There is at least one team in the NHL — possibly as many as three — paying close attention to Kyle Dubas’ status as general manager of the Maple Leafs.
Dubas, who is working on the last year of his contract in Toronto and was not re-signed last summer when team president Brendan Shanahan wanted to re-up his chosen GM. And now, with Dubas’ status possibly tied to upcoming Maple Leafs playoff success, there are more than whispers that other clubs around the league have taken the position of waiting to see whether Dubas will, in fact, be available at the end of the season.
One of those teams is thought to be the Pittsburgh Penguins, where general manager Ron Hextall is in difficulty and the status of club president Brian Burke is uncertain. The Pens have relatively new ownership in Fenway Sports Group, which includes LeBron James as a minority shareholder, along with bigger money players like John Henry and Tom Werner.
The GM world of the NHL has been in flux in the wake of Philadelphia firing Chuck Fletcher, of Barry Trotz replacing the retiring David Poile in Nashville at the end of the season, and with all kinds of uncertainty in Pittsburgh, Ottawa (with new ownership on its way), Philly, Calgary, with GM Brad Treliving at the end of his agreement, and unknown circumstances possibly in Winnipeg and Columbus.
Word around the NHL now is this: If the Leafs don’t choose to retain Dubas as general manager, he won’t be out of work for long.
THAT AND THAT
The hockey fan’s refrain: If the Leafs don’t beat Tampa Bay in the opening round of the playoffs, Dubas will be gone as GM. My response: If they don’t beat the best goalie in the world and maybe the best coach in the world, and they choose not to keep Dubas, who would they replace him with? Who better to do the job than him? … This is the ultimate dilemma of the Leafs’ playoff circumstance. They can win one round, but could they win a second round against Boston? Will anyone do that? And do you hold a GM, a coach, the president, all of them, accountable for doing what might not be possible? This is a Leafs team capable of playing for a Stanley Cup. Getting there — now that’s the challenge. These are the Stanley Cup circumstances for any team in the Atlantic Division … Barring an injury, an unlikely slump or a late-season rest, Mitch Marner will become the first Leafs winger in history to hit the 100-point mark. Heading into Saturday night in Ottawa, Marner needed 13 points in 14 games to get to 100. He’s been scoring at 1.27 points a game in this, his most complete season. Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk, then on Doug Gilmour’s line, had 99 points for Toronto in 1994 … Marner’s in tough, though, to retain his spot as first all-star right winger. Nikita Kucherov, David Pastrnak, Mikko Rantanen and William Nylander will all get season-ending votes … The best part of March for the Leafs: The return to form of both Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly. Both have had sub-par seasons, considering what they’ve accomplished in the past. Rielly has been sharp and confident lately and Matthews is looking like the Hart Trophy winner of a year ago, with four goals and nine points and numerous close calls in the past five games … Is it mandatory for all hockey colour commentators to describe goals as “hitting the back of the net?”
HEAR AND THERE
The truth about Michael Jordan as an NBA owner — he has been rather disastrous as the man in charge of the Charlotte Hornets. ln 12 years of owning Charlotte, the team has won three playoff games. Made the playoffs twice. The truth about Jordan as a businessman: He bought the Hornets with partners for $275 million. He’s about to sell the team for $1.6 billion, which equates to about six times more than he paid for the club … What Denver coach Mike Malone likes best about O.G. Anunoby as a defender. “His legs,” said the son of former Raptors coach Brendan Malone. “Have you seen his legs?” … Time was, Rudy Bratty was the kind of power broker around Toronto who got pretty much anything he wanted. Now, his Remington Group, with his son Christopher in charge, is favoured with partnership from actor Ryan Reynolds to wind up with the Ottawa Senators … The more I hear from Aaron Rodgers the less I want to hear him. He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks I’ve ever seen. I just wish he’d play and quit the daily drama already … The first Raptors great, Damon Stoudamire, has left the Boston Celtics to become head coach at Georgia Tech, where Chris Bosh played his only season of college basketball … Some genius at Rogers Sportsnet ran a graphic for St. Patrick’s Day with photos of the greatest green uniforms in sport. They just happened to ignore the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the once-dynastic Edmonton Elks in their picks. By the way, there are more green pieces of clothing, per capita, toques, jackets, jerseys, and scarfs in Saskatchewan than any team in any league in any place, anywhere.
SCENE AND HEARD
I am $50 richer today than I was on Thursday. I forgot to enter my son’s NCAA basketball pool … The NHL rookie of the year award will probably go to Matty Beniers of Seattle but it shouldn’t be a slam dunk. It’s easy to vote for the player with offensive numbers. But the kind of years that Owen Power has had in Buffalo and Jake Sanderson has had in Ottawa, should get them some consideration. And don’t forget, Edmonton goalie Stuart Skinner is a rookie, also … Watched Felix Auger-Aliassime play against U.S. Open champion Carlos Alcaraz the other night. Alcarez won an incredible match. If this is the future of tennis, along with Daniil Medvedev, then tennis should be doing just fine when Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic follow Roger Federer into retirement … Imagine a Canadian Olympic basketball team with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins, R.J. Barrett, Lu Dort, Ben Mathurin, Kelly Olynyk, Dillon Brooks, Cory Joseph, Dwight Powell and Chris Boucher. The former roommates Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort have, and they want to be in Paris in 2024 … There is deep concern over where Wiggins happens to be with the Golden State Warriors. He has left the team for personal reasons. When it comes to privacy, Wiggins is a lot like his mom, Marita Payne, the former Canadian Olympic sprinter. Extremely private … Sidney Crosby, 18 years in the NHL, a remarkable 18-straight point-a-game or more seasons. Wayne Gretzky played 20 NHL seasons: His first 19 years were point-a-game or better.
AND ANOTHER THING
The late Leo Cahill, who coached the Argos when they led the CFL in attendance — they’re now last in attendance — did not get elected again to the builder’s category of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But Jacques Dussault, who coached the Montreal Machine of the World League of American Football to a 6-14 record has been elected, as has former league commissioner Larry Smith, who operated the CFL through the embarrassing U.S. expansion years … Happy to see the late Chris Schultz get Hall recognition for his media work but he should be in for his playing years as well … Vladimir Guerrero got injured working out in Florida. Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux tore his right knee up running the bases in a spring training camp. So for all those screaming about the World Baseball Classic, blaming it for Edwin Diaz’s fluky season-ending injury, consider this: Pitcher Jose Quintana once cut himself, injuring his hand, washing dishes … I love the WBC, especially the atmosphere, and the players sure seem to love it, also … Indianapolis columnist Bob Kravitz showed up at a Purdue practice the other day wearing a Maple Leafs ballcap. This was noticed by 7-foot-4 centre Zach Edey, who happens to be from Toronto. Edey asked: “When did they last win a playoff round?” Kravitz, a hockey nut, answered: “2004.” “I was two years old,” said Edey. And that was before No. 1 seed Purdue got beat by Fairleigh Dickinson in Round 1 of the tournament … Little trades make me happy, like the New York Giants picking up Raiders tight end Darren Waller for a third-round pick. The prediction here: that’s a steal for the Giants … Happy birthday to Zdeno Chara (46), Cito Gaston (79), Tyler Bozak (37), Jack Valiquette (69), Guy Carbonneau (63), Hedo Turkoglu (44), Andre Rison (56), Clayton Kershaw (35), Ingemar Stenmark (67), Rick Martel (67) and Sting, the wrestler, not the singer (64) … And, hey, whatever became of Bryan Little?
ALL EYES ON THE QMJHL AFTER FIGHTING BAN
The Ontario Hockey League, and by extension, the rest of junior hockey in Canada is watching the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League closely in an attempt to determine how exactly the newly declared ban on fighting will be implemented.
This wasn’t, by the way, a hockey decision to ban fighting in Quebec. It was a decision made by the provincial government and essentially passed on to the QMJHL.
If there are details as to how this will work and be administered, they have not been shared with the rest of junior hockey. “This is a significant decision,” said OHL commissioner Dave Branch. “It’s really part of a natural evolution in the game. The game has been trending that way for some time.”
The OHL plans to watch the Q and see how the fighting ban will work beginning next season. Rather than rules coming from the NHL on down, which is often how change happens in hockey, in this case, it’s juniors setting the agenda for more hockey safety and that could trickle up to the NHL as well.
There is no fighting in Olympic hockey. There is no fighting in U.S. college hockey. There is next to no fighting in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It makes sense, considering the data on head trauma, to eliminate fighting at all levels.
“We’re going to look at it and see how it works,” said Branch, who didn’t promise he would follow Quebec in any way. “You learn from watching others. I need more information on this to determine where, if anywhere, we go next.”
HOCKEY FANS LOSE AS NHL TEAMS CONTROL THE MESSAGE
Night after night in the National Hockey League the dressing rooms are all but empty post-game.
There are reporters standing around, looking at each other, waiting to see which player or players will be brought out to speak to.
The days of having conversations with hockey players, post-game, which used to be the most available and accessible of all professional athletes, is basically over for everyone but rights-holding television networks. The NHL and its member teams discovered during the COVID-19 protocols that it could control its own environment. And teams have adopted that tight control now that those protocols are no more.
In New York this season, there have been complaints about the limited availability of Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin. In Winnipeg recently, those who cover the Jets complained that the prominent players on a struggling team were rarely made available when needed. In the Edmonton Oilers dressing room not long ago, the players who made significant mistakes that led to a defeat in Toronto were not brought out to speak to reporters.
The complaints are coming from experienced reporters, some Hall of Fame recipients, and from those who know from experience how limited access is today.
Time was, the dressing room opened 10 minutes after the game ended to media and most players remained at their lockers, undressing at that time. Today, the room still opens at about the 10-minute mark, but next to no players are in the room anymore.
Instead, it’s one player at a time, one boring interview at a time, nothing resembling context or insight most nights. Who loses out on this?
More than anyone, the hockey fan does.
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