TORONTO — Brendan Shanahan was early in his tenure as president of the Toronto Maple Leafs when he reached out to Kyle Dubas to see if he wanted to meet and talk about hockey.
Shanahan expected the session to last an hour or two. The meeting ended up lasting nine hours, with Dubas — considered one of the best young minds in the game — leaving a very good impression.
“I remember just walking away from that and saying that this is certainly somebody that I think (will make us) a better organization if he joins us,” Shanahan recalled.
Dubas eventually came on board in July 2014 as an assistant general manager, one of Shanahan’s first hires. On Friday, Shanahan promoted Dubas by naming him the 17th general manager in club history.
Dubas, 32, succeeds the 75-year-old Lou Lamoriello in the position. Lamoriello was reassigned to the senior adviser position last month after a three-year run as GM.
“The standard of what it is to be a Maple Leaf has transformed thanks to Lou,” Dubas said at a news conference at Air Canada Centre. “Now we enter into another part of our journey, which is to reach our ultimate goal of contending perennially to be fighting at this time for the Stanley Cup instead of sitting here.”
Dubas is an advocate of analytics and relatively new to the National Hockey League. Lamoriello, meanwhile, is a grizzled veteran of the league who is no stranger to building championship franchises.
Before joining the Leafs, Dubas served as GM of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League.
His responsibilities in Toronto included player personnel, managing the club’s player development department and farm system, managing the organization’s research and development department, and overseeing the organization’s top prospects as GM of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.
Dubas approached his initial meeting with Shanahan as an opportunity to learn something that he could hopefully apply with the Greyhounds.
“We just kind of talked and I had no idea when I left where it was headed,” Dubas said. “I was just myself.”
He ended up wowing his future boss, who was impressed with Dubas’ respect for both old-school hockey and new-school analytics.
“I did think at the time he had the promise to be a general manager,” Shanahan said. “Certainly as I got to see him evolve and grow here with the Maple Leafs, he was absolutely an option that I didn’t want to let go of.”
The Marlies led the AHL regular season standings this season for the second time in three years. The Leafs note that in Dubas’ four seasons as GM, the Marlies have a record of 190-90-20-4 and have developed eight members of the current Leafs roster: Connor Brown, Connor Carrick, Travis Dermott, Zach Hyman, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, Josh Leivo and William Nylander.
Dubas didn’t provide specifics on how he might put his stamp on a team that’s coming off a second straight first-round playoff exit. However, a solid foundation is in place with head coach Mike Babcock, goaltender Frederik Andersen, and young players like Nylander, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and others.
The 49-26-7 Maple Leafs finished with 105 points this season before falling in seven games to the Boston Bruins.
“I still think we’re growing,” Shanahan said. “But that’s not to suggest that we don’t feel that we’re ready to compete.”
Another assistant GM, 55-year-old Mark Hunter, was also in the running for the GM job. Shanahan said he examined prospects outside the organization but knew there were two “incredibly qualified” internal candidates.
He added he felt most comfortable staying in-house and eventually decided to go with Dubas.
“Everything that I knew and had learned told me that this was the right time,” Shanahan said of the front-office changes.
At the time of his hiring by Sault Ste. Marie, Dubas was the second youngest GM in OHL history at age 25. In 2015, Forbes magazine named him as one of the sports industry’s brightest young stars in its annual Top 30 Under 30 in Sports list.
John Chayka became the youngest general manager in NHL history in May 2016 when, at 26, he was promoted to GM by the Arizona Coyotes.
The Leafs have gone young in the front office before. Gord Stellick became the league’s then-youngest general manager at 30 when he was named to the position in April 1988. Stellick started with the team when he was 17.