the Kraken. Ask yourself: they were an Andre Burakovsky away from … what, exactly?

It’s certainly not the worst contract. As plausible as it is that Burakovsky may look worse without superstar Avalanche teammates, he may also really light it up as a go-to option. But it still looks like the sort of contract you sign when you’re knocking on the door for a Stanley Cup, not maybe climbing into the playoff bubble.

So far, the other Kraken free agent moves inspire reactions between “meh” and “why are you actively lighting money on fire?”

  • In a baffling move, they signed Justin Schultz, 32, to a two-year deal with a $3.2 million cap hit.
  • Yes, it’s noteworthy that Chris Driedger is injured. Spending $2M on Martin Jones still feels odd.

Pile those deals on some rather uninspiring contracts already on the Kraken books.

Is a bloated “middle class” the right way to go?

Jaden Schwartz is a nice player. He’s also 30, deals with injury issues, and costs $5.5M for four more seasons. Jordan Eberle’s 32, and costs that much for two seasons. Yanni Gourde, 31, is another pretty good forward at $5.167M through 2024-25.

Burakovsky and Jared McCann are nice players, and at least they’re in their prime (Burakovsky’s 27, McCann is 26). Alexander Wennberg remains a less desirable expenditure, as it sure feels like you could replicate the 27-year-old’s production for the less than his $4.5M cap hit (through 2023-24).

Ponder the group of Schwartz, Gourde, Eberle, Burakovsky, McCann, and Wennberg. Not bad, but not exactly keeping goalies and defensive-minded coaches up at night, either? It doesn’t seem like the most exciting way to invest more than $31M in salary cap space, which lurks over $35M when you add Joonas Donskoi. (Then add the polarizing-because-of-price expansion draft snag of Brandon Tanev, 30, and $3.5M for three more seasons.)

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

Unfortunately, the spending doesn’t look that different on defense and in net, either.

Scroll up and down the Kraken’s roster and ask yourself: how many of those contracts would you really want?

Maybe the Kraken would cringe at the idea of trying to snag futures for problem contracts such as that of James van Riemsdyk, Blue Jackets such as Jakub Voracek/Gustav Nyquist, or even Milan Lucic. It’s unclear if those players (aside from Lucic) would be that out of place on an already-disheveled looking roster.

You may say that Kraken structure looks like a sea beast, or a creaky boat quite vulnerable to the challenging tides of an NHL season. (Or … sea beast.)

Kraken could still figure this out, though

On the same day that the Devils leaned a bit too gleefully into blaming their goalies, it’s fair to confront elephant in the room. Yes, the Kraken’s goaltending dragged their overall outlook down in 2020-21.

By Hockey Viz’s count, Grubauer, Driedger, and the Kraken goaltending crew as a whole allowed about 31 goals more than expected.

The Kraken’s (not-totally-outrageous) hope is that, while Philipp Grubauer may not be Vezina finalist material every year, he may not also be the opposite. (Too soon to say “Martin Jones late in his Sharks days”-level?)

Last season, the Kraken played like a team that would be a black hole for offense for both teams. With weak finishing on their side and that really bad goaltending, the Kraken instead were a black hole for Seattle fans hoping to see a good hockey team right away.

If you get more saves, play strong defense, and sprinkle in some goals from Burakovsky/others, maybe that’s a decent team. Perhaps even a playoff factor.

Building toward a promising harvest

The real thing to be most excited about is the future, though.

Shane Wright and Matty Beniers both project as heady two-way centers. The team already has some quirky prospects to get (maybe too) excited about, such as the impeccably-named Jagger Firkus.

They also have the fuel to deepen that prospect base even more. Right now, the Kraken have their full array of seven 2023 NHL Draft picks along with two extra second-rounders, one extra third, two additional fourths, and an extra sixth. There are some extras for the 2024 NHL Draft already, too.

For the best chance to thrive, the Kraken probably should’ve geared up for a subtle or even blatant tank (maybe debate Fail Hard for Bedard vs. other rhyme schemes). Along with that, it would’ve been nice to aim for the sort of creative trades that could make the Coyotes interesting over time.

(On a similar note: it’s fair to ask if the Kraken should be cautious about either preserving or burning Shane Wright’s entry-level contract, as other high picks have sometimes struggled to justify immediate jumps.)

[There’s some star power in their ownership group]

As is, the Kraken are at least showing potential new fans that they’re going to take some shots. With almost $10M remaining in salary cap space, the Kraken could conceivably do even more.

That may not be the optimal route, but the Kraken are doing things their way. Perhaps that way will begin to look more promising starting in 2022-23?