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GM Kyle Dubas, coach Sheldon Keefe set new course for Toronto Marlies — and it paid off

GM Kyle Dubas, coach Sheldon Keefe set new course for Toronto Marlies — and it paid off
Sports
It was once considered a lock that Dubas, the Leafs assistant GM hired before his 30th birthday by club president Brendan Shanahan in 2014, would eventually take over for Lou Lamoriello. But the 74-year-old appears invigorated by team success in his two years here. Mark Hunters additional title of assistant GM on top of player personnel director last year put the succession question in a gray area and Dubas name has been at least mentioned as a possible candidate in recent GM openings around the NHL.

Keefe, in two years behind the Marlies bench, has been getting good reviews as well, but said recently any talk of moving or elevation with another NHL team remained a subject for the off-season. He faces a long wait in Toronto with Mike Babcocks eight-year deal barely started.

This is the second organization Keefe and Dubas have worked together in after the OHL Soo Greyhounds, but Lamoriello put the kibosh on the whole subject Thursday when asked if he expected other teams to approach him to recruit either man or if such contact has already been made.

I put that subject in the same category as trades, Lamoriello said firmly. Its not something I comment on.

Lou Lamoriello knows his easy, early-season decisions with the Maple Leafs made life harder on his general manager and coach with the Marlies.

So, Torontos hockey supremo was not going to get hypercritical of how the farm teams fortunes vacillated so much in the playoffs, a trip that seemed so unlikely in mid-season and ended with a blown lead and Game 7 heartbreak on Wednesday in Syracuse.

You never want to lose, but here you can dwell on the positives, Lamoriello said in the wake of the 6-3 setback that ended an eventful season. You have to give tremendous credit to those two (GM Kyle Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe).

Wed made trades (in 2015-16) in which we had to take players back, he said, notably Milan Michalek, Brooks Laich, Colin Greening, some of whom we thought would play in the NHL. But what transpired were young players (Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, William Nylander, Zach Hyman) were better than expected.

That left Dubas and Keefe trying to mollify disgruntled, demoted NHLers some who were long-term Marlies and also trying to get back in The Show. They were all vying for the five spots per game night allocated to veterans per American Hockey League rules. In December and January, the Marlies were in last place, not a healthy environment for their kids such as defencemen Travis Dermott, Andrew Nielsen, Rinat Valiev and forward Kasperi Kapanen.

In what one player described as a come-to-Jesus moment in the midst of the slump, Dubas and Keefe set a new course. Michalek and Laich began fading from view and fortunes began changing. A group of new players including Seth Griffth, Cal OReilly and defenceman Steve Oleksy arrived who had AHL experience, but harmonized more with the organizations development philosophy.

From (January on), our guys did a tremendous job, keeping morale up, helping players such as Kapanen and Dermott, Lamoriello said. We had guys jump in and do extremely well. Our last series just came down to two very good teams.

The Marlies, who finished a point behind Syracuse for the division lead, needed triple overtime to put away the Albany Devils in Round 1, then had to scratch and claw to recover from bad starts at home against the Crunch and lost five playoff road games, including all four in Syracuse, which was the favourite when reinforcements came from Tampa Bay.

Unlike last year, when players such as Nylander and Brown showed they were ready to challenge at the Maple Leafs camp, perhaps only Dermott has a good chance this autumn. But like Nielsen, he has been in the AHL only one full year.

There were also surprise players such as goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo, who started the season with Orlando of the ECHL and eventually moved past Antoine Bibeau and the injured Garret Sparks.

This team did nothing easy this year as a group, captain Andrew Campbell said. We really battled back in the last half. We gave Syracuse everything it could handle in seven games and Im awfully proud of the guys.

Campbell sees great things ahead for Dermott and Nielsen.

Its obviously a different adjustment from the junior game and its going to be a big summer (of training) for them, he said. Theyll take big steps next year.

Speaking of which, some veterans will likely be moved and unless theres huge turnover in Leafs camp, expect the blueline kids to be joined on next years Marlies by names such as Carl Grundstrom, returning forward Andreas Johnsson, Kaskisuo and perhaps new entry-level defencemen Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman, both in their early 20s. The Marlies also had Kapanen, Dmytro Timashov and Jesper Lindgren on their roster. Do you notice a Swedish/Finnish theme?

Its not by design, Lamoriello laughed. You want to get the best players you possibly can. It doesnt matter where theyre from.

Look at Kaskisuo (an undrafted free-agent signing in 2016), who came from the NCAA (University of Minnesota-Duluth). Years ago, you might not have seen that. Now the Europeans are coming to the NCAA, sometimes by way of the (junior amateur) United States Hockey League. Its a world game and you saw that with the World Team in the last World Cup.

Lamoriello also passed along word that centre Frederik Gauthiers knee surgery was 100 percent successful after a Game 2 injury in the Syracuse series. He and soon-to-be-free agent defenceman Roman Polak (leg surgery) face some lengthy recovery time. Centre Sergey Kalinin suffered an undetermined knee injury after a shot block on Wednesday in Syracuse.

Topics: NHL , Sports , Toronto , Kyle Dubas , Sheldon Keefe , Toronto Maple Leafs , Toronto Marlies

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