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KOSHAN: Answering questions on his off-season to-do list now the process for Dubas

From left: High-priced forwards Mitch Marner (16), John Tavares (91), and Auston Matthews found it hard to score on the Columbus Blue Jackets, just one of the reasons Toronto failed to advance past the play-in series.
From left: High-priced forwards Mitch Marner (16), John Tavares (91), and Auston Matthews found it hard to score on the Columbus Blue Jackets, just one of the reasons Toronto failed to advance past the play-in series.

Kyle Dubas looked like he wanted to be anywhere else during the dinner hour on Monday.

Specifically, back in the bubble at the Royal York.

Certainly not on your television screen as a part of an unhappy group of National Hockey League general managers, remotely gathered for some sort of bizarro-world version of the Hollywood Squares .

Eight (un)lucky men, waiting to see whether their team’s ball would emerge from the machine giving them the right to select Alexis Lafreniere first overall.

Dubas would have had some celebrating to do had the Maple Leafs’ logo popped up — though the club isn’t lacking in talented forwards, had Toronto won the No. 1 pick, as the saying goes, it would have been a nice problem to have and given the Leafs GM much to ponder trade-wise.

Instead, only New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton could smile afterward once his club saw that its 12.5% chance of winning had beaten the odds.

Dubas logged off and went back to considering where it went wrong for the Leafs in the five-game elimination in the qualifying round at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Leafs were scheduled to make Dubas, president Brendan Shanahan, coach Sheldon Keefe and select players available for media interviews on Wednesday. When last we spoke to Dubas, on July 27, a day after the Leafs entered the bubble, the GM figured the Leafs “had a lot to prove” in what was about to serve as the post-season in the NHL’s pandemic landscape.

The Leafs proved something — top to bottom, they’re not a contending hockey team.

All the money being deposited in the bank by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander wasn’t enough to solve the problem of Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo. But that’s just part of it.

Two years have passed since Dubas was photographed, while posing with the Calder Cup won by the Toronto Marlies that June, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “The Process vs Everybody” on the front of it.

In broad terms, the process with the Leafs isn’t working.

Finesse and talent haven’t prevailed for Dubas’ Leafs teams in the playoffs in the past couple of years. We’re not suggesting that Dubas tear up the roster and go find a bunch of hard-nosed, lunch-bucket types. We liked the addition of Kyle Clifford, who may or may not be back as he is headed for unrestricted free agency. Clifford’s duties, however, were restricted to fourth line only, and the Leafs could use a similar attitude to his on their top three lines.

What must have come as a surprise to Dubas and Keefe against Columbus was the lack of scoring depth. Matthews, Tavares and  Nylander each scored two goals in the series. Two other forwards — Zach Hyman and Nick Robertson, with his first in the NHL — and two defencemen, Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci, supplied single goals. Outside of Robertson, who was benched in favour of a rusty Andreas Johnsson in Game 5, no one in the bottom six scored. Neither, for that matter, did Marner.

Then there’s goaltender Frederik Andersen. If you’re going to accept defensive deficiencies, as the Leafs appear willing to do as they try to figure out why it is that they just can’t win, you better ensure that your goalie is there to clean up whatever spills might occur.

Andersen has done that at times during the regular season (though not in 2019-20, when he registered a career-low .909 save percentage), but that hasn’t happened in the post-season. Soft goals are a bane for Andersen; the latest example was Liam Foudy’s goal for the Jackets on Sunday, one that gave the hungrier Columbus side a 2-0 lead in the third period and essentially stuck a fork in the Leafs’ unattainable Cup hopes.

The Andersen question is one that Dubas has to answer head-on in the coming months. Andersen will be 31 by the time the 2020-21 regular season starts and has one year remaining on his contract. Do the Leafs really want to tie into Andersen for the long term? Can they afford to? Do people really think the Leafs will turn into Stanley Cup contenders if Dubas acquires Matt Murray?

Upgrades on the blue line, everyone knows, are required. At the same time, we’re starting to wonder how many “experiences” the Leafs need to show some actual maturation.

Dubas has a group of forwards at the top end that has talent to spare, yet so many other questions with the team remain.

There isn’t just one area Dubas can point to and say, “OK, fix that and we’ll be fine.”

No wonder he looked miserable on TV the other night.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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