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31 in 31

Inside look at Toronto Maple Leafs

Hope addition of Barrie boosts transition game, leads to playoff run

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

31 in 31: Toronto Maple Leafs

31 in 31: Toronto Maple Leafs 2019-20 season preview

NHL.com's Dan Rosen and NHL Network's Mike Johnson discuss the biggest questions facing the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2019-20 season

  • 06:23 •

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospects and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Toronto Maple Leafs could have as many as 11 new players in the lineup when they open the 2019-20 NHL season against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 2.

Following an offseason of roster turnover after being eliminated by the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round -- the third straight season the Maple Leafs were ousted from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first round -- the key will be whether Toronto can come together quickly and get off to a strong start.

 

[Maple Leafs 31 IN 31: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Behind the Numbers | Fantasy breakdown]

 

"Of course, developing chemistry is going to be a challenge," goalie Frederik Andersen said, "but I think most guys in hockey are pretty easy to become good friends with, and I think that's something we'll be able to do pretty quickly. I don't see that becoming the biggest concern at all. Obviously, saying goodbye to guys I got to know a lot the last few years is tough, but that is part of how the business works."

The most notable addition was defenseman Tyson Barrie, acquired along with center Alexander Kerfoot in a trade from the Colorado Avalanche on July 1. The Maple Leafs are hoping the 28-year-old, who had 116 points (28 goals, 88 assists) in 146 games over the past two seasons, sixth among NHL defensemen in that span, will bolster their transition game. 

"We want to be able to really get mobile, move the puck effectively, and pass the puck to our forwards," general manager Kyle Dubas said, "and we have a defenseman now who can get up in the play and support it … and Barrie certainly is going to be a big, big help for us in that regard."

Video: Tyson Barrie joins Maple Leafs after a career season

Toronto also acquired defenseman Cody Ceci in a trade from the Ottawa Senators on July 1. The 25-year-old, who has 118 points (32 goals, 86 assists) in 440 games through six NHL seasons, is expected to be on one of the Maple Leafs' top two defense pairs.

Among the key players returning are centers Auston Matthews and John Tavares, forward William Nylander, and defensemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin.

A big cloud hanging over the offseason has been the status of restricted free agent forward Mitchell Marner. Dubas said he remains hopeful Marner will sign before the start of training camp Sept. 13, but the 22-year-old, whose 94 points (41 goals, 51 assists) led Toronto and were 11th in the NHL, said he is unlikely to come to camp without a new contract and has explored the possibility of training with Zurich of the National League in Switzerland.

Video: Morgan Rielly lands at No. 7 on the list

Another new player is center Jason Spezza, who signed a one-year contract July 1. The 36-year-old, who has 915 points (332 goals, 583 assists) in 1,065 games in 16 NHL seasons, said he is excited about the chance to play in his hometown and is ready to embrace a leadership role.

"You try to help your teammates out, that's always how I've been," Spezza said. "When I came into the League, there were lots of guys who helped me out, so it's a pay-it-forward thing for me. It makes for a healthier environment when guys are working with each other and pushing each other."

Spezza will try to help make up for the loss of several key veterans, including forwards Patrick Marleau (whose contract was bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes after being traded by Toronto on June 22), Connor Brown (sent to Ottawa with defenseman Nikita Zaitsev in the Ceci trade) and Nazem Kadri (sent to Colorado in the Barrie trade). Also gone are forward Tyler Ennis and defenseman Ron Hainsey, who each signed with Ottawa, and defenseman Jake Gardiner, an unrestricted free agent.

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Matthews

Defenseman Travis Dermott, who had 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 64 games last season, is not expected to return until early November after having shoulder surgery during the offseason. His absence could lead to an opportunity for Rasmus Sandin, the No. 29 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, or Timothy Liljegren, the No. 17 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

"We've got a real good battle in the back end," Dubas said. "It's going to be wide open at the beginning with some veterans we've signed into the organization and then young players like Rasmus and Timothy, they'll be able to challenge for those positions. We'll give them every chance to make it."

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