In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the recent rumblings emerging from and about the team throughout the NHL world. Specifically, I’ll consider the impact of the flat salary cap on the work of Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas as well as how it might impact current Maple Leafs player Tyson Barrie who’s looking for a new contract – somewhere.
Item One: Does the Flat Salary Cap Play into the Hands of Kyle Dubas?
Today, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox wrote a sort of hodgepodge article where he covered a number of topics – sort of like one of Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Points articles. The structure of the article allows a space where someone who engages daily in hockey commentary can string together shorter thoughts that might not necessarily fit into a larger piece.
In his article, which is worth reading, he cites Chuck Fletcher (the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers) who notes that the flat salary cap the NHL will use over the next three years might hold down the salaries of free agents, but it also might create a very interesting time for NHL fans.
Specifically, Fletcher noted, “It’s going to force teams to be more creative.”
Fletcher added: “You might see more hockey trades, the dollar-for-dollar trades where teams need to improve or need to upgrade in certain areas. If you don’t have the ability to go into the UFA market, you have to be creative and find solutions with other teams. So, it’s going to be very interesting.”
For Maple Leafs fans particularly, interesting times might be ahead. Although I try to watch the Canadian NHL teams with some care, I can’t evaluate the general managers of all of the other NHL teams because I don’t watch their work regularly. However, I do know that – like him or not – Kyle Dubas is creative and smart. As a general manager, he’s a chess player with a plan that might take several moves. Still, unless something stops him, he’s on it.
That reality was clear when he moved Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Something else is afoot and, although we might not see it yet, it will soon be shaped into reality. Obviously, bold gambits don’t always work: for example, I don’t think Tyson Barrie turned out to be the player Dubas hoped he would be, but that’s not always on Dubas. Former head coach Mike Babcock had a hand in what happened to Barrie as well.
Item Two: Could Tyson Barrie Move to the Edmonton Oilers?
Speaking about Barrie, TSN’s Frank Seravalli said interesting things in a recent article that addressed free agency and 10 players who soon make choices about where they sign. First, Seravalli noted that among the current unrestricted free agents only Alex Pietrangelo’s contract would not be affected by a flat salary cap.
That fact is not a surprise. Pietrangelo is simply too good and checks too many boxes NHL teams are seeking. However, I believe it remains a long shot that he’s leaving St. Louis. He’s made a home in the St. Louis area and he’s married to someone from there. Really, if your family is happy somewhere, what’s the difference between $7 million per season and $9 million per season?
Seravalli then outlines the status of Barrie and suggests that he might consider a one-year contract to quarterback the Edmonton Oilers’ power play. Specifically, he noted that Barrie was never a fit with the Maple Leafs under Babcock and he’s not a “blue line anchor.” Instead, he’s a power-play specialist “who can collect 50 to 60 points when used properly, but will be exposed defensively when asked to do more.”
Seravalli then asked and answered a rhetorical question: “On a one-year deal, imagine what the already lethal Edmonton Oilers’ power play would look like with Barrie instead of ? It might be one of the best of all time.”
There are unconfirmed rumors that the Oilers might move some defensive veterans – maybe even two of the team’s top four. As well, logic suggests Barrie’s a good fit on a fast-paced, highly skilled Oilers’ power play. Finally, Barrie doesn’t have great leverage to sign for a high salary.
Barrie’s coming off a season where he didn’t live up to expectations. Although the Maple Leafs needed a right-handed defenseman badly, he couldn’t solve the team’s blue line issues. His production was down and he scored only 39 points in 70 games. (He’d scored 59 and 57 points in two prior seasons).
But Barrie’s a strong offensive defenseman and could be a nice fit on an Oilers’ power play featuring both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. One would think he’d be a lock to score near 60 points. If Barrie wanted to bet on himself to put up the kind of numbers that gave him a chance for a more lucrative contract, what better team than the Oilers?
The Oilers know it, too. When general manager Ken Holland pulled off a number of trades at the 2020 deadline, one player he brought in was a player he knew well from the Detroit Red Wings – Mike Green. He is the definition of a power-play specialist. Now that Green recently retired, Barrie could slot into that role. I’d be surprised if Holland isn’t thinking that already.
Likely Seravalli’s right that Pietrangelo is immune to the salary ravages of COVID-19’s flat cap. Others, such as Barrie, must navigate an unknown salary terrain. You’ve got to think that Barrie’s already sitting back trying to determine his best course of action until revenues normalize and the salary cap begins to grow again. How many seasons might that be?
Related: Revisiting the Nazem Kadri Trade
Might Barrie sign a one-year contract for cheap – even around the $2 million range (that’s just my guess)? For Barrie, Edmonton has some perks, and two of them are McDavid and Draisaitl. Who knows, if he finds his game, the Oilers might negotiate a longer-term deal with him. At 29 years of age, Barrie’s playing days are far from over.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The status of Frederik Andersen is up in the air and I’m especially curious to see what happens. His agent, the once-pesky Claude Lemieux, has seen the trade rumors about Andersen and notes that these rumors “come with the territory” when a team comes up short of its own high expectations. (from “Agent for Leafs’ Andersen knows trade speculation part of the deal after early exit, Toronto Sun, 26/08/20)
Lemieux notes that Andersen hasn’t asked to be traded and that the Maple Leafs haven’t talked to him about a potential trade. However, Lemieux also notes that talks about a contract extension haven’t taken place yet. It will be interesting to see if anything is in the wind.