Beyond Headlines: For now, Leafs, Barrie focused on finding game, not trade

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Tyson Barrie speaks to media, in Toronto, on Thursday, September 12, 2019. (Christopher Katsarov/CP)

The move to Toronto has not gone the way Tyson Barrie or the Maple Leafs wanted.

But even after a rocky start, these two arguably need each other now more than ever.

There’s a reason why other teams have inquired about the right-shot defenceman’s availability, as my colleague Elliotte Friedman reported on Headlines and it’s because smart general managers recognize a great buy-low candidate when they see one.

Barrie is off to the least productive start of any season in his NHL career. He has two assists to show for his last 19 games after dropping 59 points in Colorado last year. Part of that comes down to the change of scenery and his usage — Barrie’s power-play time has almost been shaved in half — but by the 28-year-old’s own admission, he’s also thinking too much and struggling with confidence issues.

"I think it’s obviously weighing on me a little bit and I’ve never really gone through a stretch like this in my career," Barrie said this week. "Switching teams for the first time, you don’t want to feel like you’re letting your teammates down and the fans down."

The Leafs are enduring their own struggles organizationally, but this is no time to move Barrie.

His market value is at an all-time low, especially since he’s due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. There isn’t even a cap-related argument to be made for the capped-out Leafs, because Colorado retained half of Barrie’s salary and he only counts for $2.75-million this season.

Try finding an available replacement with that space. And try finding another right-shot option inside the Leafs organization that’s ready to step up and play 20-plus minutes right now. (Spoiler: You won’t, and you won’t).

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From Barrie’s end, there is obvious concern about his next contract. He’s already cost himself some money with this poor start and doesn’t want to make things worse by seeing it continue.

But there’s no guarantee a new destination is the right answer now, either, not after seeing how challenging the first trade has been for him. That deal went down on July 1 and left him with a couple months to process what happened and make plans to move. It also included a full training camp with new teammates.

An in-season move wouldn’t afford him such luxuries.

The most ideal solution for everyone involved is seeing Barrie rediscover his game with the Leafs. At this stage, that’s what the parties are believed to be focused on.

"Confidence in the NHL, it’s a tough thing," said Leafs coach Mike Babcock. "It comes and goes. But he knows he’s a good player, he knows he’s an important piece here, we want him to be a good player, he wants to be a good player.

"I’m betting on him just because of his past and how competitive he is."

GM MEETINGS

With general managers set to meet Tuesday afternoon in Toronto, there are a couple notable proposals pertaining to offsides on the table.

One has been discussed in the past and would see the blue line treated as a plane when a linesman makes an offside call. This would allow a player with a skate not in contact with the ice to be judged onside, assuming his foot has not completely broken the plane of the leading edge of the blue line.

Some GMs believe that call is simply too hard for an official to make in real-time.

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Another proposal would see linesmen told to err on the side of calling close plays onside because the defending team has the right to challenge using video review in cases where a goal is scored.

That would improve game flow and keep quality scoring chances from being broken up in situations where the wrong call is made.

The November GMs meeting tends to be more of a housekeeping session and lasts just a few hours. The managers meet for three days every March and that’s where rule change proposals are usually hammered out.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include: Discussions on scheduling and the involvement of series supervisors in pre-game meetings during the playoffs; updates on player and puck tracking; the Seattle expansion draft; and a report on new rules and officiating.

JIM’S SCRUM

Friday was a special day at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The rings were handed out to this year’s class of inductees: Hayley Wickenheiser, Guy Carbonneau, Sergei Zubov, Vaclav Nedomansky, Jim Rutherford and Jerry York. And Rutherford happily did a long media scrum.

Now, Rutherford speaking to reporters certainly isn’t notable on its own — he might be one of the most open and accessible general managers in the NHL — but doing it on a day when his Pittsburgh Penguins play is. And they were in New Jersey to face the Devils on Friday night.

When you’ve been around long enough, you learn not to phone Rutherford on game days. It’s just not the right time to reach him. The reason can be traced back to a game on April 23, 1978, when Rutherford was a goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings and they faced the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.

"I played the first game in Montreal of that series, we won. It was Ron Low’s turn the next game and we lost," Rutherford explained. "We come back into Detroit and the series is tied 1-1 and everybody’s all excited. All my family’s down, we’re walking into the game, people are shaking hands as if we’d have won something. I mean the series was 1-1. So we lost that game 8-0 and I think Bob Gainey got two short-handed goals and it wasn’t a good game.

"And I always remembered that game and in my mind not being prepared to play."

Jim-Rutherford
(Chris Johnston)

When Rutherford initially moved into management, he would do the odd game-day interview and end up feeling like he’d tempted the universe in the process.

"Periodically, I would talk about something, somebody would ask me about a player and I’d say ‘Oh, he’s playing great’ and then that night he’d play horrible. Or vice versa," said Rutherford.

And so his policy of media silence on game days was born.

However, given the enormity of the honour, he didn’t have any qualms about making an exception for the Hall of Fame on Friday afternoon.

"This is a lifetime thing," said Rutherford. "(The Penguins) can certainly do it without me tonight."

Then, with a nod to injured captain Sidney Crosby, he added: " I just wish Sid was there."

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

KOVY’S FUTURE

Somewhat lost in all the speculation about what happens next for Ilya Kovalchuk is the fact he holds a no-movement clause for the remainder of the season. That means he’s not going anywhere he doesn’t want to before then.

The Los Angeles Kings and Kovalchuk’s representatives met to discuss his situation this week, but no resolutions were reached.

Kovalchuk hasn’t played for the Kings since Nov. 9 and the team will likely continue to scratch him for the foreseeable future. But the 36-year-old is content to let the situation play out and help the Kings any way he can in the short term.

Once his $2.65-million bonus is paid out on Dec. 15 (he already received another $2.65-million payment on Sept. 15), there may be more of a trade market for the 400-plus-goal man. He’ll only be owed a pro-rated $700,000 for the rest of this season and $4.25 million in actual money next year, and Los Angeles can retain up to half of that remaining sum.

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But again, Kovalchuk will have final say on any move before June 30.

OF NOTE

It’s still early, but this could be a lucrative season for Vancouver Canucks star Elias Pettersson. He’ll earn a $2 million "Schedule B" bonus if he finishes among the NHL’s top 10 in goals, assists, points or points per game, and he entered Sunday sitting ninth in assists, 10th in points and 13th in points per game. That bonus would likely push the Canucks into an overage, but consider it a good problem for Jim Benning to have … The 2020 first-round pick Toronto sent to Carolina in the trade to get free from Patrick Marleau’s contract is lottery protected. So if the Leafs miss the playoffs and end up with a top-10 pick, it converts to a 2021 first-rounder … Everything remains status quo on the Dustin Byfuglien front for now, but the window is still open for him to file a grievance against the Winnipeg Jets in an effort to recoup his lost pay while recovering from ankle surgery. Expect a formal decision to come in the next week or two … Congrats to all of the new Hall of Famers, including my Sportsnet colleague Jim Hughson who is receiving the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award. Monday’s induction ceremony is one of my absolute favourite days on the hockey calendar each year.

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