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Toronto Maple Leafs

Imagine Maple Leafs Core 3 Walking to Free Agency

The Toronto Maple Leafs could be in trouble. What will be the impact of GM Kyle Dubas leaving? Could there be bit of a player mutiny?

Suddenly, after Kyle Dubas was let go as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the organization finds itself in the middle of several unresolved situations. Confusions and challenges abound.

With the resignation of Jason Spezza, suddenly a foreign concept – loyalty – has invaded the idea of professional sports. The common knowledge suggests that, within professional sports, players accept that they are indentured servants, although very rich ones.

In a bit of a history lesson, the practice of indentured servitude started in the early 17th century, specifically in the early colonial period of North America. As an indentured servant, an individual was bound by a contract to work for a specified period of time in exchange for their passage to the “new” country (or some other form of assistance). In the NHL’s case, players are bound to a team for a specified period of time – in fact, contracted.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Pridham, Nonis, Keefe & McMann

Being Indentured Is Well and Good If You’re Where You Want to Be

Back to Spezza, with the removal of Dubas as general manager, what we don’t know is who else is loyal to Dubas. And, to what extent they are willing to act on that loyalty? The present Maple Leafs team contains a Core Four of players that Dubas not only brought in, but also negotiated contracts with.

Jason Spezza leaves Maple Leafs
Jason Spezza leaves Maple Leafs

Dubas also stood up for them to keep them together when much of the rest of the world wanted them disbanded. He stood up for them, even when they didn’t deliver. They never had a more loyal advocate or, until two days ago, a more powerful one.

Dubas was not a distant general manager, he knew the players well. He was close to them. And many we suspect were close to him. They knew his philosophy and what he stood for. He put his money where his mouth was – season after season. There was no nuance. He built a team around his core.

Now What Happens With Dubas Gone?

After the non-renewal of Dubas as the general manager, there is suddenly uncertainty about the team’s direction. No one knows what the team’s long-term strategy and culture will be. And, the concept of culture is what will hold players together.

For those who believe it’s all about winning, it isn’t. On the way to winning or losing, the team is a “band of brothers.” With 32 teams, if a different team won each season to make it even, given the average length of an NHL career, less that a third of all NHL players would ever win during their entire career. About 67 percent would not win the Stanley Cup – ever.

So, culture is at least as powerful as winning – probably more. Now do the Maple Leafs face a possible culture change? Suddenly, it’s uncertainty at the worst possible time. All three of the team’s Core Four that could be moved will either be moved soon. Or, the team will not be able to move them at all and they could and might walk into No-Move clauses (first) and, potentially, into free agency without compensation (second).

Related: Former Maple Leafs GM Shares Regrets About Leaving the Team

Three of the Core Four Could Decide to Walk to Free Agency

What does that mean? It means that, unless they are traded this offseason, two of the three could all play out their contracts and walk to free agency in July 2024. Contractually, the team could not trade them and they could leave free and clear. The Maple Leafs would get nothing in return.

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

Could that happen? Who knows, it probably hasn’t. But that’s not saying it could not.

Thinking specifically about Auston Matthews, there’s speculation that, if Dubas remained as the general manager, Matthews would have easily signed an extension by the summer. However, with a new manager coming in, it’s now uncertain if Matthews will feel comfortable committing to the team for a future he doesn’t know or trust.

When there is a new general manager, it will take time to establish trust with the players. The timeline is limited for that to happen. Can a new general manager sell a new vision and gain the trust of Matthews? With only 40 days until July 1st (when Matthews’ no-trade clause becomes eligible for extension), it becomes challenging for a new person to convince Matthews as well as implement any necessary changes or moves.

Other Time-sensitive Decisions Need to Be Made

Matthews is not the only player with an upcoming no-movement clause. Marner and Nylander also have clauses coming due. The team needs to make decisions involving those two other players – also before the clauses kick in on July 1st. This creates a sense of urgency to not only convince Matthews but also ensure there is enough time to execute any plans involving these players.

The need to hire a new general manager seems urgent. There is a possibility that the players could get together and engage in a sort of informal pact to not sign extensions. If that happened, the team would be on pins and needles.

Again, while it’s highly unlikely, the players could decide to unite – particularly if they didn’t like the direction the team was moving in – and either force a trade or decide to play out their individual contracts.

If that happend, can anyone imagine the almost immediate impact on the Maple Leafs? Without getting anything in return for these players, the Maple Leafs might find themselves in an almost immediate rebuild.

The Clock Is Ticking, But Just Hiring a New GM Isn’t Enough

The clock is already ticking for the team to find a replacement for Dubas. But, even if the new GM were hired, the job isn’t done. The new GM must convince Matthews, Marner, and Nylander of the value of the vision presented and bring them onboard.

William Nylander, Maple Leafs

I do not know how loyal the three are to Dubas, but he has (a) negotiated with each of them individually, (b) created a game plan that highlights their skills, (c) stood up for them even when they didn’t deliver, and (d) never waivered in his committment to them as key cogs of the Maple Leafs’ machine – even when much of the rest of the hockey world thought it was impossible and that he was crazy for trying.

What Will the Core Players Think of the New General Manager?

Do the three believe they can get that same level of support and commitment from a new general manager that they got from Dubas? Might they be loyal enough to Dubas as a person and as a hockey thinker to be passive aggressive – meaning they might not decide to follow him wherever he might go, but they might exercise their rights to NOT sign with the team that dumped him – because they can.

The Maple Leafs might be in a precarious position. The team needs to navigate the situation effectively to maintain stability and make strategic decisions for the team’s future. What that future might be is up in the air.




  1. Jack Hudolin

    May 21, 2023 at 1:07 am

    If you think as you stated, “Dubas put his money where his mouth was.” You are either naive or moronic. Perhaps the best description of the old prof (As you call yourself) is forgetful. That comes with age. It wasn’t Kyles money. Let’s leave it at that and have some patience to see where this goes. You should be ashamed of making such a statement, you’re old enough to know better.

  2. gfinale

    May 21, 2023 at 2:26 am

    What are you talking about?!! Burke drafted Rielly. Nonis drafted Nylander. Matthews was an obvious1st pick by anyone but Lamoreillo did it. Marner was basically Hunter. Dubas didn’t bring any of them in! Dubas only brought in Tavares and most hockey intelligent people view that as a bad mistake in 2 ways. Firstly, enormous contract to a player until 35 yo. Second, the other top players would need rather large contracts in addition so too much cap hit AND this would probably inflate that. This was the main thing Dubas did for the team and it was bad! How about we not rewrite history by saying Dubas brought in the core 4!! Wow!!

  3. gfinale

    May 21, 2023 at 2:33 am

    Any player who doesn’t see this as an opportunity to a better team should leave or be shown the door. That is a player who was fine with the status quo of the past 7 years and its accompanying playoff failures. There is no room for that player on a Cup winning team, only on teams willing to pay them the most while they fail.

  4. gfinale

    May 21, 2023 at 2:54 am

    It is the fault of Dubas that Tavares already has a NMC and that the other 3 of the so-called core 4 are walking into 2 NMCs and 1 10 team NTC on July 1! That doesn’t change whether Dubas is gone or not. What does change is the next GM will not be incompetent at dealing with it. Rest assured that the next GM will be hugely experienced and that the people above Shanahan would not tolerate anything else at this point.

  5. Jon Harding

    May 21, 2023 at 8:19 am

    Interesting premise as usual OP. From my standpoint, I don’t care who leaves or stays. I never really care too much about the players from one year to the next. Especially ones who get paid, appear on TV commercials and lose. I would simply like to see the Leafs just get to a Stanley Cup final once after 56 years and counting. As for Dubas and Shanahan, meh, it was amateur hour. I just read a blog that was not tongue in cheek and highlighted the fact Brian Burke, Dave Nonis and JFJ are all available to step in for the indecisive Dubas. It’s almost summer. The sun is shining and there is a little less smoke out there this morning. I am happily going to cut my grass and will check back with you in the fall.

  6. Chris R

    May 21, 2023 at 8:56 am

    Tavares is going to stay and, of the remaining three, my guess would be Marner. He could be captain someday. I think Matthews is going to bolt, especially if the next GM is one of the old boys’ network, which seems likely, and Willy too. Firing Dubas without having the guys they want to keep under new contracts was short-sighted.

  7. Pingback: Penguins Will Seek Permission to Talk to Dubas About GM Job

  8. Vince

    May 21, 2023 at 10:10 am

    So naive and blind. Let them go for whatever you can get. Is there not a Boston management piece we can hire as GM. The back end is where Stanley cups are won.

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