May 26, 2023, 3:46 PM
As the battle out on the ice for a chance to be crowned Stanley Cup champion continues, with Florida waiting for one of Vegas or Dallas to meet them in the Cup Final, the jostling around the league off the ice has picked up its pace of late, too.
From multiple high-profile GM searches to a spin of the coaching carousel, the sale of a Canadian NHL franchise and an NHLPA investigation into the circumstances surrounding Kyle Dubas’s contract negotiations, there’s no shortage of storylines dominating an off-season that hasn’t even arrived yet.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek dove into all of the above in the latest episode of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast. Here’s a look at what the insiders had to say about the latest news and notes from around the hockey world.
Listen to the full episode of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast here.
Who’s behind the NHLPA’s investigation into Kyle Dubas’s contract negotiation?
On Thursday, reports surfaced of an NHL Players Association investigation into the situation surrounding former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and his recent contract negotiations. At issue is the fact that Dubas is represented by an agent from the high-profile Wasserman Sports, an agency that also represents a number of NHL stars, among them Auston Matthews.
“Wasserman is an agency that represents hockey players, most notably Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Roman Josi, etc. They have agents like Judd Moldaver and Jeff Jackson and Dave Gagner. Now, at the other end of the building, let’s just say, there’s a group, again at Wasserman, who represents Kyle Dubas. And that is Chris Armstrong,” Marek explained.
Questions arose about a potential conflict of interest, and whether the situation at Wasserman violates NHLPA rules, particularly the one stating NHLPA Certified Agents cannot represent or provide services to an officer or employee of an NHL club.
“By the NHLPA’s own agent-certification rules, there is no violation here,” Friedman said of Dubas’s situation. “Because Chris Armstrong is not a certified agent. If he was a certified agent, to represent players, then he could not represent Kyle Dubas. But because he’s not a certified agent, he can. Now, the argument here is whether or not the same company should be allowed to do it. And there are people who think that should be changed, that if you represent players, you can’t represent GMs or coaches or anything like that.”
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Since reports of the NHLPA investigation surfaced, speculation has also swirled regarding the source of the complaints against Dubas’s representation.
“There were some people who thought that the Leafs did this, like the Leafs were in some anti-Dubas, let’s-grind-him-into-the-ground campaign, that ‘We’re going to turn him in for this.’ This is not the Maple Leafs doing this,” Friedman said. “This is agent-driven. Now, I will say, there are some agents who feel very strongly about this. Very strongly. But there are other agents who don’t.”
Friedman also noted that, looking into other sports, there are examples in the NBA and NFL of agents representing both players and coaches.
“This is one of the things I looked into: does it only happen in hockey, and not elsewhere? It’s quite the reverse, actually,” he said. “But there are some agents who don’t like it, and they think it should be that case. I just don’t know where it goes.
“But as it’s written, in the NHLPA’s own agent bylaws, this was not illegal.”
What’s next for Dubas and the Pittsburgh Penguins?
Since parting ways with the Maple Leafs in what wound up a very public, tumultuous saga, attention has turned to Dubas’s future, with other notable GM searches ongoing throughout the league.
Among the most notable is the search for the next manager in Pittsburgh, where a new GM will be tasked with trying to build a team that can add another Stanley Cup banner to the Crosby-Malkin Era’s collection.
While Dubas initially said he would not take a GM job elsewhere if he did not return to the Maple Leafs, in the wake of a press conference from Brendan Shanahan that laid out in detail the process by which the team decided to part ways with Dubas, the ex-Leafs GM now appears to be the front-runner for a new start with the Penguins.
“I think Pittsburgh is prepared to wait through the weekend to see how Dubas feels about this,” Friedman said. “I believe a chunk of the Fenway ownership is at the F1 in Monaco, so they can get back and maybe finalize this. I still do think, if not Dubas, Mathieu Darche is in the picture. I don’t know if there’s anyone else, but I think Darche is in the picture.
“Like I said a couple of times this week, I think it’s Dubas’ job if he wants it. It’s just obviously not closed yet.”
Reporting from the media contingent in Pittsburgh seems to tell a similar story, as reports surfaced earlier this week that Dubas met with Sidney Crosby at the Penguins’ practice facility on Tuesday.
Who’s leading the Maple Leafs’ GM search, and how will Auston Matthews’ decision be affected?
Dubas’s former club is wading through a GM search of its own, looking to find the manager who can enact a new vision, and push the club towards a long-awaited next step in the post-season. According to Friedman, former Calgary Flames general manger Brad Treliving appears to be the frontrunner at the moment.
“I believe Brad Treliving has now been interviewed by the Maple Leafs,” Friedman said. “And I think there’s more. I think there’s a few names we haven’t figured out here yet, but I would guess that among the other interviewers are going to be potentially (Marc) Bergevin, (Jason) Botterill, and (Peter) Chiarelli. But I think there’s more. I don’t think those are the only ones.”
The three other potential candidates mentioned by Friedman all bring to the table experience as former NHL GMs, something that would seem to appeal to Maple Leafs president Shanahan, who said last week that “having an experienced general manager would be an attractive quality.”
Bergevin, currently a senior advisor to the GM of the Los Angeles Kings, served as GM for the Montreal Canadiens from 2012-21. Botterill served as GM for the Buffalo Sabres from 2017-20, while Chiarelli served as GM for the Boston Bruins from 2006-15, and for the Edmonton Oilers from 2015-19.
Speaking with Marek on The Jeff Marek Show early Friday, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox similarly reported that Treliving has spoken with Shanahan, and appears the frontrunner at this time. Fox also shed light on how Toronto’s GM search could affect the future of Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews, who will soon be eligible to sign an extension as he enters the final years of the five-year contract he signed back in 2019.
“I feel comfortable saying that Auston Matthews won’t re-sign on July 1, and that the new GM, whether it’s Treliving or someone else, their top priority should absolutely be the Matthews file, and making him feel comfortable, and figuring out what his number is going to be so that they can plan the rest of the team around that,” Fox said Friday.
”But in saying that I’m certain that Matthews won’t sign on July 1, I would also say that he very much wants to be a Maple Leaf moving forward. And I don’t think the fact that he was close with Kyle Dubas means that he won’t develop a strong relationship with (Dubas’s) successor, and that they won’t be able to work something out and that he won’t be happy with the plan.
“But that right now, there’s so many things we don’t know about the Maple Leafs — we’re not certain who the coach is going to be, we’re not certain who the GM’s going to be, we’re not certain what the vision is going to be, or how many of the current players are coming back.
“Until Matthews feels comfortable with the plan, he probably won’t be putting pen to paper.”