Sometimes trades are far simpler than GMs make them out to be. It’s understandable why many are hesitant: the fear of losing a trade is real, and GMs tend toward maintaining the status quo, since the status quo involves them having a job. But: a trade doesn’t have to have a loser. The Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off such a trade on Monday, and it’s the platonic ideal of a trade between two contenders. Each team dealt from strength, and each addressed a glaring weakness. It’s a trade that’s obvious in retrospect, and shows that sometimes, when the stars align, this all just isn’t that complicated.
The full trade: Toronto is sending forward Nazem Kadri, defenseman Calle Rosen, and a 2020 third-round pick to Colorado for defenseman Tyson Barrie, forward Alex Kerfoot, and a 2020 sixth-round pick. The Avs will retain half of Barrie’s salary. (He’s a UFA next year.) The added pieces have the potential to spice things up—Kerfoot is a useful bottom-six forward already, and is still very young—but it’s fair enough to evaluate this as a one-for-one.
Kadri, 28, can score, just a year removed from a pair of 30-goal seasons, and the Avalanche need a scorer. More to the point, they need a scorer who can do some other things as well, like serve as a checking center on an Avs team that struggled to get contributions after its elite top line. Kadri, the longest-tenured Leaf, shifted from the former role to the latter as the addition of John Tavares forced him down the depth chart, but he can do both, and in Colorado he’ll be encouraged to. He’s likely to center an entirely new-look second line with recently acquired Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky—that’s a pretty impressive line built from scratch in a matter of days.
Kadri’s physicality can be a double-edged sword. He’s been suspended five times in his career, and in Toronto’s last two playoff series, he was suspended three and then five games for dangerous hits. The Leafs lost both of those series in seven games. It’s all part of the complicated relationship he had with fans and the media in Toronto—he’s a big personality, and caught a lot of shit, and it wasn’t always fair (although sometimes it definitely was). A change of scenery may do him well on the off-ice front.
To get Kadri, the Avalanche had to give up an awfully talented offensive defenseman in Tyson Barrie, a 27-year-old who’s put up 116 points in the last two seasons. He’d be extremely valuable to any team, but perhaps less to a team like Colorado which is overflowing with blueline talent. With the emergence of Sam Girard, the arrival of Cale Makar, and now the drafting of Bowen Byram, Barrie became a luxury. And with his contract expiring next summer, he was gone one way or another.
The Leafs, though, desperately need and are going to adore Barrie. Toronto’s defense was conspicuously thin last season, but Barrie instantly changes the composition of the Leafs’ second pairing—whether he’s on it, or whether he pairs with Morgan Rielly and pushes Jake Muzzin down a pairing. A right-handed shot, Barrie will also now quarterback one of the PP units, making the Leafs more dangerous in a number of different configurations. (The Leafs now have a lot of options for sorting out their defensive pairings. All of them, suffice to say, are better than what they had to choose from last year.)
Barrie can be a defensive liability at times, though certainly not to the extent it cancels out what he brings on the other end. He’s a puck-mover, and he’s going to thrive setting up counterattacks with Toronto’s speedy forwards, and pushing up into the offensive zone. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
And that’s maybe the most intriguing angle of this move for the Leafs. They were already sort of one-dimensional, but what a dimension. It’s skaters, scorers, and puckhandlers up and down the lineup, and if some observers thought they lacked toughness size or checking, GM Kyle Dubas heard those complaints and laughed them off. Kadri was one of the few players who brought those grittier aspects to his game, and now he’s gone in favor of yet more pure skill. Whether this’ll work or not in an NHL where balance is valued above all, it’ll be a riot to watch.