Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas isn’t backing down when it comes to his team’s contracts, even after yet another heartbreaking playoff loss.
Toronto’s Game 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was its sixth consecutive first-round exit and the fifth consecutive season that the team fell in a do-or-die game.
“Going through these exit meetings and speaking with Sheldon right after, and speaking to the players right after, they know that we’re close, but they also know that the closest part and the closing part is the hardest part [of winning in the NHL],” Dubas told reporters on Tuesday.
Much of the discussion during Dubas’ four-year tenure at the helm of the Leafs has centred around the cost of forwards Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.
No team in the NHL has committed as much of their salary cap to just four forwards, with the pair slated to make $40.4 million next season, or just about half of the team’s total payroll.
Asked if he’d “reconsider” the contracts on high-end forwards, Dubas stuck to his guns.
“I think they’re providing us great value for them in the way that they’re producing and the way that they continue to evolve as they go through their contracts. So I don’t regret those at all,” Dubas said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that it’s best to detract some of your very best players to spread the dollars around players who aren’t as good.”
Matthews is set to make $11.6 million next season, Tavares $11 million even, Marner $10.9, and Nylander $6.9 million.
It’s hard to argue against the group’s offensive production: Matthews finished 6th in league scoring with 60 goals, 46m and 106 points, Marner 10th (35-62-97), Nylander 34th (34-46-80), and Tavares 44th (27-49-76). As a whole, the Leafs scored the league’s second-most goals with 315 during the regular season.
“We’ll sit down as a management group and look at our whole entire roster,” Dubas said, in a very non-committal answer, but a trade doesn’t seem like it’s on the horizon.
If there’s a specific contract out of the four that’s been catching heat lately, it’d be the 31-year-old Tavares, who has three years left on his contract and a full no-movement clause. After a slow start to the playoff series, Tavares closed out his playoff run with three goals and three assists in the seven-game series loss to Tampa.
“Players are going to change as they age inevitably, and we need to, as a management team, be always supporting them with pieces that are going to best allow them to maintain their primes as long as possible,” Dubas said about Tavares. “So whether it’s John or anybody else on our team that you would say is over that, whatever you want. I mean, different people view the prime year as a different one. [Some] say it’s 24. Some would say it’s 27. Some would say it’s 30. Whatever it is, we want people that can come here and maintain that level as long as possible. I think that falls on us.”
Dubas again backed his team to make internal improvements.
“I think that the team continues to grow… it’s hard to sit up and say [we had a great year] because the result at the end of the year is lost in game seven in the first round,” Dubas said. “But the way that the team played in the regular season and then the way that we played in the series, I think was much different than those previous years.”
Trades or no trades, it’ll be a LONG summer before the Leafs get a chance to hit the ice this October.