Kyle Dubas's best and worst moves as Leafs GM
Kyle Dubas struck gold with some of his transactions and completely whiffed on others. Here are the five best and five worst moves he made as Leafs GM.
Kyles Dubas’s tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs came to a surprising end on Friday, with the club parting ways with the general manager, whose contract was set to expire after June 30.
Dubas joined the Maple Leafs as a 28-year-old executive in 2014 and prominently rose up the organization before becoming general manager after the 2017-18 season, replacing Lou Lamoriello.
The Leafs had unprecedented regular-season success during the Dubas era, but the team was not able to translate that to the postseason, winning just one series in five seasons.
Dubas inherited a roster with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander all on rookie contracts — basically a gold mine for any general manager — and was able to shape the roster in his image.
He was certainly not shy about making big acquisitions, whether it came to trades or signing free agents. Here is a look at the five best moves and five worst moves of Dubas’s run as GM in Toronto:
Kyle Dubas's 5 worst moves as Leafs GM
1. Maple Leafs sell low on Kadri
There’s a pretty good case the Maple Leafs overcompensated after Nazem Kadri’s second consecutive playoff suspension against the Boston Bruins when they decided to move on from the veteran centre after the 2018-19 campaign. That was somewhat justifiable.
However, getting a poor return for a valuable player on a modest contract ($4.5 million cap hit) was a massive blunder. The Leafs dealt away one of their biggest positions of strength (having three quality centremen) by trading Kadri, Calle Rosen, and a 2020 third-round pick to Colorado in exchange for Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, and a 2020 sixth-rounder.
Barrie proved to be a huge whiff for the Maple Leafs, making a very low impact as a puck-moving defenceman, scoring just 39 points in 70 games with no playoff points. Even worse, he was a pending free agent, so he only played one year in Toronto and signed with the Edmonton Oilers the following offseason. Kerfoot proved to be a functional role player at best.
Kadri had three productive seasons in Colorado and was a key cog for their Stanley Cup-winning team in 2021-22.
2. Leafs swing and miss on Foligno
In an attempt to add grit and veteran leadership for the 2020-21 playoff run, Dubas struck a deadline move to acquire forward Nick Foligno rather than Taylor Hall, who was available at a similar price point. In order to get Foligno, the Maple Leafs gave up multiple draft picks in a three-way deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the San Jose Sharks, including a 2021 first-round pick.
The trade had next to no return as Foligno battled injury throughout his entire tenure with Toronto, scoring zero goals in seven regular-season games before adding just one assist in four playoff contests. He grinded through injury just to suit up in the playoffs, but looked like a shell of himself and was a complete non-factor for Toronto after giving the Maple Leafs some trouble in the postseason as a member of the Blue Jackets the year prior. Total whiff.
3. The Tavares signing hyperspeeds rebuild
Let’s start with a caveat: John Tavares has been a very productive offensive player for the Maple Leafs, averaging a point per game for all five seasons, and is a model citizen inside the locker room. However, him appearing on this list is more due to the domino effect the seven-year, $77-million signing had in terms of the multitude of issues it created with roster building and salary cap management.
For one, it changed the course of what appeared to be a steady progression of roster construction, setting the floor for future negotiations with Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner and creating the Core Four issue that has been the source of their team-building limitation. The cap staying flat during the pandemic was unforeseen, but carrying this $11-million annual cap hit has hindered the Leafs' ability to improve their team around the four highly-paid players, arguably leading to the aforementioned Kadri trade and causing key players such as Zach Hyman to leave in free agency.
While Tavares has undoubtedly been a valuable player, he has not been the All-Star-level guy the Maple Leafs were expecting when he came over from the New York Islanders. Tavares still has two more years remaining on his contract with a no-movement clause.
4. Protecting Holl over McCann
Some will likely see this as hindsight analysis, but the Maple Leafs made a calculated mistake following the 2020-21 season when they decided to protect Justin Holl in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft rather than the recently-acquired Jared McCann. Dubas’s staff was confident Holl could develop into a top-four defenceman, and left McCann unprotected. McCann has developed into a dynamic scorer with the Kraken, scoring 40 goals this past season and netting 67 goals combined over the last two years.
On the other hand, Holl was a healthy scratch or a liability in many of Toronto’s playoff losses this year. The team overestimated Holl’s development and lost a high-quality scorer as a result. Yes, there were cap issues that led to this, but that could have been resolved with some more roster maneuvering. The Leafs have had issues with secondary scoring, especially come playoff time, which makes this move sting more.
5. Leafs overpay for goaltending depth
Coming out of the 2020-21 season, it was abundantly clear the Maple Leafs were not going to retain Frederik Andersen as a free agent and needed another goalie to pair up with Jack Campbell. That led Dubas to veteran netminder Petr Mrazek, who was coming off a year in which he played well, albeit in a very small sample size.
The Leafs surprisingly gave Mrazek a three-year contract worth $11.4 million. Not a back-breaking sum, but the term was a clear gaffe. Mrazek rewarded the Leafs with arguably the worst season of his career, playing in just 20 games with a 3.34 goals-against average and career-worst .888 save percentage.
Mrazek battled injuries throughout the season and the Leafs quickly admitted the mistake, having to drop 13 spots and move out of the first round of the 2022 draft just to shed the final two years of Mrazek’s bloated contract.
The Leafs made a similarly-poor acquisition this past season with Matt Murray, which will present some complications moving forward.
Kyle Dubas's 5 best moves as Leafs GM
1. Leafs make deadline move for Muzzin
This was no bargain, but the acquisition cost to land Muzzin in 2019 was well worth the price. Muzzin provided much-needed toughness, leadership, and reliable play for a Leafs defence group that severely lacked it. This was Dubas’s first major trade and remains one of the best moves he made with Toronto.
The Los Angeles Kings received Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi, and a first-round pick in 2019, but this decisive move for Dubas upgraded what was a clear weakness over multiple seasons.
2. Leafs solve goalie issue with Campbell deal
Goalies were a sore spot earlier on this list, but one of Dubas’s best moves helped solve a short-term goaltending need at the 2020 trade deadline. Dubas landed Campbell, a player he knew very well, along with Kyle Clifford in a buy-low deal from the Kings in exchange for Trevor Moore, a third-round pick, and a conditional third-rounder in 2021.
Campbell helped give the Maple Leafs much-needed stability in the second half of the 2020 campaign before becoming the full-time starter for two seasons thereafter. Campbell was a bargain move that paid off big for Toronto.
3. Moving on from Babcock
It could not have been easy for such a young general manager to be part of the decision to replace one of the highest-profile coaches in the NHL. But after 18 months in the GM role, it was clear the Maple Leafs were floundering and Mike Babcock was removed as head coach in November of 2019.
Dubas’s only head coaching change involved replacing Babcock with Sheldon Keefe, who was a close confidant of the Maple Leafs executive. The Leafs instantly turned around once Keefe took over, and he proved to be a steadying force for the club over the next several seasons. Given how much term and money was left on Babcock’s contract, it was a bold move that ultimately paid off.
4. The 2023 trade deadline
Dubas had to learn on the job as such a young general manager, so it took some time for him to master his craft. He really hit his stride in terms of player acquisition at the 2023 trade deadline, landing Luke Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Sam Lafferty, and Jake McCabe, all of whom were important contributors in the Maple Leafs’ first-round playoff victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Leafs ultimately came up short against Florida, but Schenn was among the team’s most consistent defenders in the postseason and Acciari and Lafferty were two of the few players that outperformed relative to expectations against the Panthers. No matter the end result, it was good process that put the Leafs in position to make a deep run.
5. Finding a potential gem in the draft
This could be jumping the gun, but for all of Dubas’s knack for creative player acquisition, he did not have a ton of success finding quality in the draft. One bright spot, however, appears to be the team’s 57th-overall pick in 2021 in forward Matthew Knies out of The University of Minnesota.
While Knies still has a ways to go and needs more of a sample size, he looked like a legitimate player during his NHL debut with Toronto during the playoffs before suffering a concussion that knocked him out of the Panthers series. He was an impactful offensive player against Tampa Bay and made a discernible difference once he came into the lineup.
With so much money tied up in their stars, the Leafs desperately need quality scorers on rookie contracts, making Knies such an important piece moving forward.