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Kyle Dubas out as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs after five seasons

Dubas first domino to fall in what could be a summer of intrigue in hockey’s biggest market
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas speaks to media during an end-of-season availability in Toronto, on Monday, May 15, 2023. The Maple Leafs were eliminated from the NHL playoffs by the Florida Panthers on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Kyle Dubas is out as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The team said Friday it is “parting ways” with the 37-year-old, whose contract was set 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,” 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 Friday afternoon at Scotiabank Arena.

With Dubas the first domino to fall in what could be a summer of intrigue in hockey’s biggest market, the attention now turns to his replacement, along with the status of head coach Sheldon Keefe and the future of star forward Auston Matthews, who both have close ties with the now-departed executive.

The Leafs won a playoff series for the first time in nearly two decades this spring when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning before bowing out to the underdog Florida Panthers in a disappointing second-round showing.

An emotional Dubas said at his end-of-season press conference Monday he wasn’t sure if he would continue on as GM, citing the stress on his young family.

Fans shouldn’t expect Dubas to be joining another club in the short-term.

“I definitely don’t have it in me to go anywhere else,” he added at what turned out to be his final media availability as GM. “It’ll either be here or it’ll be taking time to recalibrate (and) reflect … but you won’t see me next week pop up elsewhere.

“I can’t put (my family) through that after this year.”

Dubas joined the Leafs in 2014 as an assistant GM at age 28 and 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 traction 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 head coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Keefe — but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

The Leafs lost in seven games to Boston in 2019, fell to Columbus in the 2020 pandemic-necessitated qualifying round, and 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 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.”

His first big splash was to lure Tavares, who grew up just west of Toronto, with a seven-year, US$77-million contract in free agency after just a few months on the job.

A tough negotiation with Nylander — the winger missed the first two months of the 2018-19 season — followed before he eventually signed a six-year extension worth $45 million the following December.

That set the stage for Matthews to ink a five-year extension with a value just under $58.2 million in February 2019.

Marner then got paid seven months later with a six-year, $65.4-million pact as Toronto allocated roughly half its salary cap to four stars.

Dubas also made a number of trades and wasn’t shy about changing course, realizing early on that Toronto needed more grit and playoff experience.

He acquired Stanley Cup champions Jake Muzzin in 2019 and Ryan O’Reilly in 2023 with an eye towards helping get the Leafs over the hump.

Tight against the cap, Dubas also found players in the bargain bin, including veteran forward Jason Spezza and hometown product Michael Bunting.

Dubas remade the roster before this season’s trade deadline by adding O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Luke Schenn and Jake McCabe, continuing a trend of draft picks heading out the door for immediate help.

He also had his fair share of misses, namely the signing of goaltender Petr Mrazek and the trade for oft-injured netminder Matt Murray.

Dealing centre Nazem Kadri — twice suspended in the playoffs with Toronto — to Colorado could be justified at the time, but he went onto be a key contributor in the Avalanche’s Cup victory last June.

Nick Foligno, meanwhile, got hurt and played just 11 games for the Leafs after being acquired at the 2021 deadline.

Dubas appeared to finally get it right this spring in the Leafs’ six-game victory over Tampa that exorcised a generation of playoff demons, but Florida’s emphatic 4-1 triumph in the second round saw most of those good vibes quickly fade.

His replacement will have to decide what to do with Keefe, while Matthews and Nylander are entering the final years of their contacts and can sign extensions July 1.

Both players have indicated they’d like to stay, but that was when Dubas was still in the fold. Matthews and Marner, who has two years left on his deal, both have full no-movement clauses set to kick in this summer, while Nylander will own a 10-team list.

While Dubas wasn’t able to unlock a winning formula in Toronto, there was never any questioning the GM’s passion.

He was caught on camera jawing with Lightning fans this spring, wildly celebrating the Leafs finally getting past the first round, and throwing a water bottle in disgust during the Panthers defeat.

“I’m an emotional person,” Dubas said Monday. “I’m deeply passionate … I know some people might not like it or care for it.

“But that’s me.”

— Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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