Back at the beginning of the offseason, the Colorado Avalanche caused quite the panic in the city of Toronto. It had been reported that the Avs had been granted permission to speak with Maple Leafs Assistant General Manager Kyle Dubas.
On COL/Dubas, as mentioned on-air, not sure where it stands. But there were conversations. Question is: still a possibility or closed-off?— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) May 24, 2017
Dubas, the former General Manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL is perceived by many to be one of the brightest young minds in hockey and has been long presumed to be named the General Manager of the Leafs whenever Lou Lamoriello retires.
Multiple reports emerged as to why nothing came of the discussions, some saying it was confusion and miscommunication between the organizations, others convinced that the Leafs changed their mind and didn't want to give up Dubas. This second theory meshes with my discussions with a few different people who know Dubas from his time in OHL. They are adamant that he was ready to leave for Colorado, only to have Brendan Shanahan block the move.
Given the cone of silence around the Leafs organization, we will likely never get any concrete answers, but the one certainty is that the Avs had interest. The organization spoke with Kyle Dubas and if TSN is correct, they were ready to give him full control over hockey operations.
How different might this offseason have been had this taken place?
How much more confident would the fan base be in the front office if someone new were running the team?
How much optimism would there be about the future of the team if a new era had begun this past May?
It’s impossible to know exactly what Dubas would have done, but it’s fairly safe to assume that he wouldn’t have been as quiet as Joe Sakic has this past summer. WHen he was hired as a 26-year old by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dubas came in with the reputation of having a fondness for the new numbers of the game. He was given the responsibility of building an analytics department within the Leafs organization.
Dubas has long been a proponent of thinking the game differently than many NHL executives are used to. He’s a fan of looking deeper into what makes a player good and bringing in guys that fit better than you would initially think. This was best explained by Dubas himself a few years ago when speaking about winger Daniel Winnik:
“If you were just looking at the boxscore, he (Winnik) has never been a guy who puts up huge points,” said Dubas. “But if you look at the data, he is a player who can play against other teams’ best lines. Also, he helps to make our top players better...
He may not jump off the page, and have you say: ‘Wow this guy is outstanding.’ But you can see his effect on that line.”
Kyle Dubas is a fan of these type of players. From that, we can take a few educated guesses at the kind of moves the Avs might have made this summer.
The moves that were made
The Nail Yakupov signing might still have happened, he had a decent corsi-for% relative to his teammates last season in St. Louis, but that came with an incredibly high 64% offensive zone start rate. He was a no-risk gamble and something you’d think any front office would be ok with.
Also, given that he is very much a younger version of Daniel Winnik, I believe that Matt Nieto would have been signed by a Dubas-led Avs team for a longer term than the one year he got. Nieto is the exact kind of player that Dubas is describing above, someone that doesn’t have dazzling production numbers but that has his true value shown when looking at more expansive data.
As far as the draft goes, it’s hard to say how Dubas would approach things given that Mark Hunter is said to do most of the heavy lifting in Toronto. It would be hard to know how Dubas would have perceived a player who spent the season against lesser competition like Cale Makar. One thing we can assume is that Conor Timmins would likely still be an Avs prospect given that Dubas was the one that drafted him to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds back in 2014.
The moves that could have been
We all know the Avs D was horrendous last year - what’s shocking is that the team hasn’t done anything to address it in the offseason. It might be expected that guys like Siemens, Bigras and Lindholm can fill the holes, but they are huge question marks - during his 13 games in the NHL last season, Lindholm was statistically the team’s worst defender.
Signing a couple of cheap guys to push the youngsters in camp couldn't do anything but help.
Cameron Gaunce - LD
Gaunce signed a 1-year $650k contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets back in July. While he’s nothing special, the Avs have a severe lack of depth on the blue line and the 27-year old would definitely be worth a look on the left side. It was a very small sample, but Gaunce had a very good showing with the Penguins last season and would have definitely been worth outbidding CBJ for his services.
Andrew Campbell - LD
Another guy that would have just been a depth defender that would likely spend time moving back and forth between the Avs and the Rampage. Campbell spent the last few years playing for Dubas with the Marlies and performed well enough to earn a two-year contract with the Coyotes this summer. He’d be nothing but depth and that’s exactly what the Avs need.
Kevin Shattenkirk - RD
When free agency frenzy was in full swing, there were late reports that the Avs were actually making a bid to land the biggest fish in the pond. A few hours before he signed with the Rangers, insiders were speculating that the Avs were making a late push to bring Shattenkirk back. Though the team ultimately fell short, it was a good idea as Shattenkirk is a very good player. The thing is, his underlying numbers suggest he’s even better than many believe. There are those in the MSM that will call Shattenkirk a “powerplay specialist” and a “one dimensional” offensive defenseman. But that is very far from the truth.
The data suggests that Shattenkirk is elite at both generating shots for and suppressing shots against. He is a legitimate top-pairing defender and something tells me that if Dubas thought he was considering a return to Colorado, he would have been willing to spend more than the current front office group.
In terms of forwards, the Avalanche certainly have the high-end talent, it’s the secondary group that needs a huge improvement. Guys like Andrighetto, Grigorenko, Martinsen, Soderberg and Bourque were a drain on the team defensively relative to their teammates. Replacing these secondary players with competent possession players would go a long way to drastically improving the team this season.
Sam Gagner - F
Gagner is a very versatile player that can play both wing and center depending on need. At even strength, he was the second best possession player - behind Brandon Saad - on one of the better teams in the NHL. He can fill a number of different roles in the middle-6 and for this Avs team, he would have been worth more than the $3.15m he got from the Canucks this offseason.
Jaromir Jagr - RW
Old man Jagr is still without a contract and it’s inexplicable. He’s old as dirt, but there is no denying the fact that Jagr still provides great value to a team. Among their regulars, he was Florida's best shot suppressing forward last season and was still able to put up a point total that would have been second on the Avs behind Nathan MacKinnon. He’d bring a leadership presence in the dressing room but more than that, he’d be one of the Avs best forwards all season long. Give the old man a contract, sell come jerseys and reap the on-ice benefit of a very effective player.
If nothing else, he’d be a free asset to flip to a contender at the deadline.