Two defencemen without a new contract won’t be getting one from the Leafs this October.
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic went on First Up 1050 and revealed that both Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci will be testing the free-agent market in a few week’s time.
Pierre LeBrun on First Up 1050: “This won’t shock anyone, I’m not dropping any news here … I was told by a source yesterday that Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci know that they’re headed to market and not re-signing with the Maple Leafs.” #LeafsForever
— NHL News (@PuckReportNHL) September 30, 2020
This is not a shocking revelation since it appeared to be heading in this direction for the last few months, but I’m sure a bunch of Leafs fans are relieved to hear it nonetheless. Both players were brought in last July 1st with good intentions but neither of them were able to make it work in Toronto.
Ceci was acquired in the Nikita Zaitsev trade and had a tumultuous relationship with the fanbase, most notably frustration over him continuously being paired with Morgan Rielly (although Kyle Dubas did come to Ceci’s defence a lot throughout the season). He produced one goal, seven assists, and eight points in 56 games played while putting up a single goal during the qualifying round against the Blue Jackets.
A part of the infamous Nazem Kadri blockbuster, Barrie registered five goals, 34 assists, and 39 points in 70 games while going scoreless in the playoffs. He struggled immensely during the Mike Babcock portion of the season and nearly demanded a trade prior to his dismissal in mid-November. Barrie did see improvements in his production once Sheldon Keefe took over but was again almost dealt, this time at the trade deadline. The fit was just never there and it didn’t help that Kadri went on to have a productive campaign with the Avalanche.
It’s fair to say that both of the trades did not work out the way Dubas had envisioned and will now need to restock his defensive core during the offseason. Perhaps that guarantees a certain defenceman will be on the team’s radar once free agency begins. More on that later.
Leafs looked into Joel Ward as a coaching option
In Elliotte Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts post, he mentioned that prior to picking Manny Malhotra, another former NHL player was in consideration to join Keefe’s coaching staff:
26. Before Toronto zeroed in on Manny Malhotra for its coaching staff, the Maple Leafs investigated the possibility of Joel Ward.
Joel Ward certainly would have made for a fascinating hire given that like Malhotra, he was known for his two-way play throughout his 11-year NHL career. He would have also been returning home to coach for his hometown team since he was born in North York. More importantly, he would have become just the 10th Black coach in NHL history and the first since Paul Jerrard (who last coached in 2018).
Given the uncertainty behind what the Leafs plan to do with Dave Hakstol, I can imagine the Leafs may still be interested in bringing in Ward as an assistant coach. Even if Hakstol is kept for the 2020-21 season and beyond, Ward could certainly be in consideration for another opportunity with the organization.
At the very least, Ward will find himself behind an NHL bench in the near future as he recently said he’d hope to coach the Sharks after his retirement from hockey. Regardless of where he ends up, I’m sure the team that hires him will be very happy with their decision.
Friedman provided updates on a few players Leafs fans are hoping the team will acquire either via trade or free agency.
First, things have not changed between Alex Pietrangelo and the Blues on contract talks:
13. No change as far as I can tell on Alex Pietrangelo. He, his agency (Newport) and the Blues are going to take one more run at this. A lot of tough negotiators here. The biggest question: Do the Blues believe he will leave?
It’s been suggested for a while that Doug Armstrong would try and send in one final offer to Pietrangelo before the start of free-agent frenzy. While it appears he will be moving on to greener pastures by October 9th, the scenario in which he re-signs with St. Louis is not a complete impossibility. Don’t pre-order his jersey just yet, folks.
Meanwhile, the Coyotes appear to be sticking with their goalie tandem for the 2020-21 season:
19. Therefore, it’s not a total surprise that word seeped out Arizona’s preference is to keep Darcy Kuemper. I wouldn’t put that in stone because anything can happen, but the winds are blowing in a different direction.
Darcy Kuemper would have made for a nice addition to the Leafs goaltending crease and could have been a solid replacement if Frederik Andersen is moved. By no means does this suggest Arizona is for sure going to keep the 30-year-old netminder around, but the odds of him donning the Blue and White just took a massive hit. We’ll see what happens with the goalies entering free agency as it could change the course of action of teams like the Coyotes.
Finally, Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun mentioned that Jason Spezza is interested in staying in Toronto for another year.
#Leafs need depth in bottom six, and at least some experience, but not at $2M for Rodrigues. Unless something has changed in past little while, Spezza remains interested in coming back at league minimum.
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) September 28, 2020
Bringing back Spezza seems like a wise choice for Toronto to make since his upbeat personality and veteran leadership is a welcome addition in the locker room. There’s a reason why his fight during Game 4 played a significant factor in the Leafs making the miraculous comeback to force a Game 5. He finished the season with nine goals, 16 assists, and 25 points while going pointless in the playoffs. Should Spezza be extended, that might mean players like Frederik Gauthier and Denis Malgin could be on the move due to a lack of available playing time and guys such as Nick Robertson and Alexander Barbanov vying for roster spots.
All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com.