Kyle Dubas was a scout with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds when they let a certain 6-foot-3, 194-pound forward from St. Catharines, Ontario, slip to the Plymouth Whalers in the 15th round (No. 289) of the 2005 Ontario Hockey League draft.The forward?
John Chayka.
“You weren’t high on my list, John, unfortunately,” Dubas said with a laugh. “It’s the one that got away. But he did all right for himself, so it’s all good.”
Nowadays Chayka, 30, and Dubas, 34, are the youngest general managers in the NHL, Chayka with the Arizona Coyotes, Dubas the Toronto Maple Leafs.
They were on a video call Friday arranged by the NHL with two other young GMs: Julien BriseBois, 43, of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Bill Guerin, 49, of the Minnesota Wild.
With the NHL season paused since March 12 because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus, this was a chance to learn more about how they became GMs, what they’ve learned in their jobs and how they approach them.
Each took his own path.
Video: BriseBois, Chayka, Dubas, Guerin discuss NHL pause
Chayka sustained a back injury as a junior hockey player, co-founded the analytics company Stathletes at 19 and joined the Coyotes as an assistant GM in 2015. When the Coyotes named him GM on May 5, 2016, he was 26, the youngest general manager in major league sports history.
Dubas worked for Sault Ste. Marie before going to Brock University in St. Catharines. When Sault Ste. Marie’s scout in that area quit, Dubas was offered the job. He worked in the agent business, achieved his dream of becoming GM of the Greyhounds, joined the Maple Leafs organization in 2014 and was named GM on May 11, 2018.
BriseBois played hockey growing up, but his passion was baseball. He went to law school to become a tax lawyer. But the firm he joined wanted to start a sports department and was looking for someone bilingual. That led to the NHL. After nine seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and eight with Tampa Bay, he became GM of the Lightning on Sept. 11, 2018.
Guerin wanted to stay in the game after an 18-season NHL career that featured two Stanley Cup championships, one with the New Jersey Devils in 1995, the other with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. He became a player development coach with the Penguins in 2011, then an assistant GM with them. The Wild hired him as GM on Aug. 21.
“When you’re a player you have no idea the amount of work that goes into putting the whole season together and getting a team ready and just putting on a game,” said Guerin, one of 19 active NHL general managers who played in the League. “You’re just so worried about yourself and your game-in, game-out performances that you don’t have time to worry about anything else.”
Video: Bill Guerin named Wild general manager
The first time someone attends an NHL general managers meeting can be an intimidating experience.
Dubas wasn’t even a GM yet the first time he went to one, in June 2015 in Las Vegas, after the Maple Leafs fired Dave Nonis but before they hired Lou Lamoriello.
“I was scared [expletive] when I walked into the room in Vegas,” Dubas said with a laugh. “That was one of the most nervous times I’ve ever had in my life. [Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan] told me before I went, ‘Just don’t say anything to anybody.'”
Dubas did speak to Ron Francis, then the GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, now GM of the Seattle expansion team that will begin play in 2021-22, because he had known Francis a long time. Otherwise Dubas sat in his chair, took notes and headed to Florida for the 2015 NHL Draft.
“I wasn’t saying a word,” Guerin said. “The first couple meetings, nothing, nothing at all.”
“We’re still waiting on your first word,” BriseBois teased.
“Nobody has ever said that about me,” Guerin said.
Guerin likes to jab and joke, and because GMs sit in alphabetical order by city, he ends up next to another former player who likes to jab and joke, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin.
“It’s in my head, but I’m doing a pretty good job of not letting it out of my mouth,” Guerin said. “I’m controlling that part.”
It’s good to listen and learn about serious subjects from GMs with experience.
“Before you get a GM job and you’re reading about certain things, like little rule changes here and there, (you think) ‘Yeah, you know, just change the rule, no big deal,'” Guerin said. “No, it is a big deal, and the smallest little rule change can just have a huge impact on the game of hockey because we’re in the NHL, we’re the best league in the world, and if we make a rule change it’s going to impact every league below us. And to me, that was a real eye-opener. The smallest little things mean a lot.”
But it’s also healthy to have new GMs with varied backgrounds and ideas.
A 15th-round pick in junior who never made the NHL as a player can become a difference-maker in the NHL in another way.
“I think that’s the one thing that we can certainly provide,” Chayka said, “is the potential for a different perspective.”