With the 2020 NHL season caught in the midst of an unprecedented pause, we take the opportunity to grade the Toronto Maple Leafs’ campaign thus far. Today’s topic: Evaluating the team’s defense.
Welcome to the fourth installment of a seven-part series on the Toronto Maple Leafs 2019-20 season. Caught in the midst of the hockey world’s unprecedented pause, now is the time to reflect on what may very well go down as one of the more dynamic-altering campaigns — for better or for worse — in club history.
Largely hyped as a potential season for the books, Toronto’s current run has been defined by a quality of inconstancy. The team has established itself as the NHL’s foremost Jekyll and Hyde organization, with the line between pretender and contender for Lord Stanley’s trophy growing increasingly thin throughout the progression of games.
As such, questions continue to be raised about the state of the franchise. Are the Maple Leafs actually in a serious position to compete for glory? Will the present campaign ultimately become yet another disappointment? And who bears responsibility for the club’s shortcomings?
Over the course of this series, we shall unpack some of the aforementioned questions by grading many facets of the organization. For the purpose of conducting a thorough review, we will only report on players who have skated in more than 10 games in a Maple Leafs uniform across the 2019-20 season. Consequently, the likes of Pontus Aberg, Adam Brooks, Kevin Gravel, Kasimir Kaskisuo, Egor Korshkov, Denis Malgin, Mason Marchment and Calle Rosen shall be excluded from consideration.
With that, let’s move on to today’s topic: Evaluating the right side of the team’s blue line.
Games Played: 70
Tyson Barrie consistently served as one of the most difficult defensemen to grade on the Maple Leafs’ blue line over the course of the 2019-20 campaign.
Acquired — along with Alexander Kerfoot and a sixth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft — by Toronto in a deal that sent the aforementioned Rosen, Nazem Kadri and a third-round selection in 2020 to the Colorado Avalanche, Barrie was largely hyped as a potential solution to the Maple Leafs’ back end struggles.
Instead, Barrie’s high-risk, high-reward play remained a constant point of speculation among both fans and the talk circuit of Toronto media. In his first 23 games as a member of the blue and white — the likes of which were played under former head coach Mike Babcock — Barrie managed to tally a measly seven assists. Trade talk became a recurring feature of coverage surrounding the defender, with many wondering if No. 94 would end up as a bust.
With the promotion of Sheldon Keefe to the head of duties behind the Maple Leafs’ bench, Barrie’s season started to turn around for the better. He notched 5 goals and 27 assists for 32 points in 47 matchups, during which he was placed in a stronger position to succeed, earning significant time on Toronto’s top power play unit and sheltered minutes in the defensive zone.
But when Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin were forced out from the club’s lineup as a result of sustaining multiple injuries, Barrie was left to grapple with the responsibility of expansive duties. Some of the player’s defensive shortcomings became particularly apparent, as he was left to step outside of his comfort zone on a nightly basis.
2019-20 was not the season that Barrie had hoped for, but I cannot look past the positive elements of his game. While Barrie was not the type of defensemen that Toronto’s right side desperately needed — a minute-eater in the club’s own zone who could handle difficult two-way assignments — I believe that he will go on to find success in another market.
Barrie remains the type of player who thrives when afforded sheltered defensive time and ample opportunities to wreak havoc offensively. I admire the fact that he worked hard during the Maple Leafs’ most trying moments to hold his own — even when it became evident that the marriage between club and player was likely limited in scope.