Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM, Kyle Dubas doesn’t believe he has a problem on his hands. Well, if he believes he does, he certainly isn’t saying so publicly.
The minute he and the Toronto Maple Leafs signed John Tavares to seven-year, $11MM deal, the Leafs were destined to be more strapped for cash than they already were. And, with some of the NHL’s best, young talent up for contract extensions by the end of next season, make no mistake, the Leafs were strapped for cash.
Many are questioning the ability of Kyle Dubas to keep Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander all in the fold long-term and that’s fair. After all, the combined salaries of these four players alone will take up close to 50 percent of the team’s salary cap as the 2019-20 NHL season begins. When asked if he was at all concerned about the challenges in keeping this core together, Dubas told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek on this week’s episode of 31 Thoughts: The Podcast, “We can, and we will.”
Dubas says the key is to be patient.
The trend in the NHL these days is to sign your key players to long-term extensions as quickly as possible. After what the NHL saw happen with the New York Islanders and Tavares this summer, and what could happen with players like Erik Karlsson and Tyler Seguin, that sort of thinking makes sense. That said, Dubas believes this particular situation requires time and patience. Perhaps more time and patience than fans and “insiders” will be comfortable with. Dubas told Marek and Friedman:
“It might go a little bit slower than some people would like but that would be on me to continue to be patient with it and make sure that these guys are not just signing because it’s a long-term contract and it’s obviously a nice pay increase for them, but they want to be here as part of the long-term, they know where we’re going and they’re a full part of that rather than sign a deal and then a year later wonder what the vision is for the program and whether they want to be part of it.”
While some will suggest getting these players signed quickly is key and potentially saving money before any or all of them have amazingly productive seasons, Dubas understands the massive pay increases are inevitable. It will be about managing those pay increases and communicating something other than money that will measure his success in getting three new deals done. Ideally, if Dubas can sell the vision of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he may be able to convince each player into taking a little bit less knowing they’ll still get rich in the process.
That will require sitting down with each player, talking about where they fit, how he sees them as being part of the bigger picture and building a winning program that includes them.
Can the Toronto Maple Leafs keep Matthews, Marner and Nylander after signing Tavares?
Kyle Dubas: "We can, and we will."
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 5, 2018
In theory, this is a strong idea. The key will be what each of the three players — Marner, Nylander and Matthews — think. There have already been whispers that Marner is digging his heels in and feels like Toronto might be planning to lowball him with an offer valued at less than what he believes he’s worth. Auston Matthews is also likely a given to get something similar to what Tavares just received. Nylander is the question mark. Should he have a strong season, he could wind up an $8 million player.
All the while the Leafs are still painfully thin on their blue line and haven’t addressed those concerns in this year’s free agency. If they can’t shore up their defense, this could be a team that plays in but loses a number of extremely and high-scoring games.