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Barrie trade shows Maple Leafs inspired by Raptors in quest for title

GM Dubas following lead of Toronto NBA team, which made bold moves to win championship

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Kyle Dubas has made the short walk from the Toronto Maple Leafs offices at Scotiabank Arena to the Toronto Raptors offices countless times.

These days it's a trip that holds extra motivation for the Maple Leafs general manager.

In his efforts to reshape the Toronto roster, Dubas has been inspired by the efforts of the Raptors and their president, Masai Ujiri, whose relentless pursuit of a title helped that team overcome numerous postseason shortcomings in seasons past to win the NBA championship last month.

 

[RELATED: Barrie trade gives Maple Leafs boost from back end]

 

Ujiri never has been shy about making significant moves. The Maple Leafs' acquisition of defenseman Tyson Barrie in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche on Monday once again reinforced that they aren't either.

"I think the Raptors are a group down the hall we can learn from," Dubas said Tuesday. "They went for it for years before they won it all. I think we're trying to move our team in the direction where we can contend year in and year out.

"It's a difficult league with tough competitors. We're obviously very happy with our core group here … but I think with anything, not that we're not a motivated group, but you can't really ever rest."

Dubas points to Ujiri as mapping out a blueprint for such an approach.

Ujiri was hired in 2013, and the Raptors won the Atlantic Division in four of his first five seasons. But the frustration of reaching the conference final once in that time spurred the Raptors to do something bold.

That led to the trade last July of fan favorite DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard, one of the best players in the NBA.

The Raptors knew Leonard was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and might not return. They took the gamble. They were rewarded with a title.

Dubas is taking the same risk in many ways. In the past five months he has rebuilt the Maple Leafs defenseman group by bringing in Barrie, Jake Muzzin and Cody Ceci. Ceci is a restricted free agent, and Barrie and Muzzin each can be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

It's a chance he's willing to take, especially after the Maple Leafs were eliminated in the Eastern Conference First Round the past three seasons. Management identified defense as an area that could be upgraded and feels it's been addressed.

"We had a need, and from our view as a management team we owe it to our forward group and [Frederik] Andersen in net to round it out as best we can and put the best possible team on the ice, particularly with defensemen who can move the puck effectively and efficiently to our forward group," Dubas said. "And I think we've accomplished that today. Excited to see that come into action in the fall."

This fall is all that matters. There is plenty of time to address what the fall of 2020 will look like, Dubas said.

Asked about if he felt optimistic about getting any or all of Barrie, Muzzin and Ceci signed for the long term, Dubas said he hadn't thought about it yet. Barrie and Muzzin each became eligible to sign a contract extension Monday.

"I always think about our players' contract status, but I haven't thought in terms of my confidence (to re-sign them)," he said. "With all these players we've obviously brought them in because we like them. We've acquired three defensemen now since January that [could] be pending UFAs at the end of the season, Barrie, Ceci and Jake Muzzin. I think what it does for us as a franchise, you have Morgan (Rielly) there, Travis Dermott and a litany of players who are developing behind them. … So I think we'll see how it all plays out.

"We're excited for our opportunity with them but I don't think those discussions will be going on for a while."

Muzzin, who signed a five-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 15, 2014, was acquired by Toronto in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings for forward Carl Grundstrom, the rights to defenseman Sean Durzi and a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on Jan. 28. He had 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 30 regular-season games for the Maple Leafs and two assists in seven games against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Video: FLA@TOR: Muzzin blasts slap shot past Montembeault

Barrie and Ceci each was acquired in a trade Monday.

Ceci and defenseman Ben Harpur joined the Maple Leafs from the Ottawa Senators, along with forward Aaron Luchuk and a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, in a trade for defenseman Nikita Zaitsev and forwards Connor Brown and Michael Carcone. Ceci has 118 points (32 goals, 86 assists) in 440 NHL games and three assists in 25 NHL playoff games.

Later in the day Barrie, who turns 28 on July 26, forward Alexander Kerfoot and a sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft were traded to the Maple Leafs by the Avalanche for center Nazem Kadri, defenseman Calle Rosen and a third-round pick in the 2020 draft. Barrie, who had 59 points (14 goals, 45 assists) in 78 games last season, has one season remaining on a four-year contract he signed with the Avalanche on July 31, 2016.

Toronto started last season with Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey as their top-four defensemen. Their top four when they open this season against the Senators on Oct. 2 are expected to be Rielly, Barrie, Muzzin and Ceci.

"It wasn't by design that we went out and purposely reconstructed everything … but we identified [defense] as a position of need and addressed it," Dubas said.

Rielly and Barrie bring an offensive flair, especially on the power play. Rielly is third among NHL defensemen the past two seasons with 124 points (26 goals, 98 assists), behind Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks (150 points) and John Carlson of the Washington Capitals (138). Barrie is sixth with 116 points (28 goals, 88 assists).

Video: BOS@TOR, Gm6: Rielly blasts one-timer from blue line

Barrie came at the cost of Kadri, who had 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) in 73 games with the Maple Leafs and two points (one goal, one assist) in two playoff games last season. He'd been the longest-serving Maple Leafs player; he had 357 points (161 goals, 196 assists) in 561 games since Toronto made him the No. 7 pick of the 2009 NHL Draft.

"It's unfortunate that we had to include [Kadri] in this but we had to give up something very lucrative to get [what we did]," Dubas said.

He did it to win now. Just like Ujiri did.

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