“I’m glad I made it through,” he told reporters Tuesday before facing the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The pending unrestricted free agent wasn’t sure exactly how things would turn out after his name started circulating prominently in trade rumours around the middle of last week, and only found out he was safe in the final hour before the 3 p.m. deadline when general manager Kyle Dubas phoned him with the news.
Even for a 28-year-old who’s been through the rumour mill before — and was dealt from Colorado to Toronto on July 1 — it proved to be a difficult experience.
“I wouldn’t say weeks. I think just the few days leading up to [the trade deadline] were maybe a little more stressful than I anticipated,” said Barrie.
It couldn’t have helped that it overlapped with a stretch where the Leafs were embarrassed in three of four games they played. One of those came against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday and saw Barrie spend time in the dressing room after taking a heavy hit from Andrei Svechnikov before returning at less than 100 per cent.
The biggest reason the Leafs explored potential trades involving the puck-moving defenceman with Vancouver, Calgary and Vegas is because of their uncertain situation. They are touch-and-go in the race for a playoff spot with 19 games remaining and likely won’t have the cap space needed to even try and sign Barrie to an extension beyond this season.
“Because of the way things have gone, I felt it was at least good practice to listen and start to envision what the return would look like from our end,” Dubas said Monday.
Ultimately, there was no fit to be found.
The call from Dubas came while Barrie was driving to the airport for the flight to Tampa. As much as the veteran of 500-plus NHL games didn’t think he needed to be looped in on what went down, he appreciated the gesture.
It allowed Dubas to clear the air and reiterate his faith in the player.
“[He said] he’s got belief in this team and we’re still in a spot and we’re trying to make the playoffs,” said Barrie. “He believes in myself and the team and he wants me here.”
To justify moving Barrie while holding down a playoff spot, the Leafs would have had to find his replacement as part of the return. It was probably too much to ask. Not only is he the quarterback on the top power-play unit, he actually leads the team in average ice time (22:48) since Morgan Rielly went down with a broken foot on Jan. 12.
“He’s played very well, especially since the coaching change,” said Dubas. “We were totally fine with him running it out and continuing to grow as a part of our group.”
You have to assume it will be a little easier for Barrie to play with a clear mind now that the deadline has come and gone. His long-term future is still unclear, of course, but his short-term focus can be dedicated exclusively to helping this Jekyll and Hyde team find a consistently better level.
Teammate Jake Muzzin said that he viewed a quiet deadline from Dubas as a sign the GM believes in the group he’s built.
Barrie feels the same way — now that he knows he’ll be part of it for the rest of the 2019-20 season.
“I think if you look at the fact that we’re still in the position we’re in and we haven’t played near to the level that we can, I think that’s promising,” he said. “It’s obviously a bit disappointing in the fact that we haven’t reached our expectations yet, but I mean we’ve got a lot more to give.
“If we can hit our stride here and get hot at the right time it sets up well for us.”