Dubas unsure if he will remain as Leafs GM; 'Nothing off the table' if he stays
TORONTO — Kyle Dubas has made plenty of high-profile moves in his time with the Maple Leafs.
From big-money signings to blockbuster trades to firing a Stanley Cup-winning coach, he's been at the centre of the action since being elevated to the general manager's role in Toronto five years ago.
His next decision will have a major impact on both himself — and the direction of the organization.
Dubas said Monday 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 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.
"I can't put (my family) through that after this year."
The Leafs won a playoff series for the first time since 2004 when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 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 defenceman 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 change to the roster — including the nucleus of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander 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.
"I don't need anybody else to be up and shield it with me. It's on me."
The 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 entering the final years 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 still counting US$11 million against the salary cap when the 2023-24 season gets underway.
"I love it here," the Leafs captain, who signed in free agency in 2018 as the first Dubas foray, 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 Monday 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."
Head 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 apart from Dubas, Keefe and the so-called "Core Four" of Matthews, Marner, Tavares and Nylander.
Veteran centre Ryan O'Reilly — acquired from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline as part of Toronto's big swing — is an unrestricted free agent. The same goes for forwards Michael Bunting, Alexander Kerfoot, Noel Acciari and David Kampf, along with defencemen Luke Schenn and Justin Holl.
"Extremely difficult to win in this league," said O'Reilly, who raised the Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in 2019. "With the pressure of this city, it's not an easy thing.
"But this group is very close."
Marner, who grew up a Leafs fan just north of the city and was asked about the possibility of getting traded before Dubas spoke, hopes to be part of it.
"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 honour."
Once there's clarity on Dubas, the rest of the Leafs' summer will start to come into focus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2023.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press