If you thought the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche almost seemed too quiet on free agent day … well, they combined for one whopper of a trade late on July 1.
It’s a lot to process, but here are the terms.
Maple Leafs receive:
- Underrated right-handed defenseman Tyson Barrie, with the Avs retaining half of his cap hit on a deal that expires after next season. So Barrie only costs $2.75M on Toronto’s cap.
- RFA center Alex Kerfoot. He’s a sneaky-good two-way player, but doesn’t have a deal yet.
- The Avalanche’s 2020 sixth-round pick.
- The biggest piece is Nazem Kadri, a talented center who’s nonetheless become a lightning rod for controversy after being suspended for two consecutive postseasons. As controversial as Kadri can be, he’s an excellent forward who carries only a $4.5M cap hit through 2021-22.
- Defenseman Calle Rosen.
- The Maple Leafs’ 2020 third-round pick.
Maple Leafs work some magic
Personally, I’ve almost always been impressed with Kyle Dubas’ work as Maple Leafs GM, yet I’ve also been a little sad that we haven’t seen him be too creative, what with a team that’s largely been put in place for him.
Well, a cap crunch certainly forced him to use his brain, and the results are impressive.
Via Cap Friendly, the Maple Leafs now have about $11.1 million in cap space. They also still have some of their toughest work to do.
Most obviously, Mitch Marner is still an RFA who could conceivably eat up all of that $11.1M. The Maple Leafs have already seen the Montreal Canadiens throw out an offer sheet to Sebastian Aho, and while Toronto would gladly match something close to that $8.4M+ range if that’s what came Marner’s way, there’s no guarantee that Toronto would enjoy such a manageable challenge.
Of course, there’s also no guarantee that any other NHL team will tender a viable offer sheet during this offseason.
The Maple Leafs also need to sort out Cody Ceci‘s situation, and Kerfoot himself is an RFA whose situation must be settled. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Kerfoot is expected to file for salary arbitration, and the award could exceed $3M.
So, there’s still some uncertainty hovering around the Maple Leafs. The biggest factor revolves around sorting out Marner’s situation. To do so, Dubas might need to make even more moves, and you can’t totally rule out moving the rights to Kerfoot and/or Ceci as time goes along.
But, as is, the Maple Leafs are in a profoundly better situation on July 1 than they were even at the end of June.
One could argue that Barrie is Jake Gardiner‘s equal, nearly at Gardiner’s level, or even better. That might come down to personal taste. One thing that’s not debatable is that Barrie is a better fit. While Gardiner with Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin meant a glut of left-handed defensemen, Barrie is a RHD. This immediately gives Toronto better balance on defense, as RHD was their biggest weakness.
Now people can debate Barrie vs. Rielly, even.
About the only bummer is that Barrie’s contract expires after 2019-20, and considering his lofty point totals, he may end up being too expensive to keep around. Then again, who’s to say that Dubas doesn’t make another swap that buys Toronto some cost certainty?
The longer term discussion is interesting, yet as it stands, this is a fantastic boost.
One could argue that Kadri is a better asset than Barrie, particularly since his contract runs through 2021-22 at that affordable $4.5M clip. Still, with John Tavares and Auston Matthews firmly planted ahead of Kadri, and with William Nylander as at least a plausible option at 3C at times, Kadri was expendable. Even beyond the whole “Sometimes Kadri sees red, then loses his mind and gets suspended, including during the playoffs” thing.
Kerfoot is an intriguing talent if Toronto can keep everyone together, too, so this is promising stuff.
Avalanche add some certainty, still have a bunch of cap space
On paper, I’m more excited about the Maple Leafs’ side of the deal, at least potentially. Right-handed defensemen of Barrie’s caliber just aren’t available very often, and certainly not at a $2.75M clip, even if it’s just for one season. And, depending upon how Toronto can manage things with Kerfoot, the drop off at center might not be that steep for Toronto.
Don’t let all the disdain for Kadri fool you, though. He’s very good, and was almost certainly overqualified as a 3C this past season. The Avalanche seemed primed to part ways with Barrie, what with his contract up after 2019-20, and rising defensive prospects possibly set to usurp him anyway, including Cale Makar and Bowen Byram, in particular.
The Avalanche remarkably have $27.125M in cap space left over, according to Cap Friendly. Mikko Rantanen will take a huge bit out of that, possibly at a level comparable to whatever Mitch Marner makes, and Andre Burakovsky might not be cheap, either. Nikita Zadorov also lingers as an RFA, yet there’s a chance the Avalanche might get yet another piece … might they also look at former Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner?
Overall, this is a fascinating trade between two young, exciting, rising, and well-run teams. We could very well be debating the merits of this one for some time, and heck, maybe a future Stanley Cup Final would be the ultimate lab to test the experiment?
In the cases of Colorado and Toronto, there’s also a “to be continued” element, as both teams have enormously important RFAs to re-sign. If this trade is any indication: buckle up.