On May 19, 2023, it was announced that Kyle Dubas will not be returning as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2023–24 NHL season.
During a press conference on that fateful day, Leafs president and alternate governor, Brendan Shanahan, laid out what led to his decision in unusually fine detail.
While Toronto is one of the largest hockey markets, the Leafs’ front office rarely makes public appearances. When they do, the dialogue is usually cryptic, often leaving more questions than answers.
Before addressing the timeline that led to his decision, Shanahan started by praising Dubas and his dedication to the Leafs organization during his tenure.
"I want to thank Kyle Dubas for the nine years that he has given to this hockey organisation and all of the tremendous contributions that he has made to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has been a fantastic employee and a fantastic person the entire time," Shanahan said.
During the conference, Shanahan revealed that he thought Dubas did an excellent job during the 2022–23 NHL season and that he prepared the team for success in the playoffs.
"I thought he made some very good moves. I thought he had prepared the team to the best of his ability, as any GM can do,” Shanahan said.
"I told him that I had seen enough in my mind that I wanted him to be our GM going forward, but he should take some time and think about it. If he was comfortable with that idea, I would start talking to ownership about that.”
Shanahan had offered what he felt was a fair contract that met the demands of Dubas and his agent. It appeared that both parties were happy with the offer and that a decision would be made in the coming days.
Then came the end-of-season media availability, where Shanahan told Dubas not to participate in media availabilities until a new contract was reached.
"I had expressed to him that it was not my intention to talk to the media until I had something settled with him. I expressed that I thought it might be a good idea if he didn’t, either, but Kyle said he really wanted to talk to the media. I respected that. He felt that as the players and coaches were speaking, he should as well. I respected his wishes," Shanahan said.
At the Toronto Maple Leafs end-of-season presser on May 15, Kyle Dubas was very blunt and to the point. He also showed a rare glimpse of vulnerability.
During his six years as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dubas’ faith in the "core four" of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitchell Marner, and William Nylander was unwavering. Despite six straight first-round playoff exits, he had faith that the group would eventually win a round and ultimately the Stanley Cup with the proper supporting cast.
"Narratives in past years about getting over the hump and 'if we can only win a round,' well, I never viewed them as such," Dubas said. "The view throughout was to try to win four and try to win a Stanley Cup. And the team, I thought, was capable of that.”
This year, the Leafs advanced to the second round for the first time since 2004 — the first time with the Core Four as well, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning four games to two in the best-of-seven series. However, in the second round, the Leafs were defeated by the eight-seed Florida Panthers in five games. The rest is history, the Panthers are off to the Stanley Cup final.
It was evident that Dubas and company were disappointed in the playoff results. It also became clear that the core four had the potential to be dismantled.
"Whatever the answer is, I will consider anything with our group here that would allow us a better chance to win a Stanley Cup. I'll take nothing off the table at all."
Despite a very serious press conference with some jaw-dropping developments, Dubas didn’t fully commit to his future with the Leafs and said it would be very hard to put his family through another year of trials and tribulations.
"My family is hugely important to what I do. For me to commit to anything without having a fuller understanding of what this year took on them is probably unfair for me to answer where I'm at," admitted Dubas.
The noncommittal nature of Dubas’s future was the turning point in Shanahan’s thinking. Was renewing Dubas’ contract the right decision?
"While watching Kyle’s press, I think at that point, there was a shift in my thinking — a dramatic shift in my thinking in that moment as I drove home that night. As Kyle expressed, he might not want to be our GM. I have to take that very seriously,” said Shanahan.
In the days following the end-of-season press conference, there was a breakdown in communication between the two. On the Thursday before Shanahan's press conference, Dubas’ agent contacted Shanahan and laid out a completely different contract than what was initially offered. Adding to the already compounding confusion, Dubas sent an email to Shanahan that night stating he wanted to return as general manager.
At that point, Shanahan had made his decision.
"As hard as it was and as hard as it is to make a significant change to somebody that you are close to and have been working with for nine years... Well, a gap had risen within the contract status, but nevertheless, with the email that I received from Kyle, I just felt differently.''
''I felt that the long-term future of the Maple Leafs might have to change," he said.
Prior to Brendan Shanahan’s press conference, Jason Spezza resigned from his position as special assistant to the general manager after just one season.
According to James Mirtle of The Athletic, there has been tension between Dubas and Shanahan over the years. It has also been reported that Dubas did not have full autonomy when it came to trades and even had some moves vetoed by Shanahan.
Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff believes that Dubas was looking to have Shanahan removed from decision making.
"What I believe happened behind the scenes is that Kyle Dubas made a push to get Brendan Shanahan out of hockey operations and decision-making. He wanted complete and full autonomy, and this was a power struggle that took place," Seravalli said on The Daily Faceoff podcast.
Regardless of all the rumors, we likely won’t hear Dubas’s side of Brendan Shanahan’s decision for a very long time, if at all. On May 23, he released a statement thanking the entire Maple Leafs organization for their commitment over the last several years. He declined to comment on any details regarding Shanahan and his exit from the club.
"While I understand there is interest surrounding the circumstances of my departure, I will not get into the specifics of what I consider to be reasonable and consistent but private discussions,” said Dubas in a statement on Twitter.
Treliving would make a lot of sense. The former Calgary Flames general manager has first-hand experience in a Canadian market. During his tenure with the Flames he showed willingness to move star players. In 2022, he traded Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers in exchange for MacKenzie Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Pridham already has a few years of experience working for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He served as assistant general manager under Kyle Dubas from 2018 to 2023. He is very familiar with the salary cap and is close with several hockey operations personnel and player agents around the league.
Hunter is another name who has a history with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He served as director of player personnel from 2014 to 2018. Previously, he was the owner, vice-president and general manager of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League from 2002 to 2014.
No matter who Brendan Shanahan chooses as the 18th general manager in Maple Leafs history, he has made it clear that he will weigh all options accordingly.
"I am going to be open-minded to who that person can be. I want to be open-minded to all candidates. Certainly, having an experienced GM would be an attractive quality,” he said.