Though they opened the day with a fairly notable trade, moving Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Brown to the Ottawa Senators in a deal for Cody Ceci and some precious cap space, the Toronto Maple Leafs had been relatively quiet through the first day of free agency. There was a couple of budget signings here, the addition of Jason Spezza there and with the afternoon turning into the evening, it appeared as though that was going to be just about it from Toronto on Day 1 of signing season.
Turns out that wasn’t the case. Not by a long shot.
In something of a blockbuster trade – and in Toronto’s second six-piece swap of the day – the Maple Leafs acquired defenseman Tyson Barrie, center Alexander Kerfoot and a 2020 sixth-round draft choice from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for center Nazem Kadri, defenseman Calle Rosen and a 2020 third-round draft selection. As part of the deal, the Avalanche retained 50 percent of Barrie’s $5.5-million cap hit, which saves the cap-conscious Maple Leafs $2.75 million.
Take a second. Wrap your head around the deal quickly. Now, let’s break this down.
From the Maple Leafs’ perspective, this deal checks about every possible box. The blueline, whether by free agency or a trade, needed to be a priority this summer, and that Toronto was in on trade talks with the Nashville before the Predators shipped P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils tells us a little something about how aggressive GM Kyle Dubas and Co. were willing to get in their quest to patch up the back end. Barrie, though, fits the bill just as well as Subban, and some would argue much better given the price tag.
Not only is he a right-handed blueliner, which is a hot commodity in the NHL, but Barrie plays with the exact kind of pace that has become a hallmark of the modern Maple Leafs and can produce with the best of them. This past season, in fact, Barrie matched his career-best goal-scoring mark with 14 tallies and bettered his previous best point total by finding the scoresheet 59 times. He moves well, moves the puck better and is a tantalizing addition to an already strong attack. He’s not simply one dimensional, though, and there’s a reason he was logging big minutes in Colorado.
Kerfoot is no throw-in, either. The Harvard product is only two seasons into his big-league career, but he established himself as a steady middle-of-the-lineup producer on a Colorado outfit that was short on those. In his rookie season, he notched 19 goals and 43 points, following it up with a 15-goal, 42-point output this past season. There’s no reason to believe he can’t have the same offensive impact in the same role in Toronto. Truly the only downside to acquiring Kerfoot is that he’s an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent and he’s going to be seeking a raise coming off of his entry-level deal. At anything more than $1.75 million, whatever cap space the Maple Leafs gained by the Avalanche retaining half of Barrie’s deal will be negated.
But no acquisition of this caliber comes without its cost, and losing Kadri is going to sting. Yes, his transgressions have cost Toronto in the post-season and the memory of his latest suspension is still fresh in the minds of Maple Leafs’ faithful. But it’s also true that Kadri offered tremendous value. Not only was he versatile and talented, a second-line center who was bumped down to a third-line role only because he played behind bonafide all-world stars John Tavares and Auston Matthews, but he was on a cost effective $4.5-million contract. In the end, though, it just wasn’t team-friendly enough, particularly not for a Toronto team in the midst of a cap crunch that’s going to require careful consideration of every penny spent. If Kadri was going to remain on the third line, and there is no way he was unseating Tavares or Matthews on the top two lines, his $4.5-million deal was too rich.
For the Avalanche, however, Kadri is the perfect price and potentially the perfect fit behind top-line center Nathan MacKinnon. Kadri provides strength down the middle in Colorado that wasn’t there previously, and his addition makes it much easier for the Avalanche to split the trio of MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen and load up a two-line attack.
Setting aside the acquisitions of Rosen and the third-rounder, too, what Colorado also gets is some certainty moving forward. While Kerfoot was likely to remain, chances are Barrie was going to bolt as a free agent next summer. But his expiring contract is no longer the Avalanche’s concern, nor is there reason to worry about Barrie leaving as a free agent and Colorado receiving nothing in return. In a sense, maybe that’s GM Joe Sakic playing it safe, but the Avalanche aren’t ready to contend for a Stanley Cup quite yet. They’re at least one or two years out. And when that time comes, Kadri could very well still be on the same high-value $4.5-million deal, which is a song for a second-line center with 30-goal, 60-point potential in today’s cap world.
If that’s the case, and if Barrie has the success in Toronto that most are already projected, this is a trade that will be looked back upon fondly by both sides.
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