Dear Kyle Dubas: Take a year off

      Rushing to accept the first GM offer could be a mistake. Dubas could learn a lot from what Barry Trotz did last summer.

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      Only fools rush in. We’ve all heard that phrase. And it keeps coming to mind when I think of Kyle Dubas’ future in hockey. 

      Why? Because I think the former GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs should take the year off.

      After being unceremoniously – and very publicly – let go by Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, Dubas has just experienced a seismic life shift. One that he even said was a possibility at the conclusion of Toronto’s 2022-23 NHL season.

      Dubas was very candid after Toronto was eliminated by the Florida Panthers in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He spoke openly about how his job as general manager of the Maple Leafs took a toll on his family. And that he needed to consult them before making any decisions on the 2023-24 season.

      Thing is, Shanahan made that decision for Dubas. Which was probably a pretty big surprise given how far down the road the two sides were on a new contract. Shanahan finally came to the conclusion that Dubas wasn’t the right person for the job.

      That’s fine. It’s business after all. As an ex-player, I heard that phrase constantly. I learned to accept it. But I didn’t always like it.

      Shanahan will have to live with his decision either way. But for Dubas, whatever he chooses to do next will define his career in hockey. And I think he needs to proceed with caution.

      How many cracks at being an NHL general manager does one person get? For most, the answer is two. If that. Very rarely does a GM get a third or fourth gig in the big seat. That’s Lou Lamoriello territory. And even though Dubas has long been regarded as a whiz kid hotshot prospect in management, the Leafs only managed to win one playoff series in five years under his watch.

      Whether Dubas deserves all the blame is up for debate. I happen to think he did a solid job. Did Dubas make mistakes? Absolutely. Did he learn and grow over his nine-year tenure in the Leafs organization? No question. I believe Dubas’ best days in management are ahead of him.

      That is, if Dubas makes the right choice on his next gig. And I don’t think that can happen in short order. Especially after Dubas – in his postseason media scrum – said that his 2023-24 gig “will either be (with the Toronto Maple Leafs), or taking time to recalibrate, reflect on the seasons here. But you won’t see me next week pop up elsewhere. I can’t put them through that after this year.”

      Imagine Dubas reneging on that promise to his family less than a month later. And think about how it would be perceived by the hockey world. 

      Shanahan got cold feet in part because he wasn’t sure Dubas was all-in on being the Maple Leafs GM. If Dubas were to take a job this summer, I’m not sure how serious anyone would take his word in the future. And in today’s world, perception is reality.

      I can hear the echochamber already.

      “Does Kyle ever know what he wants?”

      “I guess Kyle’s family didn’t matter after all…”


      I mean, go on down the list. And you know what? I guess it really doesn’t matter. It’s up to Dubas to make a decision on his NHL future. He’s still viewed as a rising star. At just 37 years of age, he already has five seasons of GM experience at the NHL level. That’s incredibly valuable.

      But as reports surfaced Tuesday of Dubas meeting with members of the Pittsburgh Penguins – including captain Sidney Crosby – I kept going back to my initial thought that Dubas needs to be incredibly selective in his next move.

      There’s nothing wrong with going for a visit. If I was Dubas, I’d listen to Penguins as well. I think job interviews are always a learning experience. And maybe Dubas likes what he hears. Pittsburgh is still a sexy destination considering the starpower within that locker room.

      But as Dubas alluded to, being a GM in Toronto – the world’s craziest hockey market – takes an immense toll. It’s a grinding, high-pressure gig that inevitably brings more sorrow than joy. Only one team can win the Stanley Cup. And with the unrelenting expectations of the Toronto marketplace, winning a championship is exceedingly difficult.

      For Dubas to get out of the Ontario furnace and immediately drop into another job would be a rash decision in my eyes. Teams that are interested in his services need him more than he needs them. And while that’s a flattering position for any free agent to be in, it can cloud rational thinking.

      Think about Barry Trotz, who will take over as Nashville Predators GM this summer. When Trotz was fired by Lamoriello from his gig as head coach of New York Islanders after the 2021-22 season, he had plenty of options. The Philadelphia Flyers offered Trotz gobs of money. And the Jets tried desperately to woo him back to his hometown of Winnipeg.

      But Trotz said no. He interviewed. He was offered jobs. But he chose to stay away for a year. And look what came of it. Trotz now has his dream job as GM of the Predators. He played his cards perfectly. And he even got to enjoy a stress-free season for the first time in decades.

      I think that’s the direction Dubas needs to take. Be patient. Find the right fit. Dubas has made plenty of money in recent years. He’s going to make even more in the future. And Dubas doesn’t need to worry about staying relevant. The demand for his services will only increase over time as teams get impatient and fire incumbents.

      This is all unsolicited advice. I get that. But too many times in this business I’ve seen people jump at the first sexy opportunity. Or the dollar signs are too big to ignore.

      I think Dubas is smarter than that. And I appreciate the value he places on his family life. Not enough people in hockey consider that balance. But make no mistake, Dubas will soon face the biggest decision of his professional career. And he has to get it right.



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