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Kyle Dubas Will Push the Maple Leafs Over the Hump, Or Die Trying

Kyle Dubas knows his job hinges on the Toronto Maple Leafs achieving playoff success. And to accomplish that, he's going to stick to the process no matter what.
Kyle Dubas

Kyle Dubas is a confident guy. 

Confident in himself. Confident in the group he's built. Confident that the uncertainty around his expiring contract won't serve as a distraction amidst a pivotal season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Confidence is crucial in a market like Toronto. While Dubas might have iterated that Wednesday's media day will be the final time he addresses his contract status until the end of the season, that won't stop every radio show, beat writer, and basement blogger in the Leafs media bubble from sizing up his organizational future on a daily basis. 

Without confidence, this situation would eat a person alive. But Dubas is determined to not let that happen, repeatedly insisting that he intends to be judged on the body of his five-year tenure in the GM's chair, and not just this season. 

If this is it, he's pulling out all the stops. 

"I obviously don't control what the organization does," explained Dubas during Maple Leafs' media day on Wednesday. 

"I can only control what I do each day. And my view of it is that if we have the year that we are capable of, and the team plays the way that it's capable of, my situation will be taken care of without issue."

"My confidence is in the group of people that we have here." 

It makes sense, really. Sample sizes are always important to take into account when evaluating tenures. And, for the most part, Dubas has done a fantastic job building the Leafs' roster since taking over in 2018; recruiting marquee talent via free agency, swinging blockbuster trades, and both drafting and developing useful contributors from within. The Maple Leafs are one of the more competently-run franchises in the NHL from a hockey operations perspective these days, and a great deal of that reputation is due to the work Dubas has put in behind the scenes. 

But Dubas must also acknowledge that his desire to be judged on his entire five-year tenure is also a double-edged sword; namely in how the four years leading up to this one have all ended the same way. 

Those opening-round exits, each one coming in a do-or-die elimination game, cannot be ignored -- no matter how shrewd Dubas' roster building has been. This season needs to be different. A step must be taken. The process can look as dazzling as it wants in theory, but if the results never come, then what's the point? 

To Dubas' credit, he's not backing down. Wednesday featured a different version of the typically upbeat GM from years past -- no jokes, no light-hearted interactions, just solemn assurances of his belief in the team. The mood wasn't dour, by any means. But Dubas was noticeably focused, direct, and abundantly transparent in his determination to lead the Maple Leafs over the hump or die trying. 

And, frankly, those are the only two options he has. Win and stay on; lose and you're gone. That's the reality. And Dubas is ready to ride his vision through to the end, ignoring the temptation to shake up the Leafs' core this summer after yet another playoff disappointment in favor of running it back one more time. 

That confidence means something the players -- all of whom, not to mention, were either acquired or re-signed by Dubas himself. 

"He has a lot of trust in us. That's why he kept us together," explained Mitch Marner to reporters on Wednesday. 

"What he has as a job is very stressful. It's a lot of work. There are a lot of things constantly going on, especially living here (in Toronto) year-round. Just how he handles that pressure, it's been very impressive to a lot of us."

"We obviously have great belief in Kyle," added John Tavares, Dubas' first and biggest free-agent signing as Leafs GM. 

"I think he's done a tremendous job at what we have going here. So, if we go out there and take care of business, get better every day, keep pushing the envelope and believing in ourselves, the rest should take care of itself." 

Of course, there's only so much a GM can do. The offseason is over, and Dubas spent it padding each position group with considerable depth at affordable rates while ensuring that the Leafs have cap flexibility to start the year. Even his goaltending, wherein the true uncertainty lies, is headlined by a two-time Cup winner and a former first-round pick not far removed from his days as a hotly anticipated prospect. You could certainly do worse when forming a tandem. And while both are in desperate need of bounce-back performances after nightmare seasons, every bet has the potential to pay off. 

Dubas, in typical fashion, is confident that it will. 

And if it doesn't, he'll at least have the comfort of knowing he stuck through it until the end. 

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