Dubas’ confidence in Maple Leafs’ nucleus, few dollars likely results in nothing more than roster tweaking

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The general manager isn’t going to be changed in the off-season.

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The coach isn’t going to be changed.

And from the sound of it on Tuesday, don’t expect many significant changes to the Maple Leafs roster either before the puck drops on the 2022-23 regular season in October.

Not only did president Brendan Shanahan make it clear he’s satisfied in forging ahead with Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe after the Leafs bowed out again the first round, Dubas remains confident in the team’s core.

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Dubas, as one would figure, said the usual things during the Leafs’ end-of-season availability at the Ford Performance Center about looking at the entire team and deciding where it would be best to try to make improvements.

As far the nucleus goes, it has Dubas’ name on it, and rather than lose confidence in it when the Leafs lost in seven games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the GM’s belief was strengthened when his players came within a couple of goals of eliminating the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.

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“I don’t view it as just a core four (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, captain John Tavares and William Nylander),” Dubas said. “I look at the core group as a whole and try to determine what’s the best way that we can move ahead with trying to accomplish our goal and reaching our potential. If there’s a way that we can improve the team and become a better team, then we’ll do that.

“But I don’t think that we want to start making changes that may be lateral or make us inferior as a team, just to say that we changed something. In these moments, it’s easy to say that you believe at the beginning of the year.

“These moments where you have not reached the potential that everyone knows that you have and that you internally know that you have, that’s when true belief is measured. And I do believe in the group.

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“No matter what the end result was, we look at the entire group and determine how we want to move ahead.”

We would bet that when those determinations are made, it would be safe to assume that none of the four players mentioned, nor any of defensemen Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie or Jake Muzzin, would be on the move.

There’s more to it than just Dubas’ stated belief in the Leafs. There’s the issue of dollars, in that the Leafs don’t have a lot of them remaining to spend, as the National Hockey League salary cap will rise only by $1 million US to $82.5-million. The Leafs will have approximately $7-8 million to use, yet have to consider that goalie Jack Campbell, defensemen Mark Giordano and Ilya Lyubushkin, and forwards Ilya Mikheyev, Jason Spezza and Colin Blackwell will be unrestricted free agents, while four others — forwards Pierre Engvall and Ondrej Kase and defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren—will be restricted.

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So Dubas will walk down the same off-season path he took last year, when he signed a bunch of players without spending a ton and hoped each would work out greatly in the team’s favour. It did with Michael Bunting and David Kampf, it did to an extent with Kase, and it didn’t with Nick Ritchie and Petr Mrazek.

Dubas also agreed with the idea that a handful of Marlies on entry-level contracts — forwards Nick Robertson, Pontus Holmberg, Joey Anderson, Bobby McMann and Curtis Douglas were named — will be counted to either challenge for, or earn, jobs with the Leafs .

“It falls on me to continue to find the right pieces to go around the group, to improve it and push us ahead,” Dubas said.

“We need to replicate the way that we operated last summer and being able to find players that can come in and add to our group and do so at not a very high cost. With the pandemic and the effects that you have had on the game, it’s always going to make that challenging.

“We need to replicate that again, but also eliminating any mistakes at all, because the margin for error is so much smaller. It’s a challenge, one that we embrace and one that in the future we’ll be judged on.”

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