The Toronto Maple Leafs have been busy this off-season. The team completely re-shuffled its front office with the hiring of Brendan Shanahan as Team President. The Leafs then announced the firing of Assistant General Manger Claude Loiselle and Vice President of Hockey Operations Dave Poulin. Replacing Loiselle will be 28 -year-old whiz kid and analytics expert Kyle Dubas, who had spent the past several years with the OHL’s Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds.
There was a lot of talk about culture change after the Shanahan hiring, and bringing Dubas on board clearly represents a shift in philosophy. As potentially groundbreaking as those moves were, the most surprising news of the summer had to be the re-signing of goaltender James Reimer.
The 26-year-old goalie had been much maligned after a sub par season that saw him ranked 49th in goals against average (3.29) and 31st in save percentage (.911). Most people considered Reimer to be all but gone and it seemed as though a change in scenery would greatly benefit him.
His performance, a lukewarm goaltender free agent pool, and a less than ideal relationship with Head Coach Randy Carlyle were factors in the common belief that Reimer wouldn’t be back. After combining with Jonathan Bernier to form a capable duo for the first two months of the season, Reimer had his starts slashed after Bernier established himself as the #1 goaltender. When Bernier suffered a leg injury and missed the final five weeks of the season, Reimer did not take advantage of his opportunity.
As the Leafs’ tailspin out of a playoff position (again) unfolded, things got awkward between Reimer and Carlyle. After a loss in March Carlyle assessed Reimer’s performance, “I thought he was OK, just OK”. When he heard Carlyle’s comments Reimer responded, “He said just OK, I thought I was good”. Both sides have been in damage control mode since. However, the team will reportedly give Reimer a chance to earn the number one goalie position this fall.
In between the Shanahan and Dubas acquisitions and the Reimer re-signing, the Leafs attempted to upgrade their team by signing a series of under the radar players. They brought in Mike Santorelli, David Booth, Daniel Winnik and brought back Leo Komarov from the KHL. The team is obviously trying to improve its overall depth. The Leafs have too often relied on one line the past few seasons. The winners of the past five Stanley Cups, the Blackhawks, Bruins and Kings consistently rolled four lines and the Buds would love to have that luxury.
After solidifying their front office and filling out their roster, the Leafs locked up a big part of their present and future by signing defenseman Jake Gardiner to a five year extension. The organization views Gardiner as a huge part of any potential success and rewarded him with a contract worth $20.25 million dollars.
Culture change was buzz word after the Leafs brought in Shanahan. The hiring of Dubas represents a complete change in organizational philosophy. The game of hockey hasn’t exactly embraced the whole analytics thing with open arms. In recent years both baseball and basketball teams have relied heavily on advanced statistics and teams have even gone on to hire individuals from non sports backgrounds. Some of the teams that do use advanced stats are considered on the cutting edge of their sport. By hiring Dubas the team wants to get on the analytical bandwagon before it exists in the NHL. If they are successful the Leafs could be considered to be a team on the cutting edge of the league. And it’s been a long time since that could be said.
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