Toronto Maple Leafs: Discarded Player Reaches Potential

Former Toronto Maple Leafs Player on NHL ice (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Former Toronto Maple Leafs Player on NHL ice (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs traded him as a favor for next to nothing. It didn’t take long for the organization to realize that they made a big mistake.

The 2022 NHL trade deadline has passed. The Toronto Maple Leafs made some moves to improve their roster ahead of the postseason. Sometimes, it’s not just about the big transactions but the small ones too.

That’s the case for a deadline deal last year. It was considered the Maple Leafs least important trade. Toronto sent left-winger Alexander Barabanov to the San Jose Sharks for center Antti Suomela.

With Barabanov appearing not to fit a significant role with the Leafs, the club did him a favor and found him a larger opportunity. GM Kyle Dubas sent Barabanov to a struggling team in California. The move did exactly what it was intended for, and it gave Barabanov more ice time in the NHL.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Alexander Barabanov

In fact, the rise in ice time was drastic. With Toronto, the Russian played an average of 8:37 per contest. In San Jose, he played greater than double those minutes. Barabanov averaged 17:39. That opportunity paid off.

In Barabanov’s 13 games with the Leafs, he recorded just a single assist. In nine games with the Sharks, he had seven points on three goals and four assists. This season, at 27-years-old, the forward continued to produce. In 54 games, Barabanov scored nine goals and added 23 helpers for a total of 32 points. That’s certainly not who Kyle Dubas thought he was trading away last season.

Making things worse for the Leafs than only receiving Suomela as a return in last year’s trade, is knowing that Barabanov only has a $1 million cap hit. With the Maple Leafs always flirting with running out of cap room, a talent on that salary would be extremely helpful.

The big difference for Barabanov in San Jose wasn’t just the additional minutes he was given. Sharks coach, Bob Boughner trusted the former Maple Leaf to play in the top-six. Barabanov has been playing on Tomas Hertl‘s wing, which has certainly helped. This season, Hertl has registered 25 goals and 24 assists in 62 games, which has allowed Barabanov to become his team’s fifth-leading point producer.

Barabanov is having such an impressive season that he will be in great demand when he hits free agency this offseason. Expect him to also be given a large raise. It can be so sizable that even if the Maple Leafs wanted to reacquire the St. Petersburg native, he prices them out of the market. A $3 million AAV isn’t out of the question.

Next. Understanding the Leafs Waiver Salary Cap Situation. dark

While it’s nice to see former Maple Leafs succeed, it’s far better when their best years occur while clad in the blue and white. Still, don’t be too upset with the Leafs for this move.  If they had signed Barabanov, given him no ice time, then refused to trade him, they may have made it so future free agents do not want to sign here.

So while the Leafs did lose out on a good player, doing right by Barabanov and moving him to a team where he could play might help them sign future players.