Marner's return 'doesn't look like it’s too far away'; Mitch says conditioning is good
TORONTO – It’s been a busy fall for Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas, with no shortage of storylines to contend with – on and off the ice.
In a media availability on Monday to announce the hiring of new Toronto Marlies’ head coach Greg Moore, Dubas touched on a number of topics pertaining to the Leafs, from how they’ve transitioned under new bench boss Sheldon Keefe, to whether he’s actively working the trade market for a new backup goaltender.
On his impression of the Leafs’ since firing Mike Babcock on and promoting Keefe:
“I think it's still to be determined. I think obviously when you make a change it’s nice to see the teams have success – both the Marlies and the Leafs. The Marlies are 5-1 since the change and the Leafs are 4-1. I still think with both teams we feel that we still have a long way to go. I think as Sheldon said [after the Leafs’ 2-1 overtime victory against Buffalo on Saturday], I don't think we played as well in the games against Buffalo [splitting the back-to-back] and as we talked about on the day of the [coaching] change, there’s going to be moments and stretches of games where it may not look as good and it may not be everywhere we want it to be yet. But we continue to strive towards that each day. I think the feeling here, among staff and players alike, is that it’s obviously nice to have won some games but we’re not anywhere close to where we want to be quite yet. It’s a very difficult league and we put ourselves in a difficult position so we have to just stick with it, especially with this stretch of games coming up. It’s going to be a good test for us.”
On Marner (high-ankle sprain) potentially returning to the lineup on Wednesday after being injured on Nov. 9:
“Mitch is a special player and we'll be excited to get him back here hopefully in the coming days for sure. Full health is a luxury that not many teams have. It's not just us; when you look throughout the league and even teams in our division, Boston has missed a lot of their guys throughout the last two years and I think they won their seventh game in a row last night. They just continue to find a way. So, it would be great in a perfect world to have your best 20 [players] every single night, but in a league as physical [as this] and with the schedule of 82 games, and [going on for] 180 or so days, it’s tough to be where everyone's 100 per cent healthy.
On William Nylander’s play this season (11 goals, 11 assists in 28 games), one year after his contract stalemate with the team ended in a six-year, $45 million extension:
“This is what we paid for. I’m excited for him because I think last year was a difficult year and, as I said at the end of last season, it's on me [that the deal took so long] and I wish we would have found a conclusion earlier. I wish there would have been a way to do that, because it didn’t set him up for success at all. And he’s obviously been excellent this season and he’s got the numbers to back it up...[the] statistics are all excellent and I still think he has other levels to his game he can get to, and it's up to us to help him to get there. We’re excited about that. He just goes about his business every day and we’re very happy for him that he’s producing to the level that he expects.”
On the Leafs’ backup goalie situation, and whether he’s pursuing a trade to potentially replace Michael Hutchinson:
“We’re always looking at the trade market every day for every position. What I would really like more than anything is for us to put together a good game in front of Michael [for his next start on Wednesday against Colorado]. We need to give him an opportunity. I thought he was outstanding in the first period against Buffalo [in Friday's 6-4 loss] and I think we got a little bit sloppy thereafter. I know it’s the pressing question, there always has to be a pressing concern in this market, but I think what we're really looking forward to and what we’ll stress here today to the players is we’d like for them to put a complete effort in, in front of Fred and Michael both.
[Hutchinson has] been a good goalie in the past and he’s played well in stretches here and I’ve got full belief that he can get back. You don't lose it overnight and there’s always a regression to the mean to be had and he's got a good track record of doing that, so I don't think we want to be hasty; we want to be patient, we need to show our belief. I know that’s not the answer that people would like. I think if we were going to satisfy the masses, it would be to just make a move to make a move. I understand that, but we've got belief in him and will continue to support him here and get ready for the week ahead.”
On the hiring of new Marlies’ head coach Greg Moore, who was previously head coach of the USHL's Chicago Steel and had been a guest coach at past Leafs’ development camps:
“I think the key for us was that there was going to be alignment there. Watching their team play in Chicago when we drafted [Nicholas Abruzzese 124th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft] from them last season and getting to know their general manager Ryan Hardy a little bit better, and then watching the way that Greg conducted himself with our scouts, observing him with their practices and how they played the game, I think we shared the same general philosophy in terms of development, with the development model of a lot of individual, technical development work, and then having that serve the collective and having it contribute to hopefully winning and getting the most out of each individual talent. So that's what kind of drew us there, and to some other coaches as well, but just as you talked to Greg's former employers with the U.S. program and with the Steel, it just became very clear that the way he communicated, the way he coached, was going to be a good fit and certainly be in line with how we are operating here.”