The Toronto Maple Leafs signed UFA Alex Barabanov from the KHL this past off-season.
At the time, it was heralded as a good move because was an effective two-way KHL player and it was thought that his skill and speed, combined with his tenacity and defensive acumen would play well in the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup.
So far, we are ten games into the season (this was written before last night’s game) and we haven’t seen if that is true or not.
Barabanov has played in six games and I can only recall one time where I remember something he did. He broke through the defense with a nice dangle, almost scored and drew a penalty. Other than that, he’s about as memorable as a Sting solo album.
Toronto Maple Leafs and Alex Barabanov
A lot of what I read about Barabanov basically says “the Leafs better play him or it might impact their ability to sign other KHL free agents” but I disagree.
First of all, if Barabanov wanted a guaranteed job, he could have signed with 15 loser teams for the same $925 K the Leafs are paying him and had a much easier path to ice time.
But here is the thing: winning matters, and being a smaller part of a good team is likely going to do just as much for your future prospects as playing more on a crap team. Especially if you want to earn a rep as a defensive type two-way player, it doesn’t make sense to join the Senators for 14 minutes per night on their third line.
The Leafs have signed Nikita Zaitsev, Ilya Mikheyev, and Igor Ozhiganov and given plenty of opportunity to those guys, so I doubt they will face sanctions or anything if they don’t gift ice time to Barabanov.
But that said, I would like to see him get an audition so we can know if he’s any good or not.
The stats can’t tell us anything: he’s played six games and averaged 6.5 minutes per game. The Leafs are getting dusted in those six minutes it’s true, but his most common linemates are Spezza, Simmonds and Engvall. The most common defenseman he’s played with is Zach Bogosian.
Unsurprisingly, his numbers with Engvall are good. The rest of the guys are on this team for special teams purposes only have extremely limited 5v5 abilities. Regardless, you can’t judge a guy who plays for six minutes per game. (stats naturalstattrick.com).
The Toronto Maple Leafs need to give Barabanov a real chance. Not because they are obligated to, and not because they want to be able to keep signing UFAs from the KHL – they should do it because he might actually be good. With a playoff spot already all-but-assured, there is no downside to moving him to the third line, or even giving him some time with some of the stars, just to see if he can do anything with the chance.