Kyle Dubas seems to be a popular choice to be the next general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Among people who won’t be making the decision, anyway.
Oh, the Fenway Sports Group executives who will hire the next GM also seem to be quite high on him — he is believed to have been high on their list of candidates since the search for Ron Hextall’s replacement began last month — but precisely how they feel about Dubas (or anything else) isn’t known, since they haven’t spoken publicly since the day Hextall, president of hockey operations Brian Burke and assistant GM Chris Pryor lost their jobs.
And there is, to be sure, much about Dubas that is intriguing and appealing.
He is young (he’ll be 38 in November), passionate, sometimes bold, well-versed in salary-cap and analytics issues and has had his approach to being a GM tempered and tested in Toronto, probably the NHL’s most-scrutinized market.
So yes, he merits serious consideration, assuming that Maple Leafs ownership doesn’t give him a contract to replace the one that’s due to expire soon.
But there surely are reasons that Toronto apparently hasn’t made a serious attempt to re-sign him before this, and they should not be ignored when the Pittsburgh Penguins’ next GM is being selected.
The Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, including the five seasons during which they’ve been under Dubas’ stewardship.
And while he has earned praise for the aggressive personnel moves he has made at trade deadlines to reinforce perceived soft spots in Toronto’s lineup during his time in charge, the hard truth is that the Maple Leafs have lost five of their six playoff series since Dubas took over from Lou Lamoriello. (The lone exception was Round 1 against Tampa Bay this spring.)
How much of the blame for that should fall on Dubas? His supporters — and they are many — will tell you that he should largely be absolved, that he did his part by assembling a quality roster.
OK, so does that mean Toronto’s chronic failures in the postseason in recent years primarily reflect the shortcomings of coach Sheldon Keefe, who has run its bench for the past four seasons?
Well, Keefe was hired by Dubas, who has declined to replace him, sticking with Keefe even after Toronto lost to lower-seeded opponents in each of Keefe’s first three seasons (and again in Round 2 this year).
Loyalty is commendable, but it also can be costly. Ray Shero’s reluctance to fire coach Dan Bylsma after a string of playoff flops by the Penguins probably cost both of them their jobs in 2014.
And while there is a postseason parallel between Keefe and Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, whose team missed the playoffs this year and lost its previous five series, there also is a significant difference: Sullivan won nine series in a row before his club hit its current skid, while Toronto’s opening-round win against the Lightning is the only series it has taken under Keefe.
Clearly, one position Dubas hasn’t been inclined to change is his coach.
Now, Keefe seems to be highly regarded in hockey circles, and probably won’t have trouble finding a job if he goes on the market, so perhaps Toronto’s players are culpable for the perennial playoff disappointments.
Well, that reflects on Dubas, too.
Specifically, on his decision to commit nearly half of the Maple Leafs’ salary-cap space to four forwards: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander.
Here’s the return Toronto got on that investment during its second-round series against Florida: Three goals and six assists in 20 man-games.
While Dubas’ ability to plug holes in his roster is praiseworthy, his judgment in handling out big-money contracts certainly is subject to question.
Every GM makes mistakes, of course. The only ones who don’t probably aren’t doing anything.
Mind you, Dubas has been a good GM in Toronto. There’s every reason to believe that he’ll be a good one if he ever gets hired elsewhere.
But he is not the front-office equivalent of Chicago using the first pick in the upcoming NHL Draft on Connor Bedard. It’s premature to affix a Dubas nameplate to the GM’s door at PPG Paints Arena.
The FSG executives who will make this most critical hire should continue to do thorough evaluations of all the contenders, who are believed to include assistant GMs Jason Botterill (Seattle) and Ryan Martin (New York Rangers), among others. Get an in-depth feel for their philosophies, and their plans for the short- and long-term futures of this franchise.
Perhaps the decision-makers will conclude that Dubas, assuming he’s available, truly is the best choice for the job.
Or maybe they won’t.
Regardless, no determination should be made until the ideas, qualities and histories — good and bad — of all the candidates have been painstakingly assessed.
Including the one to whom so many seem so eager to hand the job.