Shanahan: Decision not to renew Dubas deal 'hard' but best for Maple Leafs' future

TORONTO -- Maple Leafs president and alternate governor Brendan Shanahan said it was ultimately his choice to let go of general manager Kyle Dubas on Friday. How Shanahan arrived at the decision was a lengthy and dramatic process, culminating with a meeting they had Friday morning when Shanahan informed Dubas his contract -- which was set to expire June 30 -- would not be renewed.

"I had gotten to a different place about how I felt about the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs and what was best," Shanahan said during a news conference Friday. "As hard as it was and as hard as it is to make a significant change [regarding] someone you're close with and someone you're working with for nine years ... I just felt different [recently], and that the long-term future of the Maple Leafs might have to change. I slept on that and woke up this morning and drove to Kyle's office to inform him we would not be renewing his contract."

The Maple Leafs announced the decision hours later via a news release with a short statement from Shanahan thanking Dubas for his "unwavering dedication" since the organization hired him in 2014.

It was Shanahan then who lured Dubas from his post as GM of the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds into an assistant GM role with Toronto (that included GM duties with their American Hockey League affiliate Marlies). It was also Shanahan who promoted Dubas to the Maple Leafs GM spot in May 2018, after Shanahan opted not to renew the contract of then-GM Lou Lamoriello.

Dubas was a key part of building the Maple Leafs nucleus from there, including its core four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares. He also fired former coach Mike Babcock in 2019 and replaced him with current bench boss Sheldon Keefe, whom Dubas had hired to coach the Greyhounds in 2011 and the Marlies in 2015.

The Maple Leafs went 221-109-42 during the regular season with Dubas as GM, but the team frequently stumbled in the postseason. From 2016 to '22, Toronto made six consecutive first-round exits from the playoffs. The Maple Leafs' first-round series win this year over the Tampa Bay Lightning marked the first time they advanced in a postseason since 2004. Toronto fell in five games to the Florida Panthers in the second round.

During his end-of-season media availability Monday, Dubas was whether he'd return to Toronto and said it would be a "family decision," making it clear the last year had been difficult on the homefront. Dubas also said that if he didn't return, he wouldn't seek another job elsewhere this year.

Those comments played a significant role in what transpired between Shanahan and Dubas over the following days.

In his Friday availability, Shanahan detailed the timeline he went through with Dubas in working toward a potential new contract. It began during last offseason when Shanahan told Dubas he would not receive an extension prior to the regular season but it was not a reflection of Dubas' future with the club. Shanahan was hopeful for a positive resolution.

That came about in mid-March when Shanahan -- pleased with what Dubas had done at the trade deadline, as he acquired the likes of Ryan O'Reilly, Noel Acciari and Luke Schenn -- approached Dubas and said he'd seen enough to begin extension talks.

"I didn't want [the contract] to be something on his mind going into the playoffs," Shanahan said. "I felt he had put the team in a position to have success, and it was important to me to not just wait and see what the [playoff] result was but to be consistent with the support I tried to give him on a daily basis and have something tangible presented to him."

Dubas came back to Shanahan about a week later and said he "was comfortable" moving forward but didn't want the discussions to be a distraction and directed Shanahan to work with his agent. Shanahan said he had "many good conversations" with Dubas' agent and felt they were "making progress." Even while the Maple Leafs were moving through the postseason, getting a deal done with Dubas remained top of mind.

"I felt that those conversations and the communications I got from Kyle had put me in a position where I could come to him with something that was pretty much a finished deal, that reflected what he wanted financially and what he wanted as a general manager," Shanahan said.

After the Maple Leafs fell in Game 5 to the Panthers on Saturday, Shanahan presented Dubas with the framework of a contract. Shanahan said Dubas seemed "pleased to receive that news so quickly."

The Maple Leafs performed their end-of-season media availabilities two days later, and Shanahan decided he wouldn't speak to media until Dubas' status was resolved. He didn't think Dubas should address the media either, but Dubas felt it was important he did so during the sessions on Monday, a decision Shanahan said he "respected."

"I definitely don't have it in me to go anywhere else," Dubas said Monday. "It'll either be here or it'll be taking time to recalibrate, reflect on the seasons here. It requires a full family discussion ... for me to commit to anything without having a fuller understanding of what the year took on them, it's probably unfair for me to answer. It was a very hard year on them."

Dubas' emotional statements caused Shanahan to pause and question whether his GM would accept a new contract.

"I think at that point there was a dramatic shift in my thinking as I drove home that night," Shanahan said. "As Kyle expressed, he may not want to be our GM, and I have to take that very seriously. As I said to him the day before [when we met privately], I understood those feelings [around family] and the pressure ... but it was a very real possibility for me at that point I'd be needing to look somewhere else."

Still, Shanahan was hoping he and Dubas would come to a resolution. He met with Dubas again Wednesday, but Shanahan "did not have clarity" on Dubas' mindset and "it further made me feel ... he might not want to be the manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs."

The next day, Dubas told Shanahan his agent would call him. The agent did so and presented Shanahan with a new financial package. Shanahan did not hear from Dubas throughout the day until an email came Thursday night in which Dubas said he did still want to be the Maple Leafs' general manager. But Shanahan was already in that "different place" about the GM role.

"A gap had risen in the contract status," said Shanahan, "But nevertheless, after the email I received from Kyle, I just felt differently."

Shanahan stressed the outcome wasn't related to money but went back to how he felt there were previous indications the sides would work things out and he was "less sure" that Dubas wanted the job after Monday's news conference. While Dubas had expressed privately to Shanahan his familial concerns, those weren't something Shanahan expected for Dubas to make public.

"At that point I hadn't ruled Kyle Dubas out," Shanahan said. "But I certainly had to make sure that I was thinking of other options as well."

As for whom that successor might be, Shanahan said he will be "open-minded" about all future candidates but that having an experienced general manager would be "an attractive quality." Dubas was a first-time NHL GM when Shanahan promoted him into the slot.

There's a level of urgency from Shanahan as well to find that next person sooner than later. It's possible Keefe's future with the club hangs in that balance, too. Shanahan didn't directly touch on Keefe's status during his 30-minute news conference but did say there were personnel choices that would be on the next GM's plate.

"I have spoken with most of our staff. I have called several of our players," Shanahan said. "But some of those [pending] decisions have to be the responsibility of the new general manager. I'm going to lean heavily on [assistant GM] Brandon Pridham as we get through this time."