The Toronto Maple Leafs season isn't over yet, but that hasn't stopped Islander fan speculation from stirring as to what a second-round playoff exit to the Florida Panthers would mean for General Manager Kyle Dubas. Even after winning their first playoff series since 2014 by knocking out the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games, the perception will be that Toronto's top-heavy roster underachieved after avoiding the Boston Bruins and meeting the 93-point Panthers in the Conference Semifinals.
The Maple Leafs got over a huge hump by advancing past the first round for the first time in 19 years, but freeing themselves of that burden hasn't propelled them forward against Florida. Without a historical comeback from down three games to none, significant changes for the franchise may come, despite accomplishing their most postseason success in nearly two decades.
The contract for the 37-year-old Dubas expires in June, and Toronto may be inclined to change direction despite consistent regular-season success. Dubas, for the most part, has made moves that have been praised at the time but haven't translated to winning in the playoffs - including transactions involving the "core four," which includes signing John Tavares and extending the contracts of William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews.
Detractors will say that the contracts are too expensive and that Dubas' gamble to retain top talent at all costs has prevented the roster from being more balanced elsewhere. However, there would certainly be as much, if not more, criticism if he was unable to retain homegrown players.
He also has made trade deadline deals in recent seasons, including acquiring D Mark Giordano from the Seattle Kraken last year and then pulling off a creative three-way deal for Ryan O'Reilly from the St. Louis Blues in a clear "all-in" move that also included the Minnesota Wild for cap purposes. O'Reilly was instrumental in the team's first-round series win over the Lightning.
So what's this have to do with the Islanders?
Probably nothing ...right?
The silence from the front office and ownership since the end of the season has been strange, even by Islanders standards, especially with the belief being that President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Lou Lamoriello was in the final year of his contract. As long as Lamoriello's job status is uncertain, the same will be said of Lane Lambert, who led the Islanders back to the postseason during an up-and-down first year as an NHL head coach.
Some believe that a potential off-ramp for Lamoriello and the Islanders would be for him to relinquish GM duties but stay on as President of Hockey Operations. There lies the intrigue as it relates to Dubas and the Islanders. Dubas was the Maple Leafs' co-assistant GM under Lamoriello before Brendan Shanahan wanted to stick to his original plan and move Lamoriello to an advisory role after the 2017-18 season. Dubas was selected over fellow co-assistant GM Mark Hunter for the job, and Lamoriello ended up on Long Island, winning the Jim Gregory Award for the NHL's top General Manager in consecutive seasons (2020, 2021).
When Dubas was hired, Lamoriello called their professional and personal relationship "exceptional" and was open to keeping the communication lines to help the then 32-year-old protegee in any way he could. "I've spoken to him multiple times in the past week," Lamoriello said after Dubas was hired. "And I hope that he would feel comfortable if there's a question that needed to be answered or there's something I can help him with, he'll make that private call. No one will ever know he made it, and no one will ever know from me he made it."
Could they continue their mentor and mentee relationship on the Island? Whether the intention is to have Lamoriello retained or not, the organization will need a long-term option as a successor, and if someone hasn't already been identified from within, you can understand why Dubas' name would generate attention. If he's not extended by the Maple Leafs, there will likely be other suitors for the highly-regarded, data-driven, new-school GM, including the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For any of this very premature speculation to come about, it would require Lamoriello to remain in control as either the GM or the individual responsible for hiring a new GM. Perhaps his and ownership's plan is for Lamoriello to continue both roles next season, but it makes sense why some would wonder if those plans could be altered if Dubas were available.