Emotional Dubas undecided on future with Leafs
The Maple Leafs held their end-of-season availability at the Ford Performance Centre on Monday.
Kyle Dubas is unsure if he'll return as general manager of the Leafs.
"I have had a good, long relationship here with [president] Brendan [Shanahan] and the owners," Dubas said. "I will speak to them in the coming days, but probably more importantly, I'll speak to my wife, Shannon, and our family here tonight and tomorrow to see where we are at as a family and how we want to proceed with everything. This has been a very taxing year on them. That is obviously very important to me. We will go through all of that. We will all make our decisions and roll from there."
After a string of early exits, Dubas did not receive a contract extension as he entered the fifth and final year of his deal this season. The Leafs posted another strong regular season campaign before defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in the first round. It was the franchise's first playoff series win in 19 years. However, a five-game loss to the underdog Florida Panthers in the second round raised further questions about whether this core has what it takes to win it all.
Dubas, who made significant additions at the trade deadline, was under heat throughout the season and the stress took its toll.
"My family is a hugely important part of what I do," he said. "For me to commit to anything without having a fuller understanding of what this year took on them is probably unfair for me to answer where I am at. I wish I could give you more. We haven't been able to have those full discussions yet, but it was a very hard year on them. It is tough for me."
The 37-year-old revealed he has no intention of joining another team.
"What I will say is that I definitely don't have it in me to go anywhere else," an emotional Dubas said. "It will either be here or it will be taking time to recalibrate and reflect on the seasons here. You won't see me next week pop up elsewhere. I can't put them through that after this year."
Previously, Dubas ended seasons by offering steadfast support to his star players. This year, however, he is open to the possibility of a core change.
"I would consider anything with our group that would allow us a better chance to win the Stanley Cup," Dubas said. "I would take nothing off the table at all. Everything would have to be considered."
Dubas pointed out that last year the Panthers traded leading scorer Jonathan Huberdeau and top-pair defenceman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for gritty winger Matthew Tkachuk, who is now a Hart Trophy nominee.
"They won the Presidents' Trophy," Dubas said. "They lost in the second round. They were disappointed. They get to the summer and they trade two of their core guys for a great young player — a younger player. That is a big move, but I don't think it was hastily done. It wasn't until a Friday night in late July that they make the move ... If you are going to do something like that, it has to be very thoroughly done, which I think the team we just played serves as a great template for."
Auston Matthews isn't sure how many changes will be made this off-season.
"The sense is that it is kind of up in the air," the 2022 Hart Trophy winner said. "There is stuff that is out of my control and I can't really comment on that, I guess."
Matthews made it clear how he feels about Dubas.
"I think he is a great GM," the star centre said. "I think he has built a really good culture here. When you talk to guys that come from other teams and other organizations, what he has been able to build here is great. I have a really great relationship with him. Everybody's goal in mind is to win. When those expectations don't get met or you fall short, people point the finger and what not, but my experience with Kyle has been a really positive one."
Matthews is eligible to sign a contract extension in July.
"My intention is to be here," the Arizona native stressed.
Matthews also said it was "important" to get the deal done before next season.
"It will all kind of work itself out in due time," the 25-year-old said. "I really do enjoy playing here. It is a true honour. The work that we are putting into continuing to strive for that end result is extremely motivating."
Matthews was limited to two assists against Florida while playing through an injury.
"There was something I was dealing with a little bit throughout the season and a little bit throughout the playoffs," he said. "In the end, it is my job to push through that and do what I can to help the team win."
William Nylander is also eligible to sign a contract extension this summer.
"I love it here," the 27-year-old winger said. "I don't want to be anywhere else. This is where I want to win and I want us to give it a go as long as we can."
The last time Nylander negotiated with the Leafs it almost ended in disaster. As a restricted free agent, Nylander didn't sign until mere minutes before the deadline to play during the 2018-19 season. So, is he eager to get something done sooner this time?
"I have a full year and obviously I want to stay here," he said with a smile. "It would be nice if we could sort that out but, I mean, the season just ended and I'm not too focused about that."
And the hockey season may not be done for Nylander, who's interested in joining his brother Alex Nylander on Team Sweden at the World Championship.
"It's been talked about," Nylander confirmed. "I think it would be fun to go, but we'll see what happens."
Nylander planned on asking Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe for feedback before making a decision.
John Tavares has a full no-move clause and doesn't plan on waiving it.
"I love it here," said Tavares, who just wrapped up his fifth season with his hometown team. "I made a commitment here for seven years to be a Leaf. I want to be here. That is how I feel. I love being captain and take that responsibility very seriously. I feel really fortunate and still think there is a tremendous opportunity here for our team in the near future and in the long run."
After scoring four goals, including the series clincher against Tampa, Tavares was limited to one assist in the five-game loss to the Panthers.
"I think there were a lot of good things with my game," the 32-year-old insisted. "I got rewarded well in the first round and was a little snakebitten in the second round, but I still thought there were a lot of positives with my game, whether it was creating opportunities or just being good without the puck. No doubt, there are always things to work on and things you want to be better at. You take responsibility, playing the role that I play on the team, to be better and to do more. You reflect on that, use the time now to continue to see where you can be better through conversations today as well and get back to work."
Tavares, a natural centre, moved to the wing at times after the team acquired Ryan O'Reilly and he is willing to continue that experiment next season.
"I am open to whatever," Tavares said. "I want to continue to evolve my game, find ways to get better and adapt. Guys that play for a long time are able to do that. They adapt their game while still making their strengths really consistent and strong. It is something I take a lot of pride in, being versatile. When I signed here, I knew as I get later in my contract and as I am getting older, those possibilities were there. At the time, I looked at the big picture of things and really had the mindset of continuing to be versatile and continue to be ready for that challenge and opportunity."
Dubas said it would be "too hasty" to commit to bringing back Keefe as coach.
"There still has to be a full evaluation of everything," Dubas noted.
Dubas did highlight what he liked about Keefe's approach despite the second-round loss.
"Sheldon and his staff made adjustments that put our group in a position to capitalize," Dubas said. "Going back to Game 1 to Game 2, the major topic was the [Sam] Bennett line. The coaching staff did a good job to adjust and address that. Going into Game 3, if you go back and watch Game 3, in the first period, I think we had five odd-man rushes based on the coaching staff's adjustments. In Game 4 and Game 5, we played well, but we put ourselves into a really bad hole. It was too little, too late."
Keefe also identified the start of the series as an issue.
"I thought we went into the series a little too guarded and didn't go out, attack it and grab it," the coach said. "Credit to Florida because they did that. That is what you expect — two teams to do that — and that is where I think the growth is for our team as we continue to look at how you get to take the next step. That is part of it."
"We didn't start the series the way we needed to," O'Reilly agreed. "We kind of tip-toed into it. It came back to bite us."
The Leafs have been the higher seed in all five series under Keefe's watch and won just once. However, he has been praised consistently by his counterparts including John Tortorella, Jon Cooper and most recently Paul Maurice.
"I think Sheldon Keefe is a phenomenal coach," the Panthers bench boss said after the series ended. "We all have windows. We all have our time. He's coaching in this league for 20 years if he wants to. That's how I feel."
Tkachuk didn't hold back when asked why his underdog squad was able to take down the Leafs.
"I think that there's a lot of individual skill over there, probably the most in the league," Tkachuk said. "Some unbelievable talents. I just think the way that we were able to play as a team was the difference. Like, with physicality. You could see there was a little bit of them wearing down at the end. I just think our team was built for this moment against them."
O'Reilly agreed that Florida's physicality swung the series.
"They were more physical than us," the 2019 Conn Smythe Trophy winner said. "They kind of grabbed control of the series that way, which we need to do respond to a little better than we did. It was definitely a factor for them that help them beat us."
O'Reilly, who was acquired from the Blues in a February trade, also pointed out that playing in Toronto brings with it unique challenges.
"It is extremely difficult to win in this league, especially with the pressure of the city," he said. "It is not an easy thing by any means. But this group is very close. It will have success for sure."
O'Reilly previously played in Buffalo, Colorado and St. Louis. Was he surprised by the pressure in Toronto?
"I guess not really surprised by it, but you don't really know it until you are in it to really see it," the Clinton, Ont., native said. "It is part of it. It is part of what makes this the mecca of hockey — the way people care. When they do win, it is going to be something that is that much more special."
In past years, Dubas debriefed the season with reporters while sitting beside Shanahan, who also fielded questions. This year, Shanahan wasn't at the podium.
"I am responsible, so the decisions made on trades, roster and everything are on me," Dubas explained. "I feel like I should sit and take responsibility for them. I don't need anybody else to be up and shield it for me. It is on me."
Leafs media relations announced that Shanahan will address the media in the coming days.