The theme of the month in Toronto has been contract extensions. It started with Mitch Marner‘s RFA status coming into the summer and continued on to Kawhi Leonard shelving the Toronto Raptors to return home to the Los Angeles Clippers. The reason for Leonards departure being his want to team up with new Clipper Paul George. However, the Raptors were approached by the Clippers with a deal to potentially land the star small forward from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Raptors president Masai Ujiri ultimately rejected the proposal because it was an “asset -crippling deal.” per NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
What does this have to do with Tyson Barrie? Barrie is entering a contract year after being dealt to the Leafs just a week ago. Like all contract seasons, he will be looking to have his best year to date and cash in as an unrestricted free agent summer of 2020. Kawhi came over in a similar situation as he had one year with his (then) current championship contending team before hitting the open market. With this, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun is now reporting Barrie could be looking for an eight-year deal with an annual average value of $8 million. This could pose another huge problem for the Leafs and their salary cap situation. Toronto has already struggled to find a contract for Marner as well as William Nylander last year and could make things a lot harder on themselves by adding another high AAV contract.
If general manager Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs were to give Barrie an extension in this area, it could completely paralyze their cap flexibility.
$8 Million Tyson Barrie Contract Could Cripple Toronto Maple Leafs Cap
The Leafs Are Already on a Bargain Budget
As good as the deal that brought Barrie to Toronto was from a win-now perspective, the Leafs gave up one of the best players and contracts on their roster. Nazem Kadri‘s extremely manageable cap hit of $4.5 million a year for the next three seasons, is exactly what NHL teams need in order to maintain great depth up the middle. His contract along with those of Frederik Andersen and Morgan Rielly – both having AAVs of $5 million – were the three most cost-effective contracts on the Leafs roster. Now with one of those moved, the cap gets even tougher to manage.
The Leafs are already in hot water after signing both John Tavares and Auston Matthews each to $11+ million contracts. When/if Marner is signed, he will command similar money but still likely closer to $10 million. Adding another potential $8 million to the Leafs books would put a whopping 58% of the Leafs cap into four forwards (the other being Nylander) and one defender. All of which, except maybe Marner, play an abbreviated defensive game. The Leafs bread and butter is their ability to stretch the ice and score, but it is hard to win and be one-dimensional in today’s NHL. Toronto has been heavily criticized for their lack of defensive players prior to and after the acquisition of Jake Muzzin.
Looking ahead to opening night, at least six skaters for the Leafs will be making less than $1 million this upcoming season. Of those six, only two have contracts that extend beyond 2020. Dubas has shown a lot of creativity to avoid seriously downgrading Toronto’s talent this offseason but it will be very difficult to keep up. Barrie receiving an AAV of $8 million will just continue to create tougher and more complex cap situations going forward.
Dubas Already Let Gardiner Walk
If Barrie does remain a Leaf, there are always going to be comparisons to Jake Gardiner. Barrie was brought in to fill his spot, they play similar games, are a year apart in age and are both looking to cash in through unrestricted free agency. However, the Leafs were forced to let Gardiner walk, likely, because of his contract demands. Top-four defenders are tough to find, especially ones that put up a career-high 52 points just a season ago.
Gardiner is currently without a contract but his price tag is likely in the $6-6.5 million range. The closest comparison in this year’s free agent class would be Tyler Myers. After a solid few seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, Myers was awarded a five year/$30 million deal by the Vancouver Cannucks. His AAV of $6 million is exactly in the ballpark Gardiner was expecting before the start of free agency. Gardiner also, at the same age, had just one fewer point in 18 fewer games. He had better possession stats over the past three seasons.
If Gardiner was likely pegged in the cap range between Barrie and Myers, it would’ve made a lot of sense to extend Gardiner rather than pay Barrie more money down the road. Barrie is clearly the better offensive player between the two but Gardiner is probably the better defender. Maybe the deciding factor could be Barrie’s right-handedness. With the Leafs already flying so close to the cap ceiling, it’s hard to imagine giving a player – essentially – a $1.5 million raise for the way he shoots and a couple more points on a team already loaded on offense.
(It’s funny because none of this matters if Gardiner signs for $7.5 million somewhere)
Tyson Barrie Contract Extension Would Mean Searching for Another Starting Goalie
The two most cost-effective contracts on the Leafs are those of goaltender Andersen and #1 defender Rielly. Both of their contracts extend through the 2020-21 seasons but not long after. Andersen’s is up at the end of that season and Rielly’s the following year.
In any scenario, Barrie will be signing for the 2020-21 season and beyond. This means that come the following offseason, the Leafs would likely be facing an acute scenario (if that sounds painful, it’s because it is). Let Andersen walk or lose Rielly the upcoming offseason. Make no mistake, this could definitely happen. With one of those two players needing to depart, it would almost certainly be Andersen. Rielly could be named a captain this upcoming season and is four years younger. He will likely continue to contend for the Norris as he matures. Andersen was debatably the Leafs MVP of the 2018-19 season but would be going on 32-years-old for the upcoming 2021-22 season.
Toronto has been a team ravaged by looking for starting goalies. Dubas would need to be fine with finding another starter to let Andersen walk. That goalie then has to be comfortable behind a (likely) offensive-minded blue-line. This also doesn’t account for the Leafs lack of penalty killers going into next season.
There is a chance the cap will increase enough to let the Leafs pay each player an $8+ million salary. The more likely scenario is one of the three has to go. Barrie would need to show a lot to be considered as one of the top-two Dubas chooses to keep around. Either that or move a big piece to keep all three.
The Condensed Outlook
The complications of the Leafs salary cap situation extend beyond Barrie. It’s just what happens when you draft so much elite talent in a condensed period of time. You are forced to pay your stars. However, they are going to be faced with a lot of questions marks. Going forward, no matter who they decide to keep around next offseason and beyond, it won’t be easy. All while, the Leafs are still far from a perfect team.
If there’s one thing Dubas proved by all the deals he did during the first week of July, it was that pieces can be found if you are willing to give up enough. The Leafs can keep Barrie but would need to be very creative going forward. Toronto’s wish would then be the cap dramatically spikes in the coming years.