Kyle Dubas in the situation of the Toronto Maple Leafs: "We know that next season will be the most difficult year"



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General Manager Prime Time Sports and TSN Overdrive on Tuesday night to discuss Auston Matthews' new $ 57.1 million five-year contract extension.

Dubas addresses the difficulties of the boundary situation in 2019-20 because the two sides failed to find an eight-year solution, Auston Matthews' lack of true comparables, possible commercial activity before the February 25 deadline, and much more .

The transcript below has been edited and reordered for clarity.

On the duration and structure of the contract: "I think everyone wanted an eight-year contract … We could not find an AAV in that period that worked best for the club"


Auston Matthews, right, celebrates a first-period goal against the Ottawa Senators with teammate William Nylander
Toronto center Maple Leafs Auston Matthews on the right celebrates a first goal against the Ottawa Senators with teammate William Nylander during an NHL hockey game on Wednesday, October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario . (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press via AP)

How much discussion or how would you characterize the discussion when it comes to the term between Maple Leafs and Auston's camp? Would you say that one side was working with an eight-year structure to begin with and then changed? At least in terms of specificities in the term, how would you characterize this negotiation?

Dubas: At the beginning of all these discussions, if you are sure about the player and the player is right about the program that employs him, everyone tries to maximize the time together. With these younger players in all sports, you're buying a lot from their heyday. Unlike an older player, where if you have given them more years, the pay usually decreases, with a younger player, you are buying the prime, so the AAV only increases. This has been the trend and the norm around hockey.

When we got into the discussion, I think everyone wanted an eight-year term, particularly Auston and his camp. They wanted to be here by eight. We could not find an AAV at that time that would work best for the club. This is not contempt for Auston or anything else, but it was just the reality. We knew what our internal capabilities were and where we would need them. And then he was finding a term that would satisfy them in an AAV that would work for us. That's what we've been up in the last month or months, until we get to that point.

Obviously, during that time, a player's sample size continues to grow and their performance metrics are expanded and you know more than you have more time spent with someone, regardless of how long. The longer you are with them and the longer they last, the more certainty you will have about their capabilities. He obviously had a great season for us again, so we were very happy to do that, and the city and the organization locked him up here for another five and a half seasons.

It's a normal number. Usually we see things with round numbers. You can divide the number of years into the general number and come up with something that at least ends up with a lot of zeros. How is this a kind of goofy at $ 58.17 million?

Dubas: Yeah, I think 34 is Auston's number. That's a significant number for him. This was important to their camp so we just found a way to get there. I certainly understand where the question comes from, but that is the answer.

You've seen everything from a three-year contract to an eight-year contract, and you ended up at five. Was that where you wanted to be or did you come in with a pre-determined number in your mind? What was your thought process?

Dubas: We do not go in with a predetermined number of years in mind. We have examined many of the contracts in the past and I think in recent history many of them have been eight-year contracts. If you go back a decade or so, and go through the contracts in Pittsburgh and Chicago and Los Angeles, they are mostly five-year agreements and others are six. We do not limit ourselves to having an eight-year contract or a one-year contract. We wanted to work with the Auston camp and find out what would work best for us, knowing that we are fortunate enough to have a good collection of talent here and, in a salary cap situation, we have to try everything we can keep it together. The term does not always end up being great, and when I say great, I mean the maximum amount that can be.

For us there is a trade-off in which we do not have eight-year contracts and for them there is a trade-off in which they are three years less and the AAV is smaller. I think we were able to work on a friendly agreement and make good progress, especially in the last month. That's how it all ended, but we did not enter into any preconceived notion of where that would end.

Signature bonuses in this transaction account for more than 90% of it. $ 54.5 million of the $ 57.1 million are in signature bonuses. Tell us why this became the modus operandi not just for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but for other guys too?

DubasI think most of the players and most of the people employed in general, if they could, would rather have their dollars advanced. For us, there are some benefits to doing this. We have the means here to do this. For us, in several different contracts we have done, this puts players in the lead and perhaps saves us in other areas, but it also gives us more flexibility in contracts. This is how it happens with these types of players, in particular, coming out of your initial contract or any other contract. They are largely built this way.

Are there positive or negative fiscal implications for Auston when signing a contract that is signing heavy bonuses?

Dubas: Well, that's more of a personal thing with Auston, but he's a US resident. When you are a US resident, and being from Arizona – Scottsdale is your hometown – there are several different things that you can do within the contract to avail. But that's not something I feel comfortable talking about, because it's a more personal issue for Auston and probably a better question put to his acting when they speak.

You should be aware of this and what the implications might be. Just in the generic sense, would you realize that there are significant tax benefits for this type of agreement on a wage structure agreement?

DubasI think benefits, especially if you qualify as a resident in a lower tax jurisdiction, it would be wise, regardless of whatever jurisdiction, to allocate your dollars there as much as you can. Of course you have to qualify by spending the required number of days in that jurisdiction, whether you are Florida resident or Arizona resident or, indeed, anywhere in the USA versus Canada in terms of taxation. Now there are some states with high taxes in the NHL, such as California and New York, with which we compete, but some other states are well known for being low taxing jurisdictions and thus is suitable for players and representatives to try to maximize their dollars because although salaries and dollars are huge, careers are relatively short.

I think they did a great job. This has been much discussed in the last days and days, working not just with the agents, but with the financial sector people, making sure Auston was well-set not just for now, but also for his retirement and in the future.

In the comparables for Matthews: "There were centers that produced many points, but very few that marked at the rate that Auston has"


April 13, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capital center Nicklas Backstrom (19) faces Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews (34) in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center. Credit Required: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When you're making a deal like that, how often do the comparatives show up? It's one thing to have a guy who is a middle-term player and the agent comes in and says, "Well, he's better than this guy who got it, or that guy who got that," and then you go back and say, "Yeah, but he's not as good as this guy who has it." These kinds of comings and goings. You're very limited with a player with Auston's skill and status in comparisons, right?

Dubas: I think especially the position he plays as a center. He is a franchise type center and he also scores goals at an elite rate, which is not very common for a center. There were centers that produced many points, but very few scored in the rhythm that Auston has. If you go beyond producing goals with equal strength, it will be at the top again, not just in the recent past, but coming back. That's what made the comparable part quite difficult. There were not many people there. You are looking at the top tier of players and they are coming out of entry level almost a decade ago. There are few players who fit into this account. You kind of banged your nail on the head there. It is easier when there is a larger collection of players comparable in terms of production and position and, for him, really does not exist. You may want to get the deal done a little earlier, but when you're working on all of this and all the other issues we've discussed earlier, this may lengthen the discussion a bit.

By making the cover work: "We know the next season will be the hardest year"


Kyle Dubas
Kyle Dubas, assistant general manager, Toronto Maple Leafs (right) and Carl Farrell, president of SAS Canada EVP SAS Americas (on the left), examine insights derived from SAS (CNW Group / SAS Canada)

There are 14 players you currently have under contract for next year, totaling approximately $ 71 million. The limit will be $ 85 million. How are you going to fit it all in there? You have a plan and have some advice. Is that relative to you? You're going to have to do some juggling here.

Dubas: I understand your concern. You did your research and you know the situation we are in. I think we talked about it every day and we went through it every day, really, from the previous years. It has not been something we say, "Okay, let's finish all these contracts, then we'll worry about it." It is a discussion that we have here in progress daily. In our prognosis, we know that the next season will be the hardest year, and then the pay cap grows every year, so with that and different things that will happen and happen, we will begin to gain breathing space.

I think next year the pressure to perform what you described falls solely on me and fills the edges of our list. As you just described, there are essentially only $ 14 million in six bodies to gather a team every night. Once we get through the next stretch and move on to the summer, we'll be more sure about our other RFAs and the pressure to fill the edges of the list and make sure we're performing well will fall directly on me.

I know this is what I and our management team will be judged and what the fans and the media should judge us about. I'm excited about that. We worked very hard at it. We will not be right all of the time or most of the time but are trying to be more right than wrong and give our coaches and players – who have done a great job this season and in the past – the ability to keep reaching their potential. That is what we will continue to work on.

Five years, $ 11.6 million makes all the world sense for the player. Take us through the side of the staff. How does this benefit the team, this specific contract?

DubasI think the key to us, given our situation – and I know there were many other deals that were eight-year contracts – we are at a different stage, one out or another, than the other teams. I do not think we focus too much on what other teams are doing or how they are handling their contracts. It's what works to give the Toronto Maple Leafs the best chance of being successful and maximizing our window here with this young core of players.

When we were going through it and projecting where everyone would go, we had a range of how much we could spend and put on those players. The pressure will fall on me and our management team to fill the edges around the core. We kind of worked at it and found a comfortable reach to the AAV, and then it was just one kind of work and the term at the same time. That's how we got to five.

The five years have not been used much lately, but if you go back a decade or so to the teams that were in the position we aspire to be, they competed year after year. We have not gotten there yet, so I do not want to put ourselves in the same breath of those teams, but that's what they did to get it right. That was when there were no deadlines. They only made five-year deals and were comfortable with AAV and we were fine given what Auston brings us to the table in terms of the position he plays and his ability to score goals. It's exciting for us. We are excited to do this and out of the way and look forward to the next five and a half seasons at least from Auston here.

What did you learn from the negotiation of William Nylander that you applied to this negotiation?

Dubas: I think they're so different, right? Nylander's negotiation was resumed when I entered work in May, with a very short timetable. Although I was with Marlies and we had a relationship before, it was a few years ago, so you're picking it up again at a very different stage. With Auston, it was a discussion with Judd after he came to represent Auston whenever it was – June – just kind of getting ready for July, when we could start formally talking about it. We started this process a long time ago.

With Nylander's situation, this was not the case. It was a few months before the season started. If anything, trying to understand how these things come and go, we would have two more of those things and possibly more than that. It's a good problem when we have these types of young players. We really wanted to spend more time focusing on it now, if there was progress to be made, instead of waiting until the summer and leaving it to chance.

In the future negotiation of Mitch Marner: "We will only be respectful with him and his desires, and once the season is over, we will get to it"


Mitch Marner from Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: USA Today Sports

You mentioned in the Muzzin negotiations that you had a good estimate of where the Auston Matthews talks were going. How does this apply to Mitch Marner? His agent said that at this time the Marner camp is not really interested in trading during the season. Do you have a decent reading or a quality reading where you think you are going? What can you tell us about it?

Dubas: Yes, I would like to be able to give you a certain answer. We have been respectful to Darren and his wishes of wanting to wait until after the season to talk. We will do. It's very clear how we value Mitch. He's a fun player to watch tonight every night. The amount of joy he brings to the track every day is excellent. He brings the lead that way to our group and he has obviously been one of the best players for this team for a long time and has steadied himself in this NHL-wide talk this year. It brings a lot to our organization and we are lucky to have it and everyone else. We will hopefully find a way to hold you also with our organization when that moment presents itself. It has to be something with which they feel comfortable because of the personal nature and how they want to deal with these discussions while it is also focused on hockey.

Mitch Marner's agent said publicly that they will not negotiate during the season. When a player and agent make a statement like this, how do you navigate, understanding that obviously you want that player to sign?

Dubas: I think we respect them. I certainly understand why a player and his camp and his family would choose this option. They want to focus on playing hockey and focus on the season, and Mitch has had an excellent season. He has been an excellent player for us now for three seasons. As I said today, your enthusiasm and love for the game, and your love for being a Maple Leaf, you see it day after day. We're very lucky to have Mitch.

I think we continue to focus on continuing to help Mitch achieve his extraordinary potential and work with him. It does not affect everyday life for me and for us, and if that happened, we would have a discussion with Mitch and his staff. We will only be respectful of him and his desires, and once the season is over, we will come to it.

In the acquisition of Jake Muzzin and the possibility of more commercial activity before the deadline


Jake Muzzin from Toronto Maple Leafs
RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR

Now that you know the number and you're sure of cost with Auston, obviously there's still more work to do. How does this affect your plans until the deadline?

Dubas: I think we knew the scope that we would end up in terms of the AAV, depending only on the years we've done in the last few weeks. Once we knew that we were making progress with Judd Moldaver – Auston's agent at Wasserman – we certainly were able to follow some options. That's what really set us free to run the Jake Muzzin trade because he has another year of contract after that. We know what he does and then knowing Auston's whereabouts we had some other elements we needed to finish and work but I felt at ease with the discussion with Judd and his camp that we could go ahead and add Jake. .

This was something that was a great help to us and something we talked about earlier. Just selfishly, that would be of great benefit to our organization if we knew this before. This was a great help in acquiring Muzzin. Now we'll have a better idea here in the next few weeks than we have. We will leave the maximum space accumulated in the coming weeks and see if we can improve our team a little more.

The acquisition of Jake Muzzin certainly was a great dip around Leafland. He was brilliant last night – the best of Jake Muzzin on display. Everything is back there now. Was there a timeline you wanted to follow until the player was acquired? Did something cause the process to be speeded up internally, whether you liked something or did not like something with your group on the back end?

Dubas: No, I think after taking the time to meet the team and watch the team, we had defense as an area we wanted to focus on and try to find an upgrade if we could if the cost was reasonable and we were comfortable with what we had and if the player was also someone who would have a mandate and would stay here for more than a few months, or if you got them close by, it could only be a few weeks. That was the impetus to make that deal.

We were talking to LA about a month before. Rob and I are still in touch. Once we were a little more sure about Auston's situation and knew we were going in that direction, we could be more sure about our offerings and our situation in dealing with LA and other teams. The LA just joined. We decided to go ahead with the deal and improve our team and put Jake here as soon as possible.

We thought it was important also that we were getting out of range and that we could give him as much time as possible and have him on our team as much as we could. It just adds to the value to us and is similar to them. They get the two prospects in their system and can also make them work.

What percentage would you put in additional negotiations or transactions before February 25?

Dubas: I do not know. We continue to explore everything. It's so hard to put a percentage on that. Whether here or elsewhere, we already feel that 100% will make a trade to improve the team and this has not happened. There were other occasions when it was a remote chance and we made a deal.

I think we've already made a great addition to Jake Muzzin that we're happy with. We will continue to explore all the options we have given the space limit we have and the opportunities we have to improve the team. I do not think we will be restricted to a particular player or position if we think we can improve our team and give this group of players and coaches the best chance. I think they got it. Let's keep looking and exploring at the same time. We are enthusiastic about our group and excited about our players who are developing below and with the fact that the core of our team is mostly very young and we can expect them to continue to improve as they evolve.

How would you classify the business conversations you had with the deadline? Is your perception that it is an active market or a passive market?

Dubas: There are many calls. Very similar to when Lou was here and watching here and Dave Nonis before that, there are many calls coming and going with the teams trying to find the way. There have been a lot of teams that played a lot lately, which used to be on the outside edges of the playoff race. It kind of modified the dynamics a bit. There were some teams that made a heavy load of delay and played very well. That has changed things a little, but there are still many discussions going on and we will continue to get involved in them.

It has been a fun and interesting process for me, a younger person and a first time GM learned from other managers and how they manage that time and how they operate, whether they are buying or selling or just staying the same. It is always interesting to hear how they go through the process and then observe it. Good learning experience for me and for us and we look forward to the next number of weeks and see how it all falls apart.

Even if this has been filed in exploratory, has any other organization this year made a call to you about Auston or Mitch in terms of availability?

Dubas: No, I think only in terms of pure joke. There has never been any serious inquisition about any of these players. They just laughed and said, "We're calling Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner," and then "ha ha" and that was the end. Nothing serious. We are obviously thrilled to have them and lucky to have them and we hope they are Maple Leafs for a very, very long time.

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