Leafs shake up front office, hire stats Hound Dubas (seriously)

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 3:51 am by Cam Charron

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I was wondering when the first NHL team would jump on Kyle Dubas, the young Ontario Hockey League general manager who has turned around the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds program since his arrival. The Greyhounds have redefined the way they look for talent through the draft and how they break down player performance.

I did not think it would ever be the Toronto Maple Leafs, but this is apparently that new world.

There’s something in Dubas for everybody, no matter your hockey stripe. He was a scout at 17 when he was attending Brock University—with deep family ties to the Soo organization. At 25, he was the youngest general manager in junior hockey and tasked with rebuilding a once-great Greyhounds organization. He’s a bit of a baseball geek, like the average Internet stathound, and has frequently talked up the benefits of puck possession numbers on the radio. Neat-o!

This past season, his third with the organization, the Greyhounds won 44 games, competing in a very difficult Conference. To get an indication of how Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe work with their players, take a look at a recent post at Canucks Army, where Dubas opened up a bit about recent Canucks first round pick Jared McCann:

Jared was deployed in the role of a top line centre. His offensive zone start rate was the 4th lowest on our team at 56% offensive zone starts (behind just Jean Dupuy, Patrick Watling and Tyler Gaudet). He played versus the oppositions 1st or 2nd line. Tyler Gaudet was voted the best defensive centre in the league in the OHL Coaches vote so at home Sheldon would often deploy Gaudet versus the opposition’s best line, and on the road that duty would fall on Jared as coaches tried to free their best players from playing versus Gaudet, who was a 20 year old. Jared, as just a 17 year did an excellent job in that regard, as his possession numbers illustrate.

Wait, that’s not a thing that a “hockey man” typically says. Which is what I tend to like about Dubas. He’s very active in the Internet statistical commentary, for one, but he won’t actually apply the latest trends to his work unless he sees a useful market application.

Dubas said some words via the Hounds press release:

“This announcement today is one that brings very mixed emotions for me. Certainly, I am excited by the massive opportunity that the Toronto Maple Leafs have afforded me. However, with that comes leaving a team and group of people that have an impact on me that is special that it is truly difficult to put into words” began Dubas.

“One of the most important elements of this decision for me was the fact that the staff and group of players with the Greyhounds are just a fabulous team and will be able to carry on the current course in a seamless manner. I’m also very excited about working with the Board of Directors over the short-term future to properly transition the team.”

It’s been a big summer for him. Dubas, like everybody it seems, got married earlier this month in Mexico, and his Seattle Mariners have held on to the final American League wild card spot and we’re already in late July. Now he gets hired by the biggest team in hockey in a very key role.

Is this the new Toronto Maple Leafs? The team recently made a good coaching hire, played hardball with David Bolland, drafted William Nylander, and now have a guy in their boardroom who at least is willing to work with the theory that Nazem Kadri might be better than Tyler Bozak.

There’s also the fact that Toronto let go of Dave Poulin and Claude Loiselle, while will make @Hope_Smoke‘s Twitter page a little less painful to read. Ultimately, the Leafs brought in a guy who once said “so what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to build a team that always has the puck” to replace a guy who said “time of possession is something that’s interesting as well. The bottom line is wins and losses. That is the bottom line.”

The Leafs may not be a good hockey team next year. But I think they have a couple of guys there now, with Shanahan and Dubas, who can commit to the process and recognize there may be a better way to do things an an edge to exploit. This is a fantastic hiring for Toronto.

UPDATE – I should add that we should wait for the other domino to fall. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see Keefe follow Dubas to the Leafs organization, whether that means an assistant role with the Toronto Marlies or the Maple Leafs.