You’d probably be a little hesitant, too, if you were a 29-year-old beginner swimming in a pool of seasoned business sharks.
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas returned to this worrisome June 2015 when he suddenly and temporarily handed over the keys to his store.
It was a transitional off season at Leafland. President Brendan Shanahan had recently dismissed his legacy general manager, Dave Nonis, but had not yet hired Lou Lamoriello, so he hit the labels “GM acting” on assistants Dubas, his young protégé, and Mark Hunter.
“Don’t tell anyone,” Shanahan advised Dubas before the recruit entered his first meeting with the other executives.
“I was scared – less when I entered Vegas. It was one of the most nervous times I have ever known in my life, “said Dubas, smiling, at an enlightening conference on the NHL on Friday.
“I have known Ronnie Francis all my life, so he was like the only person I thought I could talk to. I just walked in, sat in my chair and took notes at the meeting and got up and left. But I was nervous like anything.
“I really didn’t feel like I belonged there. I had only been in the league for a year, and we were still a month away from hiring Lou. So I just went over there, took my notes, and got on the plane. “
Retired NHL star Bill Guerin, 49, is still a freshman at the helm of the Minnesota Wild. Despite his pedigree in the game and his experience in Pittsburgh, learning from Jim Rutherford, Guerin agrees with Dubas.
These meetings can be very intimidating for newcomers, who tend to rely on experienced voices like Doug Wilson, Doug Armstrong, Ken Holland and David Poile.
“I didn’t say a word. I know my first two meetings – nothing, nothing at all, “said Guerin. “You will learn more with your ears, not with your mouth.
“Some of the guys who have been around for a long time, they obviously know what they’re doing and they sort of control the agenda.”
Guerin, once famous for his chirping on ice, said he was sitting next to Marc Bergevin, from Montreal, “who is one of the funniest people you can meet, and he always makes jokes or launches a jab to someone. “
Liners pop up in Guerin’s head – “But I do a very good job by not letting it come out of my mouth,” he said.
Dubas also rekindled the emotions surrounding his first NHL trade, which was consumed the same month.
Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon held a University of Michigan wing hope named Zach Hyman, a Dubas from Toronto. In return, Tallon wanted a young control center in the Leafs system, Greg McKegg.
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“At first I thought it was sort of a setup for getting one, but by getting to know Dale, he was just trying to be useful. And it ended up working for them and for us, ”said Dubas, modestly avoiding naming the players involved.
” [Tallon] was great to manage. I don’t think you could ask someone simpler and more straightforward to talk about his position on this. It was a little refreshing and actually very useful for me because he recognized that it was my first job. “
We mark Dubas’ first trade as a victory for the Maple Leafs. Hyman has established himself as one of Toronto’s top six players, while Florida relinquished McKegg in 2017.
More stressful, explained Dubas, have been recent deals in which he moved several assets to a known commodity. Like Jake Muzzin’s 2019 deal with Los Angeles, which came at the cost of two prospects (Carl Grundstrom, rights to Sean Durzi) plus the Leafs’ first round pick.
“I was just wondering,” Is this the right thing? “And you end up in what you give up versus what you get back,” said Dubas.
“It’s still nerve-wracking, I think, but you’re trying to educate [yourself]and you’re mostly dealing with a large group of people. So, it’s all right. “