The Toronto Maple Leafs made some long-awaited moves to add to their defensive corps earlier this month with the trades for right-handers Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci, but only have a one-year window before GM Kyle Dubas has to make some difficult choices.
Ceci, Barrie and veteran Jake Muzzin are all unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2019-20 season and Travis Dermott’s entry-level contract expires, which means that Dubas will have to figure out how many free agents he can get under contract prior to next July.
The Leafs acquired Barrie from Colorado along with center Alex Kerfoot in a blockbuster that sent Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosen to the Avalanche on July 1. The Victoria, BC native averaged 58 points and scored 14 goals the last two seasons and is considered one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL.
Adding Barrie (with half of his $5.5 Million salary retained by Colorado) helped the Leafs by opening up cap space for Mitch Marner’s new contract, provides a replacement for Jake Gardiner as a primary puck carrier and power-play quarterback and fills the crying need for a top-four defenseman on the right side.
The 27-year-old could play on a top pairing with Morgan Rielly, but having two blueliners who love to lug the puck on the same tandem might be counterproductive, so the assumption is that Barrie will slot in with Muzzin on the second pairing and possibly replace Rielly on the top power-play because of his strong shot from the point.
The question that almost immediately emerged after the trade was Barrie’s need for a new contract after next season.
With his production and the need throughout the league for defensemen who can press the attack and set up scoring chances, Barrie will be in the top echelon of free-agent blueliners next summer, along with Alex Pietrangelo, Torey Krug and Roman Josi.
Reports earlier this month indicated that Barrie would be looking a deal in the $8 Million AAV range (an amount that would put him on par with Brent Burns and John Carlson), but clearly with a year left on his current deal and the Marner saga yet to play out, the Leafs focus is clearly elsewhere.
Once Marner is signed, the Leafs will have most of their contract dilemmas settled, with Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson signed for three or more years, Rielly with another three years left on his deal and goalie Frederik Andersen locked up for two more seasons.
The expiration of Ceci and Muzzin’s deals opens up $8.5 Million in cap space (as well as Nathan Horton’s contract dropping off opening up another $5.3 Million).
If Dubas is considering Barrie his Kawhi Leonard and is just concerned about the upcoming season, then Toronto will address his contract status next summer after the 2019-20 season plays out. But if the Leafs are serious in trying to retain Barrie on a long-term extension for an amount close to his demands, it would likely require them trading a salary off the current Toronto roster to create space as they did this summer.
*******If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising your business in the Greater Toronto / Southern Ontario area on this column, please send a message for more information by clicking on the “Contact” button at the top of the page.*******