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Mirtle: Dubas stresses Leafs need to focus on ‘process,’ not points

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) makes a save on Detroit Red Wings right wing Luke Glendening (41) in the first period at Joe Louis Arena. The Leafs were outshot 42-19, but came out with a shootout win.

Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports

He is but one voice in the front office, but Kyle Dubas has quickly become an influential one for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Far from simply working with the team's new analytics department, the Leafs' 28-year-old assistant general manager has been handling a little of everything in his first season: scouting, working with the farm team and building up the player development personnel into one of the largest groups in the NHL.

But his most important contribution might be simply adding some perspective.

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For years, the Leafs have had a complacency issue when they've risen in the standings early, as they have each of the past four seasons.

For whatever reason, the notion that they were okay as long as they were in a playoff spot has been prevalent among executives, staff and players, even if they were frittering away games again and again.

"We're still in eighth place," former goalie coach François Allaire said back in February, 2012, prior to the Leafs going 6-13-3 to end the year.

"Nobody is looking at how high we are in the standings," former executive Dave Poulin said midway through last season, before the wheels fell off again.

Contrast that with what Dubas had to say on Thursday, when on the heels of back-to-back wins he explained to reporters that no one in the organization was satisfied despite the Leafs holding one of the better records (16-9-3) in the Eastern Conference.

Their win over the Detroit Red Wings a night earlier – their seventh victory in nine games – had raised more red flags, as Toronto was badly outshot and outplayed and won thanks only to their netminder and a shootout.

Dubas doesn't believe that's a long-term recipe for success. And the word he used again and again on Thursday was "process," stressing that the how behind Toronto's wins was more important than how many.

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"I don't think you have to be someone that's invested in analytics to know that being outshot 42-19 and coming out of the game with a shootout win in large part thanks to James Reimer [isn't ideal]," Dubas said.

"We're not a group, of management and the coaching staff, that wants to hang on and win games. We want to find the most efficient way to do so and to be able to close out games a little bit better."

There are lot of ways to break down the Leafs season to this point, but this simple exercise might be the most instructive of how unsettled their position is.

After beating Detroit, whom Toronto will face again on Saturday, the Leafs have 35 points after 28 games.

Over a full season, that's a 102.5-point pace, which would qualify for the playoffs by a large margin. But it's also only slightly better than the league average, which is about 31.5 points per 28 games.

In a long season, that 3.5-point margin can slip away pretty easily.

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The trouble, too, is that Wednesday wasn't a one-off situation. It may have been the Leafs' weakest game territorially this year, but this is a team that, while improved from a year ago, still ranks poorly in all of the possession metrics available.

According to fenwick-stats.com, Toronto is the fourth-worst possession team in the league, a problem that has plagued the organization for three seasons now under coach Randy Carlyle.

It's a weak point that Dubas has spent considerable time on in the first 2 1/2 months of the season – and one he says that everyone is committed to fixing.

"We work on that every day," he said. "The coaching staff is very inquisitive about it, which is good and a lot of fun – to have that discussion. We certainly have our ideas. I don't think sharing them [with the public] is overly helpful.

"It's a process … Everyone who's been here is aware of the issues that have been there. Now we're just trying to all work together to correct them and move ahead. That's been the most enlightening part of this for me and the part that makes me the most excited.

"There's nobody content that we've gone 7-1-1 in this stretch," Dubas added. "There's no one really content with it."

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