There’s never a shortage of topics to write about in early July, so let’s get right to it this week.

For my thoughts on the 2019 draft and the Patrick Marleau trade, see my earlier piece here.

Early Thoughts on the Kadri Trade

This is a tough trade to evaluate at first glance. With the organization for ten years, Leafs fans watched Nazem Kadri develop into a fan favourite 60-point two-way center. He’s a solid second line pivot and it shouldn’t be forgotten how tough it is to acquire quality centers. His on-ice impacts were impressive and it was a real luxury being able to run the trio of Tavares, Matthews, and Kadri down the middle.

Having said that, Barrie is one of my favourite players to watch in the entire league and the team was really desperate to add a quality right-shooting defenseman. He’s one of the ten best defensemen in the league in terms of generating scoring chances is a master of the breakout pass. Models like MAGNUS and RAPM aren’t all that high on him, but I’m confident that he’s very good offensively and I’ll take my chances that he’s only slightly below average defensively. Barrie is very similar to Morgan Rielly; his ability to jump up into the rush makes him look like a fourth forward out there.

Kerfoot reminds me of Andreas Johnsson, as he’s a competent two-way player but won’t be able to drive his own line while scoring 60+ points in the process. He’s a fine puck carrier rather than an outstanding one, a competent puck mover on the power play, and possesses a pretty good shot when he actually decides to use it. I don’t buy that he’s some sort of elite defensive center, but he’s looked pretty responsible out there during my viewings while winning his fair share of puck battles. His 40+ point seasons were not a fluke. I expect him to enter the season as Toronto’s third-line center.

Calle Rosen and the picks are not overly significant in a deal of this magnitude. I see Kadri as a good play-driver with his speed and grit, but his point totals were inflated from playing on a dominant power play with Mitch Marner and James van Riemsdyk during his two 30-goal years. I will miss his two-way game; Colorado is getting a sure-fire second line center in this deal.

Ultimately, this is a deal that solves a key problem for both teams. Sam Girard and Cale Makar are going to be huge players for the Avalanche and they probably weren’t going to extend another undersized defenseman in Barrie. They lacked scoring depth behind their dominant top line, so Kadri’s addition will make them a force to be reckoned with. The Leafs remain quite stacked down the middle while now having four high-end puck movers in Rielly, Barrie, Muzzin, and Dermott to transition the puck up to their skilled forwards.

Maple Leafs Single Season Point Leaders Since 2000 (Right-shooting defenseman)

Robert Svehla02-038245
Pavel Kubina07-087240
Pavel Kubina08-098240
Nikita Zaitsev16-178236
Cody Franson13-147933
Cody Franson14-155532
Cody Franson12-134529
Ken Klee03-046629
Ian White06-077126
Ian White08-095626
Ian White09-107626
Dmitry Yushkevich00-018124
Jeff Finger08-096623
Luke Schenn10-118222
Luke Schenn11-127922

Barrie put up 59 points last year even though he missed four games. As you can see in the above table, the Leafs haven’t exactly been stacked with right-shooting defensemen this decade. The last time the Leafs had a right-shooting defenseman top 60 points was Larry Murphy back in the 1995-96 season.

The big question for me is whether or not Barrie extends in Toronto, and if he does, at what price. If Barrie is purely a one-year rental, the Leafs are sure putting a ton of faith in Kerfoot and a lot of eggs in the 2019-20 basket. Trading Rosen, by the way, could open a door for Rasmus Sandin to earn a spot in the playoff lineup.

If nothing else, this team is going to be incredibly entertaining to watch. If Barrie extends at a reasonable price, this trade could work out quite well for the Leafs. I think he’s their best right-shooting defenseman since Murphy’s age-35 season in ’95-96, but I’m not old enough to have any knowledge of Murphy, so it might even be longer than that. By my eye test, he’s a number-one defenseman on a Cup contender rather than a number three.

Evaluating the Cody Ceci Trade

By paying the signing bonuses of Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Brown and taking on the one-way contract of Ben Harpur, the Leafs paid $4.3 million to entice the Senators into this trade. While Ceci’s cap hit will offset Zaitsev’s this year, Toronto will clear the $4.5 million off their books for the following four seasons. While I’m not a big believer in Ceci’s game, this is still a great trade for the Leafs.

The main question now is: Why did the Leafs offer Ceci a contract for $4.5 million? The team could have simply walked away from the player after an arbitration hearing, so clearly, the Leafs actually want the player. They do need someone to kill penalties and it’s always nice to have another right-shooting defender on the roster, but I’m just not a fan of Ceci’s game.

It’s no secret that the advanced stats out there do not speak highly of Ceci. My hope is that he will look better in Toronto while playing lower down in the lineup and with better partners than in Ottawa, but I went back and watched a couple of Senators games and I’m not overly optimistic. He’s an iffy puck mover and he’s probably not in the league if he’s a little bit shorter and shoots left. It’s just a one-year commitment, but it sure will be frustrating if he’s getting a ton of minutes once Dermott returns from injury. Even if he struggles, I’ll take one year of Ceci over five years of Zaitsev. As always, I’ll try to watch him with an open mind.

Adding Depth by Signing Jason Spezza, Nick Shore, and Kenny Agostino

Finding a good fourth-line center was a problem for the Leafs for a long time. Lou Lamoriello loved throwing second-round picks away for stop-gap solutions before Frederik Gauthier took over the job after scoring just 18 points in 57 AHL games the year before. I went back and watched the two games that the Leafs played against Colorado this year; both games featured Par Lindholm playing on a line with Gauthier. Opposing goalies could have taken a quick nap.

Spezza is a career 12.7% shooter who posted a shooting percentages of 5.8% and 6.6% over the past two seasons. He can be a true faceoff specialist, especially since he doesn’t shoot the same way as Matthews, Tavares, and Kerfoot. He’s a 6’3″ on a team that lacks size and he’s talented enough as both a shooter and playmaker to provide some secondary scoring.

Spezza is slow, though, and he may shift over to right wing at times throughout the season. With Nic Petan and Nick Shore also on the roster, Mike Babcock will have plenty of flexibility here. His faceoff ability should help the second power play to start off in the offensive zone and he can be a FOGO (face-off & get-off) specialist for the penalty kill when needed. While I don’t think he brings a ton to the table defensively, Gauthier did not play tough minutes last year and I expect Spezza to be in the 10-15 goal range once his shooting percentage jumps back to normal. For just $700k, Spezza is a great signing.

Shore doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of goal scoring, as he has just 15 goals in 236 career NHL games and scored just three goals in 37 KHL games last season. He doesn’t shoot often and he doesn’t have a great shot, but he can at least move the puck competently. He’ll bring more to the table offensively than Gauthier and he should also factor in on the penalty kill. It’s nice to have a few options finally for the fourth line center role.

Agostino has already proven himself as an AHL star and he’ll be looking to build off a year where he had 24 points in just 63 NHL games. He’s not fast enough to be a puck retrieval specialist like Zach Hyman or Trevor Moore, but he can make his fair share of plays in the offensive zone. He’ll be competing for a spot in the lineup with players like Nic Petan and Nick Shore and will have a better chance of earning a role as a left-hand shot. He could simply end up as a star for the Marlies, but there are at least a few reasons to be optimistic here and it’s good to have plenty of competition in training camp.

Final Thoughts

  • There’s going to be a fair amount of addition by subtraction on next year’s roster. I watched enough of the Lindholm-Gauthier-Brown line to strongly believe that. I also saw enough of Zaitsev and Hainsey in top-four roles. While I love both Brown and Marleau and I wish them all the best, they didn’t bring much to the table anymore in terms of both scoring and puck retrieval. The second power play unit should be way better.
  • Everyone seems to have forgotten about Nic Petan. I realize that he barely played last year, but that was partly due to the fact that there was another 5’9″ forward having success on the team’s fourth line. I think Petan was blocked by Ennis last year and will better complement the 6’3″ Spezza. He’s 24 and brings a fair amount of scoring talent, so don’t write him off just yet.
  • Rosen’s departure is great news for a few players in the organization. Marincin is now the favourite to earn a third-pairing role out of camp and Andreas Borgman now has an outside chance of making the team. Sandin will have an easier time making the team at some point next year, while Justin Holl could even earn a look while Dermott is out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Sandin-Ceci third-pairing come playoff time.
  • There’s a real lack of toughness on the roster now that Kadri is gone. While I don’t put a ton of weight into this, I do think that it improves Mason Marchment’s chances of making the roster. He’s not amazing in transition, but he’d bring something to the table that this team currently lacks. I’m not the leader of the Marchment hype train, but I do think that he now has a decent chance of making the team in a fourth line role.