'Kyle meant a lot to us' Marner says before Saturday reunion with former Maple Leafs GM Dubas

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Kyle Dubas wasn’t that much older than many of the Maple Leafs who came and went in his nine-year association with the club.

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Dubas tinkered with teams that always made the playoffs and finally won a round last season, before his awkward firing by Brendan Shanahan. And after the drab days of Lou Lamoriello, who preferred conservative dress and no facial hair, young Dubas slackened the leash, encouraged his players to pursue interests outside of work hours and defended them if he thought they were being unfairly assailed in public.

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On Saturday, as part of Toronto’s two-day road trip, many of those same maturing youngsters Dubas fostered will have the strange sensation of him watching them once more, now as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“Kyle meant a lot to us, trusted a lot of us,” said winger Mitch Marner, drafted a year after Dubas was hired as an assistant. “If I see him I’ll say ‘hi and best of luck there’, like I did in the summer.

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“It will be a real cool game, but it’s not our focus right now (ahead of ‘Blackhawk Friday’ in Chicago).”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly predated Dubas by a couple of years and became an alternate captain under his watch.

“I definitely admired him, liked the way he works, thought he did a great job in Toronto,” Rielly said.

Rielly has survived some turbulent times under various Toronto executives. He was drafted when Brian Burke was still in charge, then navigated Dave Nonis, the Shanahan-Dubas-Mark Hunter triumvirate, Lamoriello, Dubas’ five years as a solo and now Brad Treliving.

“You just have to stay the course (as a player), you don’t have to change anything,” Rielly said. “Once you cater to what you think the GM might be looking for, you get off track. You have to stay true to who you are, whether that’s character or style of play. You can’t change that depending on who your boss is.”

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Rielly hasn’t kept in touch with Dubas since the firing.

“It’s a business thing. You move on. Who knows, maybe there’s a time where you cross paths. He’s got a lot going on and our group is worried about what we’re doing.”

TIM BITS

With defenceman John Klingberg placed on Long Term Injured Reserve on Thursday, the last hurdle to Conor Timmins’s return was removed.

Partnered with William Lagesson at practice of late and manning the second power play unit, he was the NHL’s top pre-season scorer when a knee injury flared up.

“He’s preparing to play,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “In terms of what we can rely on, (Timmins helps with) puck moving, getting it to the net. Similar to what Klingberg’s strengths are, he can help us on the power play.”

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Before the Klingberg announcement, Keefe said Timmins opens up options for the coaching staff.

“Lagesson and (Simon) Benoit have done a really good job in defensive roles and stabilizing the penalty kill. And the other part is getting a right shot in there (Klingberg, Timmins and the injured Timothy Liljegren limited the Leafs to an all left-handed shooting defence).”

Timmins came back from a long injury earlier in his NHL career and doesn’t want to dwell on the most recent lost opportunity out of camp.

“I’ve put in a lot of work and that injury was a little bit of a roadblock, but I want to put that behind me.

“It’s nice to be in that (power play) spot, but I have other things on my mind, other parts of my game I want to focus on. Maybe I won’t look at the offensive side so much, just keep things simple, break out well, defend well, do things that will help our team win.”

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BLACKHAWKS DOWN

After a promising start, Chicago has dropped five straight and lost first line left winger Taylor Hall to knee surgery. A team announcement Thursday said Hall is expected to miss the rest of the season.

That came after Corey Perry was scratched on Wednesday against Columbus, an “organizational” decision the team said, with a more convolution Thursday when coach Luke Richardson continued to insist it was an internal matter.

Meanwhile, this year’s No. 1 overall pick, Connor Bedard, has nine points his past five games and 16 overall. He was blanked in Chicago’s 4-1 win at Scotiabank Arena five weeks ago.

“He’s obviously a special player,” said fellow No. 1 Auston Matthews. “Sometimes it takes time, though he’s found himself on a bit of a heater right now.

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“When you see the puck go in, it gives you a lot of confidence, but it’s a constant back and forth with the league and how other teams adjust to you.”

LOOSE LEAFS

Keefe said Ilya Samsonov will lead off the goaltending assignments against Chicago, with Joseph Woll playing in Pittsburgh … Woll was the loser in last month’s series opener against Chicago, despite making 27 saves … Winger Alex Steeves, called up Thursday after Keefe had spoken to reporters, was tied for third in AHL scoring as of Thursday with 18 points (11 goals, seven assists). He and the idled Ryan Reaves could split the back-to-back on the fourth line this weekend … Matthews needs a point Friday to pass Bob Pulford for ninth in franchise scoring, each has 563, with Pulford having coached in Chicago.

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