0

Tyson Barrie is preparing to hit free agency

It may seem painfully clear already by looking at the Leafs salary cap situation, but also by looking at the season that Barrie has had in Toronto this year, he’s not going to stick around. The Leafs defenseman did an interview with Chris Johnston of Sportsnet hammering home that point repeatedly…

“It’s a weird time to be heading into free agency, that’s for sure,” Barrie said Wednesday. “It’s an odd time, but at this point, I think all I’ve got to do right now is focus on getting ready to play, if we are going to play, and to take a run with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs.”

“I think it has to be a spot where they obviously are in need of someone like myself and a good team heading in the right direction and a good organization,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of organizations that fit those boxes, so it’ll be a process where you sit down and just go through everything and what’s important to me.”

I’d certainly recommend checking out the entire piece over at Sportsnet, but the long and short of it is, that Barrie is as good as gone.

Is this good?

Well, the Leafs already have a top powerplay defenseman in Morgan Rielly, and with Rielly, Lehtonen, Sandin, and Liljegren as options for the power play next season, as well as Dermott and Muzzin, moving on from Barrie seems acceptable. That really leaves the right side looking bare for next season but beyond that hand that Barrie uses there is a lot of redundancy in his game with the Leafs other offensive defensemen.

Barrie doesn’t possess a booming point shot like the Leafs lost in Jake Gardiner, and isn’t as fast as Rielly or really as fast as any of the other top pairing regulars in Toronto. There really isn’t a defensive zone skillset that would be missed, and Justin Holl seemed to replace him as the right side defenseman the Leafs wanted on the ice in key situations.

That’s not to say that Barrie is a bad defenseman. He’s in fact very good, but on the ice he’s always been a square peg trying to fit in a round hole, and while things improved under Keefe, the barrage of injuries to the Leafs blueline painfully illustrated what Barrie isn’t when it became necessary for him to pick up the slack.

Lastly there’s the salary that needs to be considered as well, and Barrie has only been costing the Leafs $2.75M this season, with the Avs picking up the tab for the other half of his salary. Barrie as a $5.5M defenseman, meant he was the highest paid blueliner on the Leafs this year, even if we didn’t stop to think about that too often. At 28 and plenty of years left, and the Leafs being far from the only team interested in right shooting defensemen there’s a good chance that Barrie will be getting a raise. At the very least the Tyler Myers $6M AAV is going to be a template for what his ask will be, and if the Leafs were to offer that they’d have $1M of cap space left to address six roster spots. That seems difficult.

What does it mean if the Leafs return this year?

Well, Barrie would be far from the first player to go into the playoffs knowing that he won’t be back next year. For the most part it seems like Barrie is a well liked and respected teammate that genuinely wants to win with this group. Additionally, most players know they have a finite number of chances to win a Stanley Cup and I can’t imagine that anyone is slacking on this and not giving it their all.

There’s also the fact that Barrie is now auditioning for his next team and nothing would generate interest after a questionable season to date like a strong playoff outing. We might end up seeing the best Tyson Barrie we’ve seen so far, assuming that this narrative drives results more than the fact that the Leafs have never been able to use him properly and expecting that to change now is a pipe dream.

I can’t help but think that Barrie’s legacy in Toronto will mirror Larry Murphy’s. A strong offensive defenseman who was misused and quickly saw his career rebound on his departure. Like Murphy, in retrospect we’ll look back at his numbers and say we were too hard on him. And like Larry Murphy when we look back at old footage of him in his own end we’ll remember why we were so hard on him.