It’s now former general manager Kyle Dubas in Toronto. Such a move may change the landscape of the not only the Maple Leafs, but the league as well. Could it benefit the Chicago Blackhawks, too?
Hearing Kyle Dubas will not be back as GM of Toronto
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) May 19, 2023
Dubas’ future was muddled after the Maple Leafs were bounced in five games in the second round of the playoffs. While the Florida Panthers are no joke, and Toronto finally escaped the first round since 2004, it wasn’t enough. The Maple Leafs opted to not extend his contract and suddenly there’s a whole new list of questions.
All Eyes on What the Leafs Do Next
Where things get interesting is with Toronto’s “core-four” of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and John Tavares. All take up a lot of cap space. Matthews and Nylander each have a season left. Marner and Tavares have two.
The intrique of course, begins with what the Leafs do next. First they have to hire a new general manager, someone who will come in with a fresh set of eyes, assess things as they are, and make changes where they see fit. It’s similar to what Pittsburgh did when Ray Shero was jettisoned and Jim Rutherford arrived. Several seasons of underachieving with a strong core group.
Rutherford made changes. The Penguins won two in a row in 2016 and ’17. Changes, with Dubas leaving, seem certain. Just what would they be?
Blackhawks, like Many Teams, Stand to Benefit
Flush with cap space, a deep prospect pool, and sitting with the top pick in the draft, it speaks to an advantage for Chicago. Of the core four, they are on the hook for nearly $40M with a lot of other forwards heading to free agency. Beyond that, the Maple Leafs have other ideas to address, primarily an upgrade or two on the blue line. Chicago could help in the long term, and short term. But of course, this comes down to specifics.
Tavares doesn’t fit into the long term goal. Already 32, his contract and production proportionate to that contract don’t make sense to take on. The top three targets that fit the schema would be Nylander, Marner, or Matthews. The prized piece of the trio would be Matthews.
The leverage obviously is if Matthews is dead set on hitting the market. While Toronto would still get a good return, Matthews’ no-movement clause kicks in during the last year of his contract. On the other side of the argument, Matthews is generational and foundational. It seems likelier they set their sights on him to offer him whatever it takes to keep him in the fold. Then, they’d build around him. But imagine a one-two punch of Matthews and Bedard. Chicago may listen in on just about anything other than Kevin Korchinski.
Matthews himself said he wanted to stay in Toronto. So maybe that one goes on the backburner–for now.
Marner and Nylander are the likelier bets. Marner has been dogged by fans for his inability to show up in the playoffs. Sure, he only scored three goals but he also put up 14 points in 11 games. Marner’s speed and offensive IQ would be a tremendous asset in Chicago where Connor Bedard is expected to center the top line. The Blackhawks and their fans can only salivate at what a line with Marner and Bedard could do. Marner’s time to be moved is currently of importance to Toronto as his NMC kicks in July 1. A draft day deal seems the likeliest bet, a chance for the Leafs to get a haul of picks, prospects, or an NHL-ready player with club control on a cheaper contract.
Same goes for Nylander. He has the most cap friendly of the deals, but that’s set to expire after 2023-24 while also having a modified no-trade clause kick in. Nylander also has had an odd relationship with fans. But he had some big goals for Toronto in the playoffs, silencing some of those critics. He, too, would be dynamic on a line with Bedard. He’s due a raise, and would likely command a haul being that of the three, he’s likelier to get the sign-and-trade treatment from the team that acquires him. It will also be a lower price than what Marner or Matthews could fetch.
Don’t be mistaken–outside of Matthews, it could very well be a 1A-1B argument.
In the end it’s all about leverage. Even though Toronto is in a tight spot, it has options across the board.
What is the Blackhawks Best Bet?
This again depends on what general manager Kyle Davidson and his staff thinks best positions Chicago. The rebuild is not over but acquiring one of the aformentioned players woudl speed it up another notch. But it will cost them. The hardest part is determining where they’re at and how comfortable they feel with giving up prospects and picks. But as written earlier today, that bundle of second round picks have a much lower clip of “hitting” than grabbing a Marner, Nylander, or Matthews.
It’ll take more than second round picks. Tampa’s first round pick? No brainer. Heck, toss in next year’s too as it’s protected within the top-ten. It’s likely two-three years before that draft pick turns into a regular contributor. If Chicago wants to speed things up, there’s one option. But Toronto isn’t going into a rebuild any time soon. They’ll likely want someone back who can help right now. Gut check now–would Lukas Reichel be available? The old saying goes that to get something, you have to give something up.
Teams will ask for the moon if they’re giving up prized players. Negotiations go back and forth. If a deal is consummated, it’s because it matches what both teams are seeking both in the short and long term.
The advantage Chicago has is they know exactly who they’re taking with the first overall pick. From there they can, they play hypotheticals while they wait for the situation in Toronto to be settled. There are still many factors in play, especially ones out of their control.
But there sure are some more intriguing things on the table now that Dubas is out in Toronto.