Dubas just the latest promotion from Marlies

Photo: Toronto Maple Leafs

by Patrick Williams

The Toronto Marlies have their latest NHL promotion, but this time it comes from the executive suite.

Marlies general manager Kyle Dubas was named the general manager of the parent Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday. For the 32-year-old Dubas, who was hired as the assistant general manager of the Maple Leafs in 2014, it continues his rapid climb in the hockey world.

Dubas spent four seasons guiding the Marlies, going 190-90-20-4. In that span the Marlies won two division titles and captured the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy this season as the AHL’s regular-season champion this season and in 2015-16. Their 54 regular-season victories this season tied a franchise record set in 2015-16. That season the Marlies also established a franchise record with 114 points.

Flanked by Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, Dubas gave thanks to the Marlies at a news conference held at Air Canada Centre on Friday.

“The people that I’ve worked with every day on a very, very close basis, the player development staff led by Scott Pellerin and the Toronto Marlies staff, and our research and development crew led by Darryl Metcalf,” Dubas told reporters.

The Marlies still have work to do this spring. The last time a Maple Leafs affiliate won the Calder Cup was in 1982 with the New Brunswick Hawks, part of a dual affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks.

A sweep of the Syracuse Crunch in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs this week moved the Marlies to their second Eastern Conference final in the past three seasons. They will meet the winner of the Charlotte Checkers-Lehigh Valley Phantoms series. The Phantoms lead that series three games to one going into Game 5 at Charlotte on Saturday.

They have also sent a stream of players on to the Maple Leafs, who had eight Marlies graduates on their final roster at the end of this season — defensemen Connor Carrick and Travis Dermott along with forwards Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, Josh Leivo and William Nylander.

Dermott and Johnsson returned to the Marlies in the first round for additional experience.

Several other NHL organizations have tapped into Toronto’s AHL pipeline as well.

Forward Nikita Soshnikov, another Marlies graduate, finished his season with the St. Louis Blues after he was acquired from the Maple Leafs on Feb. 15. The Montreal Canadiens had former Marlies in defenseman Rinat Valiev and forward Kerby Rychel as part of the price that the Maple Leafs used to acquired veteran forward Tomas Plekanec.

The Marlies have shown a penchant for finding talent everywhere.

Early in the 2014-15 season, the Marlies brought in ECHL center Byron Froese on a tryout. Froese, who ended up signing a contract with the Maple Leafs, spent parts of three seasons with the Marlies while playing 58 regular-season games with the Maple Leafs. He moved on to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization last season, went with Syracuse on a run to the Calder Cup Finals, and played 48 games for the Canadiens this season.

Leadership on the AHL roster has been a priority during Dubas’s time at Ricoh Coliseum. Before this promotion to the Canadiens early this season, Froese had been named captain of the Laval Rocket. Marlies defenseman Vincent LoVerde was a free-agent signing from the Ontario Reign after captaining AHL prospects in the Los Angeles Kings organization for three seasons and winning the Calder Cup in 2015. Former Marlies captain Andrew Campbell holds the same role for the Tucson Roadrunners.

“The Marlies, I would be remiss not to mention the efforts of the players throughout the last number of years,” Dubas said at the news conference. They’re the ones that go on and play. The whole job is to support and give the players the proper resources to have the success that they can.”

The Maple Leafs hired Dubas on July 22, 2014. Before the 2015-16 season, Dubas reunited with Sheldon Keefe, who was appointed head coach of the Marlies. Before Dubas had departed for Toronto, the two had worked together in a general manager-head coach relationship for parts of three seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

There they pushed analytics into hockey’s mainstream and won a lot of hockey games along the way.

The Dubas-Keefe partnership began in Sault Ste. Marie halfway through the 2012-13 season. Dubas had taken the Sault Ste. Marie general manager position at age 25 a season earlier and started the process of turning around a struggling franchise. By the end of the 2013-14 OHL season, Dubas had assembled a 109-76-7-12 mark over three seasons that attracted the Maple Leafs’ attention.

“My partnership with [Keefe] and relationship with him has really helped me to grow as a manager, and he has obviously done a great, great job coaching and is a very bright young coach.”

Now it is Dubas’s turn to get an “opportunity,” a word that Keefe uses frequently.

“You look at the opportunity for us,” Keefe said at the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic in January. “Coaches, managers, trainers, all the way through to the PR staff.

“All of these people, really, it’s all about opportunity.”