For this week’s roundtable, we’re going to examine some of the latest changes from front office departures to head coaching vacancies. There have already been several, so expect some of these changes to be a reoccurring topic for discussion especially as new departures mean new options for the coaching carousel.
Brendan Shanahan’s decision not to retain Kyle Dubas has invited a lot of discourse. What would you have done in his position?
AJ: Given how it appears the whole thing shook out, I’m still a little shocked at how it ended. It wasn’t a particularly interesting development that Dubas wasn’t retained, but the details emerging of multiple extension-related talks would suggest an organization comfortable with continuing the relationship. How does that change in one week? From my seat, it looks like an emotional decision where someone felt slighted and didn’t make a very calculated choice.
To answer the actual question, I would’ve made a calculated choice. I would’ve done what was necessary to keep Dubas around. While the postseason failures are the stuff of internet memes, Dubas built some of the best TOR teams in modern history. I’d have kept him and let him continue doing his thing. His immediate demand around the league also suggests Toronto might have gotten a little big in the britches.
Jesse: In my opinion, this was one of the more obvious moves to come this summer, especially after hearing what Kyle Dubas himself had to say at his end-of-year presser.
You knew something was going to change in Toronto, believing that they would once again run it back again next year was silly. The doomsday clock had struck midnight. The only real question was, how much would change? The biggest (and maybe only, in this situation) reason to keep Dubas on as GM was because he has a strong relationship with Auston Matthews, who is due for a new deal next summer.
Retaining Dubas probably would have meant parting ways with Head Coach Sheldon Keefe, and likely one of the Core Four. It would have given the Leafs a fresh look without blowing everything up. Before the Kyle Dubas presser, that’s what I would have done.
Now with a new GM coming in, all bets are off. Matthews could be moved before his NMC kicks in on July 1st, odds are that we see a coaching change, there could be changes in net, who knows? Whoever Shanahan hires will want to leave their mark immediately.
Meghan: It’s easy to imagine in hindsight. I would have certainly seen the value in Dubas’ commitment to his players and the organization. He led with a refreshing display of empathy. His emphasis on analytics brought about tangible success felt at the American League level as they became big competitors in the North Division. That being said, he was handcuffed to some of his choices (The Tavares contract and its influence on Mitch Marner’s), and it’s fair to have some criticisms.
After such an active deadline, the disappointment of Toronto’s second-round exit might leave the impulsive wringing their hands. Overall, it’s the impulsivity of Shanahan’s decision-making that I would approach differently. It points to the knife’s edge he was on in the eyes of Shanahan if all it seemingly took was a Monday presser to change his feelings about Dubas. Sportsnet points to a fractured relationship outside of this, so it’s probably fair to account for unseen conflict that might have forced “my” hand to make the same decision, just more decisively. At 37-years-old, I anticipate Dubas will still have another chance at an NHL gig.
Rudo: This was a tough one for me, in a lot of ways this felt inevitable as the Leafs are staring down the barrel of a wasted core with Dubas at the helm. Dubas is far from a perfect GM but generally speaking, it’s hard to say he didn’t build a good team. Things just always seemed to fall against them and they disappeared in the most important moments. I honestly don’t know what I would do, keeping things as they are felt untenable but you know Dubas is a good enough GM that he is going to get snapped up very quickly and you might end up regretting that.
The list of head coaching vacancies has grown. Which departure has surprised you the most and which has surprised you the least?
AJ: I’m almost afraid to answer because things can continue changing. I think the least surprising was the change in Calgary. It was clear the room had turned on the coaching staff at the end of the year and that was far too talented of a team to miss the playoffs.
The one that surprised me the most was Brad Larsen in Columbus. He was one of the hotter coaching names on the rise before his hiring and while his two-year stint didn’t go well, there are a ton of mitigating circumstances that contributed to that. If CBJ turns around and goes with another first-time head coach, it will feel a little knee-jerk reaction-y to me.
Jesse: Surprised me the most was Gerard Gallant. I don’t get why this guy can’t seem to keep a job. He has a knack for returning immediate success and seems like he gets a lot out of his players. Is it that he maybe wears them too thin, too quickly?
Honorable mention for Darryl Sutter. Not because he got fired after missing the playoffs, but mostly because they kept him around for longer that one would think if all you’re going to do is fire the guy.
Surprised the least, it’s Dallas Eakins. Do I need to explain why?
Meghan: The least surprising was Dallas Eakins natural end in Anaheim. He kept the San Diego Gulls above 0.500 as an AHL coach and was ousted by the Calder Cup runner-up in his final year at the AHL level, but his time behind the bench in the NHL was spent in a downward spiral confined to the bottom of the league. The lack of success brought about hopeful young talent in Mason McTavish, Trevor Zegras, and more, but change was needed after four seasons.
So far, the most surprising might be Gerard Gallant because of a trail of noteworthy accomplishments before his tenure in New York. He had a strong inaugural season with Vegas, led Team Canada to a Gold Medal in the World Championship, and then to a Conference Final in New York’s 2022 season – his short-lived in each spot along the way made me think he might be given another chance, but it seems a pattern of upfront success met by crippling disappointment (New York pushed a lot of chips to the center at the 2023 deadline) costed him.
Rudo: Least surprising was Dallas Eakins, he has never been a good NHL head coach and was pegged as Anaheim’s fall guy early in the season as they went full tank mode, Anaheim got what they wanted out of him mostly and are moving on. Gerard Gallant has never stuck around more than a few years anywhere as head coach but I was a bit surprised to see him go even with a first-round exit for New York. The stars at the top did their thing all year, the kids finally started to break out alongside Filip Chytil. Some of the blame does fall on Gallant for the Rangers’ first-round exit but it also felt like they got goalied a bit, I would have run it back.
Is there someone you feel confident will fill one of the open positions and where?
AJ: I know Jeff Halpern’s name has been bandied about as one of the NHL assistants looking to get the big job and he has deep ties to the Caps, so I’m throwing a dart and guessing that ends up being a match.
Jesse: I’m sure Travis Green gets another gig this summer, not totally sure where. I could see him being a fit in Anaheim with all of their young talent.
I also think this is the summer we see Patrick Roy get his name back on the ring. I’m not quite putting money down on it yet, but there seems to be some traction there.
Meghan: It’s an easy bet to suggest a current NHL assistant will get consideration as a head coach elsewhere – AJ mentioned Halpern above and I think his proximity to the success in Tampa will earn him a nod. Another in a similar position is Andrew Brunette out of New Jersey, so I’ll throw his hat in the ring based on his proximity to some success as well (Florida President’s Trophy season and New Jersey’s best regular season record in franchise history).
Rudo: Joel Quenneville. Look maybe the NHL will say no and not approve his return to the NHL but from a purely coaching and hockey perspective he is to good at his job for teams not to be interested. I won’t dare hazard a guess as to where but it will have to be somewhere that can either handle or doesn’t care about the negative PR.
What change in the West will have the biggest impact (Bedard to Chicago, Anaheim/Calgary new head coach, Arizona’s fate etc.)?
AJ: I don’t know if it will happen, but if the Winnipeg Jets decide to bite the bullet and make some of the hard choices, they have a chance to be a major power broker out West. If they do go that route, I expect them to take a serious step back for at least a year and remove themselves from that wild card spot they landed this year. I’m not confident this happens, but the Jets could hold the keys to some big summer swings from teams with potentially two frontline centers (Scheifele and Dubois) and one of the league’s premier goalies all staring down the barrel of leaving in free agency one year from now.
Jesse: It’s Arizona’s fate, far and away.
In theory, this could lead to them being relocated. That leaves the door open for possible realignment, and that changed the landscape of the NHL in a very literal sense. Not to mention the potential for players currently within the organization asking to be moved given the lack of certainty around the organization right now (we’ve already seen Logan Cooley elect to go back to school for another year).
We’ve already heard that Clayton Keller and his agent have had discussions with management about where exactly things stand. No official trade request was made, but it sounds like players want to know what’s happening sooner rather than later.
Meghan: To piggyback off of the possibility of Arizona’s movement, if the realignment brought a team like Calgary into the Central division, I could see a Calgary team under new leadership creating a lot of problems in the Central, especially if whoever fills Darryl Sutter’s shoes resonates with his players. After all, it’s still a Calgary team with the likes of Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Rudo: I hope Arizona sorts it out and is able to find a permanent home but if they don’t and a move is on the horizon that could spell massive shifts for the alignment of the entire league. This is purely hypothetical but if they were to end up in SLC, Houston, or KC it would be no big deal, they stay in the central teams just fly into a different city. However, if there were to be a bigger move such as Quebec City, Milwaukee, or even something crazy like Hartford it would likely cause something very crazy. A Columbus or dare I say it Detroit would have to come back to the West…which is exactly why it won’t happen.
“To piggyback off of the possibility of Arizona’s movement, if the realignment brought a team like Calgary into the Central division…”
Separating Calgary from Edmonton in divisional play would be the most inane move by a league that has a history of making inane moves.
Wherever Calgary goes, Edmonton comes with them.
I present to you the new Western Conference:
Northwest Division: Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Seattle, Minnesota, Chicago, Colorado.
Southwest Division: Sharks, Kings, Ducks, Knights, Stars, Predators, Blues, and the Houston Aero Coyotes.
Lots of typos in this one.