Maple Leafs hiring Kyle Dubas an assault on old boys network

28-year-old Kyle Dubas. (Sault Star)

For the most part, the hiring of Kyle Dubas by the Toronto Maple Leafs was greeted with pom-poms and champagne corks, and it’s easy to understand why.

The advanced stats advocates lauded it as a major advancement, as one of their own became a Leafs' lottery-pick-finish away from ascending to Dave Nonis’ seat. The media welcomed a new voice to the NHL conversation. Maple Leafs fans embraced it, as they do any move with the fait whiff of ingenuity and positivity.

There were a few voices of dissent, the loudest being Gare Joyce of Sportsnet, who offered a critical evaluation of Dubas’s time as GM of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Alas, it was buried under a dozen paragraphs of slightly bitter, ageist denouncement of Dubas as the flavor of the moment, a slick interview, a “whiz kid” who was eight years old when Joyce began banging out hockey tales at the Globe & Mail.

“Normally the excitement with the announcement of a new assistant GM is a brief news item. If it’s a former player of note, then it’s worth a story, something along the lines of a gauzy retelling of his playing days and lessons learned,” he wrote. “An assistant GM as big story? This might be a first.”

(Somewhere, Dave Nonis weeps.)

If it is a first, it’s due to exactly what Joyce described here: Dubas isn’t some former NHL jock getting a career boost from a former teammate. He’s not a franchise fan favorite added for public relations as much as player relations. He’s an untraditional pick, both in age and in biography, and that itself makes it newsworthy, especially so in the Centre of the Hockey Universe.

Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe nailed it in a thoughtful piece on Sunday, on Dubas and the lack of “good old boys” networking that led to his hiring:

It can be a dangerous example of groupthink. Players are rarely encouraged to freelance and think creatively. Coaches love structure and expect their charges to fall in line. Players know two things: when their next shift will be and when the bus leaves the rink. They know not to miss either one.

When they retire and shift to scouting or management, their preferences may lean toward the players who succeeded in their playing days: dump-and-chasers, defensive defensemen, enforcers, conservative bottom-six penalty killers.

This is why teams repeat mistakes at the draft table, in trades, and on the free market. There are too many people who think about hockey the same way and don’t challenge each other to see the game differently.

There are no women. There aren’t many people of color. There are few who’ve worked in different sports, to say nothing of other industries. There are even fewer who haven’t played in the NHL. On-ice experience is just about a requirement for clubhouse entry. This is nonsense.

Just as it’s easy to understand the appeal of Dubas as a novelty, it’s easy to see how some of the old guard wouldn’t salute it. It happens in every profession: Someone young, bright and innovative didn’t “pay their dues” or doesn’t fit the gender/ethnic/class template established by the gatekeepers in the industry. And so they’re overlooked for cronyism and homogeny.

It’s the lack of both that made this move by Brendan Shanahan and the Leafs laudable.