Last summer was one of the most active off-seasons in a while for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Kyle Dubas.
The first major move on July 1st was sending Connor Brown, Nikita Zaitsev and Michael Carcone to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk and a 2020 third-round pick. Some may have thought that would be the only big move that Dubas would make.
But just under 12 hours later, he would trade Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a 2020 third-round pick to the Colorado Avalanche for Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot and a 2020 sixth-round pick.
It was a move that fans thought would shift the organization forward, but to some, it has now set the Maple Leafs a few steps back.
In Toronto, Barrie didn’t have the best season — but it wasn’t as poor as some suggest. Obviously, everyone is now comparing it to Kadri’s blowout playoff tenure, where he has 11 points in eight games with the Avalanche. Yet with the Maple Leafs, Barrie did his best before they were eliminated by the Columbus Blue Jackets two weeks ago.
The hardest part for 29-year-old was in the beginning of the season, when Mike Babcock was still the head coach. He got the minutes he needed, but the way he was deployed was vastly different compared to how Colorado used him.
Usually on the first power play unit, Barrie was now quarterbacking the second one — that had much less fire power. With that demotion comes a struggle, which we witnessed very early in the season.
In his first 23 games, Barrie had seven assists, no goals. He needed to be an offensive threat, yet he wasn’t getting the opportunity to do so. However, once Babcock was let go and Sheldon Keefe came in, everything changed.
The 29-year-old was moved to the first unit, where he’d finish the season recording 12 power play points, which was almost a third of his production this year. And since Keefe’s arrival, Barrie was on a 55-point pace if it was an 82-game season, which would’ve been his third-best point total of his career.
But, at the end of this year, it wasn’t his third-best career total, it was likely a season that Barrie wishes he could’ve restarted.
“I don’t know if I ever give enough credit to guys who got traded and how hard it can be to adjust to a new team,” said the 29-year-old in the season-ending availability, “the fact that, we weren’t able to get it done and I wasn’t able to help more, and kind of, take this team to the next step.”
Those last three words have proved what this trade meant for the Maple Leafs. It hasn’t set them in the right direction, but rather it’s left them searching for a new defenceman, either within or outside the organization.
The experiment was flawed.
For Barrie, In my opinion the main problem was that I don’t think he fit in on the team in terms of play style. Obviously he gelled well with the players, but with the way the Maple Leafs are structured, the move for Barrie didn’t make sense.
Dubas wanted to go all offense, but he may have put too much there, which in the end, made the team worse. This isn’t an insult to the Maple Leafs GM, because he’s had a great tenure. It’s more a learning experience in his career, which Dubas believes he’s taken a lot from.
“The lesson I take from that is better aiding players in their adjustment to the organization.” Said Dubas a few days after they left the bubble.
It’s always possible that this move could’ve worked out, yet it didn’t and it falls on the Maple Leafs GM. One aspect of this trade that I found interesting was how people are saying “it was never a good trade.”
Kadri was a third-line centre on the Maple Leafs, who averaged 14:35 in last years playoffs. With the Avalanche this year, he’s getting a more important role — centering the second line — an opportunity that was gone for him with the Leafs once John Tavares arrived.
Kadri was likely going to get traded all along. A new role with the Avalanche sees him averaging three-more minutes per game in these playoffs.
The 29-year-old’s value at $4.5 million per year was too good for Colorado to pass up, which is the main reason for the trade. And now he’s playing amazing on a very good team.
This wasn’t a failed trade, nor was it a successful one. It was a deal that helped both sides — providing offense and defence, which was fair. In the end, like Dubas said, it was “better aiding players in their adjustment” that he knows now plays a huge role after acquiring a player.
Are there trades coming for the Leafs?
As much as people think stripping down the entire defensive core is needed for the Maple Leafs to successfully move onto the next round in the playoffs, really, it’s not. Yet.
On the left-side of the top-four, you have Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin — and whoever slots in on the right (Mikko Lehtonen and Justin Holl), maybe?
They’re not far from having a good defence, but it’s about placing the puzzle pieces together which is the hardest part. On the final pairing, it’s believed we’ll finally see Rasmus Sandin become a full-time NHLer, but what about on the right?
That spot could remain the final landing spot for a player like Travis Dermott, or someone like Timothy Liljegren (depending on whether there are trades).
But I wouldn’t suggest much movement on the back-end (unless something doesn’t work) as much as there might be in the forward group.
With the top-six likely already decided, there’s still a question mark on Kyle Clifford and Jason Spezza. Both are UFA’s and players who could make a positive impact on the fourth line, if brought back.
But giving up a second-round pick to sign Clifford? It’s a big move for Dubas to make. However, with his physical presence and multiple Stanley Cups to his name, it might be a good idea to at least look into.
There’s a lot of work to do with this team before it’s a solidly playoff-ready team. With some RFA’s needing contracts and some decisions on both the offense and defence, Dubas is going to have a busy off-season. And one that may surprise all of us.