Is Kyle Dubas the favourite for GM of the Year?

Published April 20, 2022 at 6:52
BY BEN HODGSON
Sitting at a press conference table in June 2021, Kyle Dubas said "moments like this are a part of the story that prelude success most of the time". At the time, nobody wanted to hear that, but here we are less than one year later, with the Leafs looking like an entirely different team.

The Leafs had just blown a 3-1 lead to the Montreal Canadiens in their first round series, losing in game 7. The team was devastated, fans were furious, and Dubas himself was clearly shocked by the loss. Many were calling for the young GM's dismissal despite dominating the Covid induced Canadian division in the regular season. Dubas knew at that point he was on thin ice.

Two months later, Dubas bet his career on the same core group.

For better or worse, I believe in this group and I believe that they are going to get it done and I believe that they're going to win. I believe in them as players, I believe in them as people, and I know that decision lies on me and what the risk is for me. We're going ahead that way. So I'm comfortable with it. I believe that we're going to see the best version of this group next season that we've seen yet and I'm willing to bet everything on that.



Call it stupid, call it reckless, call it ballsy... Kyle Dubas pushed his chips in and stood behind his guys. At the end of the day, playoff success is the only measure that will count, but so far, things are looking very good for his all-in bet. So good in fact, that I believe he should be up for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award.

If we look at Dubas' moves since that bet was made, I think you'll agree with me here. Starting in the off-season, Dubas had a host of players headed towards UFA status, 2 of them were big pieces for the Leafs. He made the difficult decision to let Zach Hyman and Frederik Andersen walk to free agency. Both players had been great for the Leafs, but neither had been able to come through come playoff time, and so they were allowed to walk to Edmonton and Carolina respectively.

So we know who left, now lets look at who was brought in. Michael Bunting, signed for 2 years at 950,000 per year has not only produced up to the level that Hyman did, but exceeded it while adding an element of nastiness that Hyman never did. Bunting also draws penalties with the best of them, he takes pride in enraging opponents and enjoys taking abuse to draw said penalties.

David Kampf has been a fantastic addition to the Leafs 3rd line. His 1,500,000 cap hit was scrutinized at first. Kampf was a relatively unknown member of the Chicago Blackhawks with only 1 goal last season. Since joining the Leafs, he's been in integral part of the penalty kill, and a key member of the Leafs unbelievable 3rd line. If Michael Bunting has been a home run, Kampf is at least a 2-run triple for what he's been able to add to this team. He's also on a 2 year deal, so he'll be here next season as well.

At 1,250,000 for 1 year, Ondrej Kase was a low risk, high reward signing. He's been a great player for the Leafs while he's been in the lineup, but his face first playing style has lead to injury trouble. Kase's concussion issues returned recently, and we all wish him a speedy recovery and hope that these issues don't follow him after his career ends.

This leaves us with Dubas' 2 mistakes. Petr Mrazek and Nick Ritchie. Mrazek has had a nightmare season, dealing with both injury and poor play. For whatever reason Mrazek never found his game in Toronto, even though his contract has 2 years left, I doubt we see him play another game with the Leafs. Ritchie was just never a good fit for the team, he's a big body, but his style of play just didn't fit with the Leafs. Ritchie is doing much better in Arizona now, which brings us to the moves Dubas made after the season had started.

The Nick Ritchie experiment clearly failed, to the point where Ritchie went from top line left wing to the 4th line before being placed on waivers and playing games with the Marlies. Dubas packaged Ritchie and a conditional 2025 2nd round pick for little known defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin. The Russian bear brought an element of stability and physicality to the Leafs back end that was sorely needed. He's earned a spot on the top pairing with Morgan Rielly with his hard nosed play style. Boosh has been a breath of fresh air to fans that want to see the Leafs be meaner in front of the net as well, his ability to clear the front of the net has been a welcome addition to the team.

Perhaps Dubas' best move of the season was the Giordano trade. Dubas sent a pair of second round picks and a third to the Seattle Kraken for the 2019 Norris trophy winner and Colin Blackwell. Gio partnered with Liljegren in his first game with the Leafs and the pair have been fantastic together ever since. He brings size, physicality, experience and even some offensive talent. Giordano was exactly what the Leafs needed this season.

Blackwell has been a quietly good player for the Leafs, he's scored 2 goals since joining the team, but his hustle and willingness to fight in the corners more than make up for his lack of size. He's fast, versatile and hard working. A perfect 4th line centre for the Leafs.

Dubas has made some other smaller moves, adding Kyle Clifford and Carter Hutton as depth pieces, but with his body of work this season laid out and nearly 82 games played, we are seeing a full picture of what he's done as GM. Dubas kept the same core and the same head coach, but the team has completely transformed. They play a harder, more physical brand of hockey, dominating their opponents at both ends of the ice. His off season signings have worked out wonderfully with the exception of Mrazek. The trades he's made since the season started have filled needs without sacrificing in other areas, and he's done it without giving up a first round pick or any of the Leafs top prospects.

Dubas has turned a good team into a great one. They've broken franchise records for both wins and points and look better going into the playoffs than I've ever seen. I would challenge anyone to find a GM that has improved their team more while giving away less. Dubas has, at the very least, secured his job, but in my opinion, he deserves that GM of the Year title.
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