The Toronto Maple Leafs' decision not to retain general manager Kyle Dubas caught many in the hockey world by surprise on Friday, but according to a report from James Mirtle of The Athletic Dubas and team president Brendan Shanahan had been “at odds” for a while.
Multiple sources confirmed to The Athletic a pattern of issues between Shanahan and Dubas that developed over several seasons, including the Maple Leafs president stepping in and blocking transactions as well as dictating other moves the former GM didn’t always agree with.
No specific moves were mentioned in the article from The Athletic.
The Maple Leafs officially parted ways with Dubas on Friday afternoon, announcing his departure in a shockingly transparent press conference from Shanahan, in which he discussed the timeline of the team’s decision to move on from the GM.
"I had gotten to a different place about how I felt about the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs and what was best," Shanahan said Friday. "As hard as it was and as hard as it is to make a significant change [regarding] someone you're close with and someone you're working with for nine years ... I just felt different [recently], and that the long-term future of the Maple Leafs might have to change. I slept on that and woke up this morning and drove to Kyle's office to inform him we would not be renewing his contract."
Dubas and Shanahan reportedly met with ownership last Sunday to negotiate the framework of a new deal, and it is believed the future of head coach Sheldon Keefe was one of the discussion points. There is also a belief within the organization the roster would benefit from a major shakeup, per The Athletic:
"It’s likely Dubas was told then Keefe would (or should be) a casualty during an offseason that all involved agreed required significant change."
“There is also a view in the organization that players have become too comfortable, which will likely feed into whatever organizational decisions are made this summer. Part of what was an issue with the board was whether Dubas was prepared to make those hard decisions, such as firing a coach he was very close with and trading players he had backed ever since they entered the league seven seasons ago."
Sunday's meeting led some in the Maple Leafs organization to believe it gave Dubas pause, prompting him to seek more autonomy and compensation in his counter-offer on Thursday
"A gap had risen in the contract status," said Shanahan, "But nevertheless, after the email I received from Kyle, I just felt differently."
During his end-of-season media availability Monday, Dubas said he was unsure whether he'd return as GM and that he needed time to discuss it with his family, as the past season was "a very hard year for them." He also said that if he didn't return, he wouldn't seek another job elsewhere for the time being.
"I definitely don't have it in me to go anywhere else," Dubas said Monday. "It'll either be here or it'll be taking time to recalibrate, reflect on the seasons here. It requires a full family discussion ... for me to commit to anything without having a fuller understanding of what the year took on them, it's probably unfair for me to answer. It was a very hard year on them."
Those public comments, per Shanahan, played a significant role in what took place between president and GM over the following days.
Shanahan tried to emphasize on Friday the final decision wasn't based on money but rather he was "less sure" Dubas wanted the job after Monday's press conference.
The discontent with Dubas’s dismissal has already been evident in the Maple Leafs front office, as special assistant to the general manager Jason Spezza resigned from his post on Friday, and The Athletic indicated there could be further front-office resignations in the coming days.
"Really tough on everyone," an unnamed source told The Athletic. “Not feeling great about the whole thing today. It should have ended differently"
There was concern among the front office where Dubas hires such as assistant GMs Ryan Hardy, Darryl Metcalf and Hayley Wickenheiser would fit in following a regime change.
As for Dubas's replacement, The Athletic indicated the early frontrunner remains former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who has been linked to the job by several reporters.
Brad Treliving has permission to talk to the Maple Leafs about their vacant GM post, but it’s with the understanding he cannot participate in any discussions about the draft or amateur scouting until after the draft.
Despite reports to the contrary, he’s had the same permission…
— Eric Francis (@EricFrancis) May 20, 2023
Shanahan mentioned in his press conference Friday that he would be seeking a replacement with experience as GM, which prompted plenty of speculation about the familiar names who would qualify for that job description. The Athletic indicated current GMs or presidents who have out-clauses in their contracts, such as St. Louis Blues president and GM Doug Armstrong, could be legitimate options to come to Toronto as well.
The Maple Leafs are expected to consult with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the league office regarding the vacancy, but it is believed assistant GM Brandon Pridham, who is filling the role in the interim, is considered to be a long shot to land the full-time gig.
If Keefe is let go, as The Athletic suggested was likely moving forward, former Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville is reportedly intrigued by the possible opening with the Maple Leafs but is considered a long shot due to his role in covering up the sexual abuse of Kyle Beach by former Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich. Quenneville has yet to be granted re-entry into the NHL after resigning as Florida's head coach in October 2021. He is expected to meet with the league over the coming months.
It remains unclear where Dubas plans to spend this season, but The Athletic wonders whether he and Spezza would be a good fit with the Ottawa Senators, who have an emerging roster and will soon have a new ownership group.