Nazem Kadri trade evidence that keeping Leafs together will be an endless grind

When the news dropped just as the hockey world was set to disconnect for the summer months, it wasn’t necessarily a tremendous surprise. It was massive deal, definitely, but not a surprise.

Both Nazem Kadri and Tyson Barrie’s names had been floated about in trade circles for some time previously. For costing his team in consecutive postseason appearances with reckless and emotional acts, in addition to belonging to a surplus, Kadri’s name was surfaced.

While for Barrie, it was mainly just the surplus.

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In retrospect, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche existed as perfect trade partners. Desperate for a right-shot defender that can shake the rest of the depth chart down into a proper slotting, the Maple Leafs needed Barrie just as much as the Avalanche required a No. 2 centre to support the Nathan MacKinnon line — which might just be the best in hockey.

For it all to work, though, Toronto needed a capable asset to replace Kadri and the money needed to match on either side. So versatile forward Alexander Kerfoot was included in the trade package and the Avalanche agreed to shoulder half of Barrie’s salary on an expiring contract, while improving their draft lot and acquiring depth defenseman Calle Rosen in the process.

Nazem Kadri was traded to Colorado on July 1. (Getty)
Nazem Kadri was traded to Colorado on July 1. (Getty)

All told, four players were involved, as well as two draft picks, but this trade was about two teams satisfying their most pressing needs by dealing from areas of strength.

A hockey deal, if you will.

It is interesting, though, when scrutinizing the mechanics of the agreement and conditions with which it was based upon. For it to have ever gotten off the ground, it was Colorado that had to accommodate the Leafs.

The reward for having the resources, flexibility and cap space to say yes? The Avalanche receive the asset with a certain and, to a point, uninterrupted future, while the Leafs will be left to figure that all out later.

Trading Kadri to Colorado was a clever bit of business from Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, and one that will bring required balance as hockey operations continues to work away at a roster cramped by the cost of its championship-quality core.

But what is a reminder when considering the enormity of trading a 10-year veteran of the franchise and its longest-serving member, and whose cost-controlled and team-friendly contract only enhances his value on the open market, is that keeping this team from completely falling apart is going to be a constant grind.

That is, the tireless work and the drastic measures that it will take to continue to surround Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander with talent will continue on without relent.

This isn’t ever going to be comfortable.

For now, though, with Barrie linking up with Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Travis Dermott (once he returns from injury) in the Toronto top four, and Cody Ceci potentially seeing sheltered minutes on a third pair after being acquired for Nikita Zaitsev, the Leafs have constructed a defense group that is demonstrably better than the ones that have let them down in previous seasons.

But how many of these defensemen are in line to either command a raise or exit in free agency at this time next year? That would be them all aside from Rielly, who will have more leverage than the lot when the last contract the Maple Leafs signed at well below market value finally does come off the Leafs’ payroll in 2022.

It is an uncertain future that the Maple Leafs face, and one being compensated for by the slow depletion of resources already.

Just 10 days ago Toronto was forced to spend a future first-round draft pick to shed Patrick Marleau and reclaim the $6.25 million salary that he had portioned off to him in free agency two summers back. Barring a trade back into the first round, the Leafs will go consecutive seasons without a No. 1 pick, having traded their last to acquire Muzzin before the deadline.

Scrubbing the veteran Marleau from the payroll was essential to the future of the club, or more specifically, creating the means to eventually pay Marner out of restricted free agency.

And trading the final three seasons on Kadri’s deal for what could amount to be only a season-long rental of Barrie could wind up to be the move that pushes the Maple Leafs over the top, albeit temporarily.

But the rate at which the Leafs have spent valuable resources to preserve and improve a roster that remains without the promise that it can endure has only heightened the stresses on a management team that will not soon seen them subside.

Even if in the here and now, they are better off.

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