Leafs fire GM Kyle Dubas after five seasons to end stunning, roller-coaster week
TORONTO — Brendan Shanahan started the week wanting to keep Kyle Dubas in the fold.
A stunning, roller-coaster five days culminated with the Toronto Maple Leafs now in the market for a new general manager ahead of what could be a defining summer for the success-starved Original Six franchise.
Shanahan, the team's president, fired his GM on Friday, bringing an end to a tumultuous stretch that began with Dubas stating publicly Monday he wasn't certain he wanted to remain in the role.
The Leafs said in a press release issued shortly after 12 p.m. ET the organization was "parting ways" with the 37-year-old, whose contract was set to expire June 30, after five seasons in charge.
But in a detailed opening statement that lasted more than 11 minutes at a press conference some three hours later, Shanahan said he decided to hand Dubas his walking papers that morning after days of back-and-forth communication that included contract discussions and at least one face-to-face meeting.
The ultimate decision to axe the GM came despite Dubas sending an email the previous night indicating he wanted to stay on board — albeit with an increased salary demand via his agent, according to Shanahan.
"At that point ... I had gotten to a different place about how I felt about the future," he told reporters at Scotiabank Arena on Friday. "As hard as it is to make a significant change to somebody that you're close to ... the email that I received from Kyle, I just felt differently, and I felt that the long-term future of the Maple Leafs might have to change.
"Slept on that and woke up this morning, drove to Kyle's office ... and informed him that we were not going to be renewing his contract."
With Dubas the jaw-dropping first domino to fall in what is shaping up to be an intriguing few months in hockey's biggest market, 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 to the now-departed GM.
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 Florida Panthers in a disappointing second-round showing.
"Going throughout the year, the way that the team was managed, I had no issue," said Shanahan, who took a total of eight questions from reporters in his first media availability in a year. "Kyle did an excellent job."
"When the season did end ... I had expressed to Kyle that night that as disappointed as we all were, that I thought he had done a good job," Shanahan added.
But despite all that praise, here the Leafs are — minus a GM and with some seismic decisions resting just over the horizon.
An emotional Dubas said Monday at his end-of-season media availability he didn't know if he would continue as GM, citing the stress on his young family.
"Definitely don't have it in me to go anywhere else," he added at the time. "It'll either be here or it'll be taking time to recalibrate (and) reflect."
The Leafs said Friday evening that Jason Spezza, who retired as a player after the 2021-22 season to become the special assistant to Dubas, had resigned from Toronto's front office.
Dubas joined the organization in 2014 as an assistant GM at age 28 and led the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies to a Calder Cup title four years later.
He took over the general manager's chair from Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello in May 2018 as part of a succession plan under Shanahan's direction.
Toronto experienced unprecedented regular-season traction and set franchise records during the Dubas era. The team's Stanley Cup drought, however, stretched to 56 years.
He didn't shy away from big moves — Dubas fired decorated head coach Mike Babcock and replaced him with Keefe — but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring's fleeting breakthrough.
"I don't see Kyle coming here as a failure," said Shanahan, who added the process of finding a successor will start immediately. "Kyle was instrumental in where this organization is today.
"I've got to think about: How do we get where we want to go in the future and what are the best ways for us to be better?"
Dubas offered unwavering support to Toronto's so-called "Core Four" of offensive talent consisting of Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander throughout his half-decade at the helm.
"Unbelievable throughout my whole time here," Marner said of Dubas after the Leafs were eliminated by Florida.
Matthews also trumpeted what Dubas brought, while defenceman Morgan Rielly was firmly in their now-former general manager's corner earlier this week.
"I think the world of Kyle," he said. "World-class GM."
His first big splash was to lure Tavares with a seven-year, US$77-million contract in free agency after just a few months on the job in 2018.
A tough negotiation with Nylander followed before he eventually signed a six-year extension worth $45 million. That set the stage for Matthews to ink a five-year extension with a value just under $58.2 million. Marner then got paid with a six-year, $65.4-million pact as Toronto allocated roughly half its salary cap to four stars.
Dubas also wasn't shy about changing course, realizing early on that Toronto needed more grit and playoff experience.
He acquired Cup winners Jake Muzzin in 2019 and Ryan O'Reilly in 2023 with an eye towards getting the Leafs over the hump.
Dubas remade the roster before this season's trade deadline by adding the likes of O'Reilly, Noel Acciari, Luke Schenn and Jake McCabe.
He appeared to finally get it right 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 positive vibes quickly fade.
"He made some very good moves," Shanahan said. "He had prepared the team to the best of his ability."
The next GM will now 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 big chair. Matthews and Marner 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 jawed with Lightning fans this spring, wildly celebrated the Leafs finally getting past the first round, and threw 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."
Now he moves on — and the Leafs need a new GM.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2023.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press