The first day of July was a busy one for Kyle Dubas. The Maple Leafs GM began and ended his day with a significant trade, reshaping Toronto's roster notably in the process. And by the time the day was over, the Leafs had some impressive new additions for the 2019-20 season.
Dubas' first deal Monday - the first day of unrestricted free agency, and a major pressure point for trades in this era of the NHL - sent forwards Connor Brown and Michael Carcone and defenceman Nikita Zaitsev to the Ottawa Senators in return for blueliners Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur, centre Aaron Luchuk and a third-round draft pick in 2020.
The trade helped free up cap space to give the team flexibility - and, in addition to Ceci, an RFA this summer - Toronto acquired another RFA late Monday afternoon in a second sizeable transaction: the Leafs sent centre Nazem Kadri, D-man Calle Rosen and a third-rounder in 2020 to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for defenceman Tyson Barrie, 24-year-old forward Alexander Kerfoot and a sixth-round pick in 2020. As part of the trade, the Avalanche will also pay 50% of Barrie's contract, which carries an actual annual value of $5.5 million.
When the smoke cleared, the Leafs were a faster, more skilled and balanced squad with a revamped back end and an overall group that could raise hell in the years ahead.
But don't take our word for it - listen to the reactions of the newest Leafs.
"I don't know if there's any place in the league better to be traded to right now than Toronto," said Kerfoot, who had 15 goals and 42 points for the Avs in his sophomore NHL season. "The Leafs' offense is second to none," added Barrie, who amassed a career-best 59 points for Colorado last season. "If I can get these guys the puck in good scoring positions and jump up to create some offense, that's my game. It would be tough to find a better fit for me in the league."
"I am definitely lucky to get the opportunity to be part of the Maple Leaf organization and what they are trying to do there," added Ceci, who helped the Senators make the Eastern Conference Final a couple years back. "Even just watching the (NBA's) Raptors and seeing how passionate all the fans are there this past year, it was pretty special. To be a part of that and hopefully get back to where we were a few years ago with the Sens and get into the mix of things in the playoffs would be fun."
The 25-year-old Ceci will be part of a Leafs defence corps with members from last season moving on. Ceci and Barrie will step in, and Leafs head coach Mike Babcock will have to figure out where to slot them in alongside cornerstones Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Travis Dermott. But there will be ramifications on the offensive side as well: with Kadri gone, a slot at centre opens up, and perhaps Kerfoot or new unrestricted free agent signing Spezza will step into that role.
And make no mistake - the Leafs are as excited about Kerfoot's addition to the team as they are Barrie's and Ceci's. 'I know Barrie will be seen as the key part of the deal and I think Tyson's performance and track record certainly deserves that,' Dubas said of Kerfoot's name taking a backseat in the trade. "But we're very excited about Alex as well."
'The thing we like for him is that he's still just 24 years old," Dubas said. "He's got a lot of experience. He's played a lot of minutes in Ottawa. We just think we can bring him in here, integrate him with our staff, and he'll probably play a little bit of a different role here in terms of the expectations and where he's at. Hopefully, we'll get him rolling. They've done a good job with him there in Ottawa. They've given up a lot of responsibility and he's got some good experience as well. Using that, plus using the fact that he's going to be an unrestricted free agent in a year, we hope that that can certainly provide some incentive and could be a great thing. We'll see where it goes after that."
With Toronto's drafting and development team working on identifying and pushing young talent up to the NHL level, Dubas takes the most pride in Toronto's success in those areas - and in terms of being well-positioned for any potential contractual development that could take place.
"We spent a lot of time last year just looking at it - I think our younger forwards and even our younger D are getting closer and closer and pressing," Dubas said. "We want to make sure we are well covered for whatever comes next season. Whether it is injury or competition in camp or waiver-related stuff as we experienced last year, we want to make sure we have a variety of players that are versatile in their own right that can play both sides of defense and play both wings and centre and just really build this team as best we can with limited cap space."