It's not often that the signing of an assistant general manager is headline news in any sport. However, the Toronto Maple Leafs managed to do just that with the hiring of Kyle Dubas.
The 28-year-old Dubas was hired by the Leafs as President Brendan Shanahan continues to make moves that he believes will strengthen the organization at several levels.
The mindset for the past few seasons was expressed succinctly by general manager Dave Nonis in late 2013. In a Sportsnet article by Chris Johnston, Nonis said:
I believe there is something out there that can help us make decisions, Nonis said Monday during a panel discussion at the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference. To date, I haven’t seen it. … We’re going to continue to pursue it...We were outshooting teams on a nightly basis and losing every night, Nonis recalled. Our so-called Corsi stat was probably pretty good and right now our Corsi stat sucks. But we’re winning hockey games.
The overall effect is bound to be profound, at least over time. It should be a fascinating collision of philosophies, as it would appear that Dubas' main function will be to introduce advanced statistics and—more importantly—their functionality and value in winning NHL games.
It is clear that the former Sault Ste. Marie general manager is a proponent of advanced or "fancy" stats. Yet his knowledge of the game, as it is played on the ice, should not be overlooked. In a recent National Post article, Dubas said:
You have to eliminate some of the noise and present the data or the information that’s going to best help the team in whatever regard that is," Dubas said. "It’s taking what I know works and then incorporating that into the whole team structure and knowing that you’re dealing with a number of subjective pieces to the puzzle.
It seems clear that the Leafs will be looking to be more of a possession team. While it is difficult to imagine how this will play out on the ice, at least immediately, it's likely that the Leafs will be looking to carry or pass the puck out of their own zone, versus dumping it out haphazardly.
Additionally, most possession teams look to control the puck through the neutral zone and maintain possession across the offensive blue line. Some teams do dump the puck in, but those are teams with a lot of size up front. The Leafs don't have that in excess, so seeing them create off the rush, particularly their top three lines, is more likely.
Dubas is likely to start influencing the players the Leafs will be developing, keeping and acquiring. This will not happen overnight, but it would be surprising if he didn't have some input on the Gardiner signing, as reported in the Toronto Sun.
Leafs fans know Gardiner to be an exceptional skater who skates miles in a game. He's played just 167 NHL games, so there is a lot of room to grow here.
He's someone who can tilt the ice in Toronto's favour, particularly in comparison to most of his teammates. His 46.4 five-on-five Corsi percentage in 2013-14 was almost six full points better than his average teammate.
Dubas is also likely to look for players who are younger (read: cheaper) or who can be signed for relative bargains. Look for these players to have relatively solid possession numbers as well.
Daniel Winnik was recently signed, and despite not having a great five-on-five Corsi number last season at 48.0 percent, his career numbers are very good with several seasons over 50 percent. At a $1.3 million salary for 2014-15, he could be a bargain.
Dubas has access to a lot of financial resources now, but he will be operating within the NHL salary cap model.
His years of working with a small-market team in Sault Ste. Marie will serve him well, as he's had to think about player performance and good yield without being able to bring older stars for the short term.
Finally, Randy Carlyle continues to coach the club, and after the players, he'll have the greatest influence on Toronto's on-ice play. Carlyle is no fool, and with Dubas' strong communication skills, he may be able to help Carlyle in understanding some of the most important nuances of analytics data.
Carlyle is a highly competitive individual who will be looking for good information that will get the team in the playoffs sooner rather than later. Dubas will be tasked with doing just that.
Change will take time, but it seems clear that the Leafs are building a new path with Kyle Dubas potentially playing a key role in this.
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