Just a couple of days into his new job and people are starting to see the challenges ahead for Toronto Maple Leafs new general manager Kyle Dubas. To start, the 32-year-old GM has been with the organization for four years and must deal with older, more experienced personnel, including 55-year-old Mark Hunter (at least for now) and 55-year-old Mike Babcock.
While Dubas has been given the keys to one of the most famed and loaded franchises, Dubas must also make his mark on the roster and lead the team to that next championship level. Many big decisions will come up just in the next few months including locking up his young players for the future, while building a winner in the one-year window before those deals kick in.
The first big decisions the GM will have to deal with is deciding if one or any of their unrestricted free agents will be brought back, including James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. Both van Reimsdyk and Bozak are expected to get significant raises this summer when they sign new contracts and would be very challenging to bring back. Bozak in particular is valuable as the team is not nearly as strong at the center position as they are at the wing. However, Komarov could be a possibility if he encounters a dry market and the Maple Leafs believe he can still be of help. However, with great depth and a GM who is well aware of what type of players the team has at the AHL level, letting all three walk away is a legitimate possibility.
However, James Mirtle of The Athletic (subscription required) writes that Dubas will want to put his own brand on the Maple Leafs, so expect multiple changes. Among those possibilities, includes a potential run at John Tavares or a defenseman like Dougie Hamilton. However, Mirtle points out that a player like Nikita Zaitsev could become one of those changes. With a partial no-trade clause kicking in next year and Zaitsev’s limitations with the puck, this might be a good time to move on from him if they don’t feel he will be a good fit in the future.
The defense might be the key to Dubas success. Often labeled as the team’s failing this season, a change might be necessary, but with limitations to long-term deals, the most likely way to upgrade the blueline would be through a trade, although it’s unlikely Dubas would move Mitch Marner or William Nylander to make a major upgrade.
Goaltending could be an issue too. Despite the solid performance by backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney this year, Dubas might look to trading the 34-year-old veteran netminder. With Garrett Sparks dominating in the AHL (1.79 GAA, .936 save percentage with the Toronto Marlies) and the real possibility the team could lose him to waivers at the start of next season, the team must decide whether it’s time to give Sparks the No. 2 spot.
While a decision on Roman Polak might be an easy one, Dubas is well aware that the defenseman is a personal favorite of Babcock and does the young GM throw the veteran coach a bone and bring him back? In the end, nothing will be easy for Dubas, who will be scrutinized more than any general manager in the coming months.