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Kyle Dubas should return as Maple Leafs GM (if he wants to stay). But not without changing

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Let’s dive right into this: Kyle Dubas should return as Maple Leafs general manager.

He’s the best GM the Leafs have had in the last 20 years and it’s not really all that close. (Who’s No. 2?)

One serious caveat: Will the Leafs make a commitment that entices him to stay? That seems like an important part of this whole conversation. A short-term deal may not do it for Dubas, not when there are other jobs available now and jobs to be had down the line. More autonomy is sure to be a requirement for him as well.

If he does end up sticking around, Dubas is going to have to adjust what he’s doing in ways big and small to guide the Leafs far beyond where they’ve gone to this point. Which is one playoff round in the last five seasons.

Dubas’ five-year anniversary was on Thursday.

He’s been creative as GM, with help from No. 2 in command Brandon Pridham. What he’s not been, not enough to this point anyway, is cutthroat in his approach. And the road ahead, the road just this summer, is going to require a Leafs GM who is willing to make a series of cold, hard decisions, the queasy but necessary variety required in pro sports.

Dubas hasn’t always been that guy. He’ll need to summon his inner Steve Yzerman and give no f—s after all this.

Example No. 1: Replacing, potentially, the only coach he’s hired as GM at any level. Dubas was willing to fire Mike Babcock 23 games into the 2019-20 season. He didn’t hire Babcock. There was no connection there, no bond, no shared view of things. Sheldon Keefe is different that way, much different.

He’s Dubas’ guy.

Dubas hired Keefe to coach the Soo Greyhounds.

Dubas hired Keefe to coach the Toronto Marlies.

Dubas hired Keefe to replace Babcock, even with zero NHL coaching experience.

Is Dubas now willing to part with someone he’s that close to, if the organization deems it necessary (which seems likely)? Is he willing to be objective about the job that Keefe did, which includes all kinds of regular season success but also four disappointing playoff results which mostly saw the team and their stars contained?

Example No. 2: Is he willing to make hard decisions with his star players, starting with John Tavares?

Will he, for example, at least broach the possibility of Tavares waiving his no-movement clause?

Is he willing to be more like his Lightning counterpart, Julien BriseBois, that is? After three consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Final, and two Cups, BriseBois asked Ryan McDonagh to waive his no-trade clause amid a Lightning cap crunch and roster shuffle. He did this three days after the Lightning lost to the Avalanche in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

There was even talk (never confirmed) of the Lightning considering asking captain Steven Stamkos to waive his no-movement clause at one point earlier in Tampa’s run.

Is Dubas willing to have an uncomfortable conversation like that, potentially?

Kyle Dubas with John Tavares and his family on Jan. 29, 2023, the day he played in his 1000th NHL game (Nick Turchiaro / USA Today)

Let’s be clear: It’s hard to imagine there being much interest for a soon-to-be 33-year-old pulling down $11 million on the cap for the next two seasons. But the possibility should, at the very least, be explored given Tavares’ age and production. Will Dubas insist that Tavares move to the wing next season? Might he go a step further and consider a change with the captaincy in the way that other similarly disappointing playoff teams did — i.e. the San Jose Sharks?

If a) there’s no interest in Tavares league-wide (likely) and/or b) no willingness on Tavares’ part to move (likely), then what about Mitch Marner and William Nylander, two players he’s stood firmly behind in the past?

Will he consider moving one of them?

The Leafs can’t possibly bring back everyone at the top, not after their fifth straight playoff failure with Tavares (who missed most of the 2021 playoffs), Marner, Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Morgan Rielly all on board.

Is Dubas finally willing to take, maybe not a hammer, but a scalpel to the core and make serious alterations by trading one big star?

He would have been well within his rights to make a change like that after the Leafs unraveled against the Habs in 2021, or even the Blue Jackets a year earlier. He didn’t. Instead, he backed the core players even more forcefully.

It’s hard to see any way around that possibility this time. A move of that magnitude needs to be executed well for the Leafs to go on contending, which isn’t always easy in a league that tends to (in my opinion) undervalue stars in trades.

Though it’s admirable in many ways, Dubas has mostly acquiesced to the stars. He went all the way to the brink on Nylander’s second contract — and ended up with value (Nylander’s $6.9 million contract ranked 86th in the NHL this season). But he wasn’t willing or able to extract concessions from either Matthews or Marner on their second deals.

Matthews’ pact was only for five years, but still came with an $11.6 million cap hit which trailed only Connor McDavid when it was signed. Marner’s deal lasted only six years and was also no discount at $10.9 million. And while both Matthews and Marner have outperformed those contracts (in the regular season anyway) to this point, the Leafs were unable to pull even more value from those deals in the way that other clubs did with their talented young players.

Even McDavid, while netting the highest cap hit in the league ($12.5 million) on his second deal, was willing to sign for the full eight years in Edmonton.

The Leafs, under Dubas and Shanahan, also didn’t jump on those deals as aggressively as they should have.

Can Dubas extract more from Matthews on his next contract, if not in term than in dollars, or vice-versa? He won’t have the leverage of restricted free agency. He won’t have the leverage of anything, really. Can he convince Matthews to stay?

Nylander has no reason to accept less on his next deal either, not after the last one. He too can sign an extension this summer.

Marner will be up for an extension in the summer of 2024.

Kyle Dubas on Dec. 1, 2018, the day that William Nylander agreed to his second contract (David Berding / USA Today)

Dubas will need to somehow execute those deals more adeptly than he did the last ones.

If the Leafs aren’t willing to commit big bucks to Nylander ASAP, it feels likeliest that he’s the guy to go, even after his 40-goal regular season.

Dubas is probably misunderstood somewhat as this trust-the-numbers-and-only-the-numbers guy. He’s much more than that. It’s often forgotten that he started scouting as a teenager in the OHL. He’s also prioritized the people he believes in and knows, overly so at times.

There’s no better example of that than Matt Murray.

Health had been an issue for Murray throughout his entire NHL career, including in Ottawa last season. Dubas traded for him anyway last summer, an enormous risk even back then, and allowed the Senators to get away with paying only 25 percent of Murray’s contract. (What were they going to do with Murray if the Leafs didn’t bite?)

That was $4.7 million in cap space allocated on a goalie who played in 26 games, none in the playoffs, and who is under contract for next season.

Dubas had Murray in Sault Ste. Marie. So did his goalie guru Jon Elkin. The Leafs bet on the person, more than what was so clear-cut in the available evidence at the time. Dubas, if he stays, will presumably have to pay a price to rid the Leafs of Murray’s contract (or keep him and bet that he stays healthy all over again).

It feels icky to mention the Jake Muzzin situation. But in the end, the Leafs stood by an aging, increasingly injury-prone defenceman after the 2021-22 season and then had to pay assets to replace him at the trade deadline.

Instead of using those assets on a premium upgrade (Dmitry Orlov, say), they went with a lesser version (Jake McCabe) who had term on his contract and came at the reduced rate of $2 million.

That hurt the Leafs in the playoffs, when McCabe, predictably, struggled in the kind of primetime playoff role he literally had never had before.

Dubas was trying to address the present and future at a time when all that mattered was the present.

All of this may sound like reason to move in a direction with the GM of the Leafs. But it’s not. Because, for the most part, Dubas has been highly effective. He’s built the Leafs into a very modern organization, ensuring that players have everything they need in just about every way possible. (Talk to many people outside the organization and they all say the same thing.) There was no skill development program with the Leafs before Dubas replaced Lou Lamoriello as GM. There wasn’t the same emphasis on mental health or sport science. Dubas pumped the Leafs up on every front.

And while it’s easy to shrug at that stuff now, what it’s done is provide players with everything they could possibly need to reach their potential. (Ultimately, those players have to do their part and perform.)

Dubas has shown a knack for unearthing overlooked talent. Think Michael Bunting, David Kämpf, Jack Campbell, Trevor Moore, Justin Holl, and even Muzzin, among others. (The Leafs wisely signed Bunting and Kämpf to two-year contracts two summers ago, which netted them real value under the cap for two seasons, not one.)

He’ll need to do even more of that gem-sifting this summer (again, if he sticks around), what with so many pending UFAs, and in the years ahead, with all that draft capital gone in all that trade deadline activity. (The Leafs need some of the prospects they have drafted already to hit. Matthew Knies and Joseph Woll look promising at the very least.)

Dubas has swallowed mistakes quickly (i.e. Nick Ritchie, Petr Mrazek etc.) and crucially, showed a willingness to evolve. In the beginning, he seemed to believe that skill would solve every problem. In time, he began to prioritize the more intangible qualities required for success in the postseason (which, again, hasn’t come yet) and scored with additions like that at this past deadline — notably, Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, and Luke Schenn.

Also of note: When they signed their stars, Dubas’ Leafs anticipated a rising cap. They didn’t get it, but still managed to build very good (regular season) teams, top-five teams in the league. Regular season success may not mean squat to anyone right now, but it should matter in the broader evaluation of the GM. The Leafs own the fifth-best points percentage in the league (.651) during Dubas’ tenure. His squads weren’t trying to squeeze into the playoffs like those of his predecessors. No, they were dominant teams in the league.

You don’t need long to gaze around the league and see how poorly other teams are run. How poorly, in other words, the Leafs might be run with a lesser GM. Heck, have a look back on those teams that preceded Dubas, even the ones run by Lamoriello, when some mind-boggling decisions were made that caused huge problems for the organization (i.e. Nikita Zaitsev’s contract, which still has one more year left on it…!).

Dubas hasn’t been perfect. No GM is. He can still improve. He has already. He’s still only five years into his career as an NHL GM. He needs to continue evolving. But he should keep this job if he wants it.

(Top photo: Steve Russell / Toronto Star via Getty Images)

 

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Tiger Woods had a tough opening round at The 152nd Open Championship

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Tiger Woods encountered difficulties during the opening round of The 152nd Open Championship at Royal Troon, finishing with an 8-over-par 79. Despite a promising beginning, including a birdie on the third hole, Woods struggled to find consistency throughout the round. His iron play and putting were particularly problematic, contributing to a series of bogeys and double bogeys.

Woods’ performance saw him slightly above average off the tee and around the green. However, he lost over two strokes to the field in both approach play and putting, ranking near the bottom in these categories. This marks a significant challenge for the 15-time major champion, especially considering the competitive field and the demanding conditions at Royal Troon.

Reflecting on his round, Woods admitted, “I didn’t do a lot of things right today. I didn’t hit my irons very close, and I didn’t give myself a whole lot of looks today. I need to shoot something in the mid-60s tomorrow to get something going on the weekend.” He emphasized the need for a strong performance on Friday to make the cut and remain in contention.

Woods, 48, has shown determination and resilience, competing in all four majors this year for the first time since his serious car accident in 2021. Despite physical limitations, he believes he can still contend for major titles under the right conditions. His performance on Thursday puts him in a challenging position, requiring a significant turnaround in the second round to stay in the tournament.

As Woods prepares for Friday’s round, his focus remains on improving his game and making the cut. Fans and analysts alike will be watching to see if he can achieve the remarkable recovery needed to advance and compete over the weekend. Woods’ journey at The 152nd Open Championship continues to be a testament to his enduring skill and competitive spirit.

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NBA Returns to Montreal with Raptors vs. Wizards Pre-Season Game

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Montreal, QC – The NBA is set to make an exciting return to Montreal. The league announced on Thursday that the Toronto Raptors will face off against the Washington Wizards at the Bell Centre on October 6, marking the 10th edition of the NBA Canada Series.

This annual series has featured 15 teams playing 18 pre-season games across six Canadian cities. Notably, this will be the eighth NBA Canada Series game in Montreal, the highest for any city outside the Raptors’ usual home in Toronto.

Last year, Montreal fans witnessed the Detroit Pistons take on the Oklahoma City Thunder, featuring Canadians Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort. The Raptors’ previous game in Montreal was in 2022.

This year’s game will be particularly special as it will showcase several Canadian players. Montreal natives Chris Boucher and Quincy Guerrier are both on the Raptors’ training camp roster. Additionally, Kelly Olynyk and RJ Barrett, who are set to represent Canada at the upcoming Summer Olympics, are also expected to play for the Raptors.

The Wizards bring their own Canadian connection with Kyshawn George, selected in this year’s NBA Draft. George, born in Switzerland, is the son of Montreal’s Deon George, a former member of Canada’s men’s basketball team.

The October 6 game will cap off the Raptors’ Montreal-based training camp, promising an exciting end to their preparations.

For more updates and coverage on the NBA Canada Series, visit Canada News Media

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Fafa Picault Leads Vancouver Whitecaps to Victory Over Sporting Kansas City

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Vancouver, BCFafa Picault emerged as the hero off the bench, scoring in the second half to secure a 2-1 victory for the Vancouver Whitecaps against Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday.

The Whitecaps (11-7-5) dominated the first half, with two goals being disallowed due to offside calls. Vancouver’s breakthrough came in the 34th minute when Kansas City defender Robert Valoder accidentally scored an own goal, giving the ‘Caps a 1-0 lead.

Sporting Kansas City (6-14-5) showed more vigor in the second half, equalizing in the 69th minute with a goal from Willy Agada. However, Picault’s decisive goal in the 76th minute ensured the Whitecaps extended their unbeaten streak in Major League Soccer (MLS) to five games (4-0-1).

Yohei Takaoka delivered an outstanding performance with 16 saves for Vancouver, while Tim Melia made 12 stops for Kansas City, whose three-game winning streak came to an end.

First Half Dominance

The Whitecaps were aggressive from the start, creating several early scoring opportunities. Brian White nearly scored with a header in the seventh minute, but Valoder cleared it off the goal line.

Ali Ahmed had a notable moment in the 27th minute, maneuvering past defenders to set up White for a goal that was disallowed due to offside. The Whitecaps’ pressure paid off in the 34th minute when Valoder deflected the ball into his own net, attempting to intercept a pass from Ryan Gauld to White.

Ahmed seemed poised to increase Vancouver’s lead eight minutes later, but his goal was also ruled offside. Despite these setbacks, Vancouver outshot Kansas City 9-2 in the first half.

Kansas City’s Resurgence

Sporting Kansas City made three substitutions at halftime, revitalizing their performance. Stefan Afrifa, substituting for Alenis Vargas, struck the crossbar in the 63rd minute, and Daniel Salloi’s follow-up shot was expertly saved by Takaoka.

Kansas City equalized six minutes later when Agada capitalized on a rebound after Takaoka’s save, slotting the ball into an open net.

Picault’s Winning Goal

The Whitecaps regained the lead in the 76th minute through Picault’s sixth goal of the season. Sebastian Berhalter, who replaced Ryan Raposo in the 67th minute, delivered a perfect cross to Picault, who headed it past Melia to make it 2-1.

Kansas City had a chance to level the score in injury time, but Erik Thommy’s free kick went over the bar following a foul by Mathias Laborda.

The victory solidifies the Whitecaps’ position as a formidable team in the MLS, with Picault’s performance highlighting their depth and resilience.

Stay tuned for more updates and coverage on the Vancouver Whitecaps at Canada News Media.

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