Dear Kyle Dubas: Take a Gap Year

Only fools rush. We have all heard this phrase. And that constantly comes to mind when I think about Kyle Dubas’ future in hockey.

For what? Because I think the former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager should take a year off.

After being unceremoniously — and very publicly — let go by Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, Dubas has just gone through a seismic life change. One he even said was a possibility at the end of the 2022-23 NHL season in Toronto.

Dubas was very outspoken after Toronto was eliminated by the Florida Panthers in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He spoke openly about how his job as Maple Leafs general manager hurt his family. And that he should consult them before making decisions on the 2023-24 season.

The thing is, Shanahan made that decision for Dubas. Which was probably a pretty big surprise given how close both parties were to a new contract. Shanahan eventually came to the conclusion that Dubas was the wrong person for the job.

It is very good. It is business after all. As a former player, I constantly heard this phrase. I learned to accept it. But I didn’t always like it.

Shanahan will have to live with his decision anyway. But for Dubas, whatever he chooses to do next will define his hockey career. And I think he has to proceed with caution.

How many NHL general manager cracks does one person get? For most, the answer is two. If this. It’s very rare for a GM to get a third or fourth gig in the big seat. This is Lou Lamoriello territory. And though Dubas has long been considered a bright managerial prospect, the Leafs have managed to win just one playoff series in five years under his leadership.

Whether Dubas deserves all the blame is up for debate. I think he did a solid job. Did Dubas make mistakes? Absolutely. Has he learned and grown in his nine years with the Leafs organization? No question. I believe Dubas’ best days in management are ahead of him.

In other words, if Dubas makes the right choice at his next concert. And I don’t think that can happen in the short term. Especially after Dubas – in his postseason media scrum – said his 2023-24 gig “will either be (with the Toronto Maple Leafs) or take time to recalibrate, to think about the seasons here. But you won’t see me next week appearing anywhere else. I can’t put them through that after this year.

Imagine Dubas reneging on that promise made to his family less than a month later. And think about how that would be perceived by the hockey world.

Shanahan got cold feet in part because he wasn’t sure Dubas was ready to become the Maple Leafs’ general manager. If Dubas took a job this summer, I don’t know how seriously anyone would take his word in the future. And in today’s world, perception is reality.

I can already hear the echo chamber.

« Does Kyle ever know what he wants? »

« Guess Kyle’s family didn’t matter after all… »

« Flip flop ».

I mean, keep the list going. And you know what? I guess it really doesn’t matter. It’s up to Dubas to make a decision about his future in the NHL. He is still considered a rising star. At only 37 years old, he already has five seasons of experience with GM at the NHL level. It’s incredibly valuable.

But as reports surfaced on Tuesday of Dubas meeting with members of the Pittsburgh Penguins — including captain Sidney Crosby — I kept coming back to my initial thought that Dubas needed to be incredibly selective in his next move.

There’s nothing wrong with going for a visit. If I was Dubas, I would also listen to Penguins. I think job interviews are always a learning experience. And maybe Dubas likes what he hears. Pittsburgh is still a sexy destination considering the star power in this locker room.

But as Dubas mentioned, being a general manager in Toronto — the craziest hockey market in the world — comes at a huge cost. It’s an overwhelming, high-pressure gig that inevitably brings more heartbreak than joy. Only one team can win the Stanley Cup. And with the relentless expectations of the Toronto market, winning a championship is extremely difficult.

For Dubas, getting out of the Ontario furnace and immediately changing jobs would be a rash decision in my eyes. The teams interested in his services need him more than he needs them. And while that’s a flattering stance for any free agent, it can cloud rational thinking.

Consider Barry Trotz, who will take over as general manager of the Nashville Predators this summer. When Trotz was fired by Lamoriello from his position as head coach of the New York Islanders after the 2021-22 season, he had plenty of options. The Philadelphia Flyers offered Trotz tons of money. And the Jets desperately tried to bring him back to his hometown of Winnipeg.

But Trotz said no. He interviewed. He was offered jobs. But he chose to stay away for a year. And look what happened to it. Trotz now has his dream job as general manager of the Predators. He played his cards perfectly. And he was even able to enjoy a stress-free season for the first time in decades.

I think that’s the direction Dubas needs to take. Be patient. Find the right fit. Dubas has earned a lot of money in recent years. He will earn even more in the future. And Dubas doesn’t have to worry about staying relevant. The demand for his services will only increase over time as teams grow impatient and fire incumbents.

This is all unsolicited advice. I understand. But too many times in this business I’ve seen people jump at the first sexy opportunity. Or the dollar signs are too big to ignore.

I think Dubas is smarter than that. And I appreciate the value he places on his family life. Not enough people in hockey consider this balance. But make no mistake, Dubas will soon face the biggest decision of his professional career. And he has to do it right.



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