On Tuesday, Leafs president Brendan Shanahan fired assistant general managers Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin, and hired Kyle Dubas as assistant general manager. He replaced two former NHL players with a 28-year-old from Sault Ste. Marie with no NHL experience whatsoever. It's a huge gamble on Shanahan's part that may carry unrealistic expectations.
Dubas is being billed by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment as "the Billy Beane of hockey" for his ability to crunch numbers. "The chance to work for the Toronto Maple Leafs is like a dream come true," said Dubas in the release. "I'm truly excited to begin helping this team win and learn from men like Brendan Shanahan and Dave Nonis. I'm very thankful for this opportunity, but equally grateful to the Greyhounds organization and the city of Sault Ste. Marie for helping put me in this position. The Leafs are focused on building a team that will enjoy long-term success and I am excited to play a role in it."
Unlike Dubas, Beane played professional baseball as a journeyman outfielder with a lifetime average of .219. He bounced from the Mets to the Twins to the Tigers to the A's where he became a scout. Eight years later, he was promoted to general manager of the Oakland A's. Comparing Kyle Dubas to Billy Beane is unfair on so many levels. Why? For starters, the Toronto Maple Leafs are checking in at No. 26 on Forbes magazine's list of the world's 50 most valuable franchises in professional sports. According to Forbes, the Leafs are worth US$1.15 billion and have been the most valuable NHL team since 2005 despite making the playoffs only once in that span.
It's a far cry from Billy Beane's reality. As the GM of one of Major League Baseball's poorest teams, Beane is often forced to trade away his young stars for draft picks when they reach their prime. In Michael Lewis' book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game the author describes Beane as a David facing the Goliaths of baseball with a strategy that relies heavily on analytical, evidence-based, sabermetric to assemble a competitive baseball team with small payroll. Under Beane's watch, the A's, a small-market underdog, made the playoffs five times in the next eight seasons. Is this how Leaf Nation is going to measure Dubas' performance as assistant GM?
It would be more appropriate to compare Dubas' hiring to that of Gordon Stellick in 1988. At 30 years old, Stellick became the youngest GM in NHL history. Considering Dubas' age it begs a simple question: Is Shanahan grooming him to eventually step into GM Dave Nonis' shoes? It sure seems that way. Back in '88, team owner Harold Ballard hailed Stellick as a "hockey whiz." Stellick served as Maple Leafs GM from April 1988 until his resignation on August 11, 1989. He was then hired by the New York Rangers as an assistant GM, but was fired in 1991. Stellick has since rebranded himself as a popular radio host, astute hockey analyst and author. However, he couldn't cut it in the front office despite all the hype surrounding his appointment at a young age.
Shanahan's decision is bound to create frictions with his prickly head coach. Does he really expect Randy Carlyle, who won the Norris Trophy in 1981 and the Stanley Cup as head coach of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, to receive pointers from a 28-year-old number-cruncher with no NHL pedigree? Right now it's hard to tell whether Shanahan was being bold for the sake of being bold or just unpredictable. Either way, it doesn't bode well for Leaf Nation.