The Maple Leafs (optional) skated at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.
What's it like experiencing the trade deadline in Toronto?
"It's a little different," said a smiling Tyson Barrie. "I skyrocketed there to No. 5 on the (TSN) Trade Bait (list) so it happens quick, but it’s nothing I haven't dealt with before."
Barrie spent the first eight years of his NHL career in Colorado before being traded to the Leafs in the summer. Now, he could be on the move again.
"I love it here," the pending unrestricted free agent said. "I love the guys and we want to try to be a team that does something special this year and I'd obviously like to be around for that. You know, it's out of my control, but a big win here tonight would help."
The Leafs held an optional skate ahead of tonight's game against Carolina and Barrie didn't take part so he wasn't obligated to talk to the media, but the B.C. native still took time to field questions.
Is it hard to tune out the trade talk?
"Yeah, well, I'm standing here so, for sure," the 28-year-old defenceman said with a grin. "I guess it's in the back of your mind but, I mean, once I get to the rink tonight it's routine as usual."
While his fit on the ice has been awkward at times in Toronto, Barrie has quickly emerged as a popular figure among teammates.
"The type of person he is, he's top notch," said winger Mitch Marner. "He's been great to hang around this past year and he's a beauty to have around the locker room. On the ice he brings a lot to the table with his skill and his mindset so you'd be losing a pretty valuable guy."
Rasmus Sandin sits beside Barrie inside the team's Scotiabank Arena dressing room.
"I've heard a couple jokes and that kind of stuff," the rookie defenceman said with a chuckle. "He's great to sit around, he's very easygoing and likes to help us younger guys out so he's a perfect stallmate for me."
Barrie is one of only two Leafs to suit up in every game this season. After a sluggish start under Mike Babcock (seven points in 23 games), Barrie has started to produce more under Sheldon Keefe with 26 points in 39 games (0.67 per game). That's still behind his pace in Colorado where last season he posted 59 points in 78 games (0.76 per).
Injuries to blueliners Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci has forced Keefe to lean on Barrie even more than usual. He's averaging a team-leading 23:17 of ice time per game since Rielly, his partner at the time, got hurt on Jan. 12. Barrie has one goal and eight assists in those 16 outings.
"There's been a steady progression for him," Keefe said, "in terms of his confidence and his role with the team and his production, all those types of things have gotten consistently better so we've been really happy with him."
Barrie has gone four games without a point and has just three assists in the last 11 games. He readily admits he wants to create more offence, but at this juncture of the season, Barrie's veteran presence by itself is a positive.
"He's got good energy," said Keefe. "He's a popular guy around the room and especially with the injuries we've had with Morgan, and Muzz when he was out, Ceci now, we’re getting thin on experience there so Barrie is a guy who's been able to take on a lot for us."
The Leafs are in win-now mode so any move GM Kyle Dubas makes will be aimed at bolstering the roster. That means trading Barrie may involve multiple maneuvers. This isn't just about selling off a pending UFA.
After getting dealt in the summer, Barrie feels mentally prepared for any outcome.
"In the past I've been (mentioned) in TradeCentre and coming up to the deadline and nothing ever really happened and you think you’re going to move and it doesn't happen and then when you're least expecting it you get traded so it's an unpredictable business," he said. "You just try to control what you can control. If anything did happen I'm sure I'd be a little more prepared, but still my focus is here with the Leafs."
Keefe played three seasons in the NHL, but can't really relate to what Barrie's going through at the deadline.
"My only memory is that nobody ever wanted me," he said with a smile, "so I wasn't too concerned about it."
It's not a big focal point for the coaching staff.
"We're not talking about it," said Keefe, who played for Tampa Bay from 2000 to 2003. "I know that it's out there, but we're just going about our business here and we've got a lot of pros in the room that have been through this a lot. It is a time of year everybody in the League would be going through it to a certain degree. You've just to keep the focus on what we need to do on the ice."
And it's business as usual when it comes to Keefe's contact with Dubas.
"It's normal for me," said the coach, who also worked for Dubas in the OHL and AHL. "Kyle's got his job to do and I've got more more than enough on my plate. My job is to coach the hockey team and the players we have on any given day, be it trades, injuries, call-ups, whatever the situation is, they let us know who the group is that we have for that day and we do our job. But we are, obviously, in contact a lot about what’s happening with the team and with our individuals, but this time of the year, it hasn't changed."
It's been a roller coaster week for the Leafs. A loss to the struggling Sabres on Sunday was followed by a flat effort in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, which led to some honest dialogue amongst the players and staff and eventually a bounce-back win on Thursday night against the same Penguins team. It may have been Toronto's most complete effort of the season.
"It's definitely a game you want to remember and build off, for sure," said Jake Muzzin, among the loudest critics of the team after Tuesday's defeat. "I don't know if it’s a turning point, but a level of play we need every night."
There was a lot to like, but one thing in particular stood out to Marner.
"Our puck control down low in the offensive zone was (at) the highest (level) it’s been in a long time," Marner observed, "and we were doing so well there that we weren't giving them a lot when they did break out."
A practice full of battle drills on Wednesday, the team's first practice in nine days, was credited by some players with helping refocus the group. But after the win Thursday, the players were given a day off on Friday and only a handful of guys skated this morning.
"We had an optional skate so it's tough to get a feel and, you know, guys are kind of all over the place," said Muzzin when asked about the mood of the group, "but I expect the same effort out of everyone tonight. It should be the norm going forward here. We’re in a fight, every point is important and it should be the normal going forward. We're going to need it."
Muzzin was one of seven regulars to hit the ice this morning. He was joined by Alex Kerfoot, Jason Spezza, Sandin, Pierre Engvall, Denis Malgin and Kyle Clifford.
Toronto's young core stayed off the ice, but the urgency remained in their voice.
"It’s just knowing nothing’s going to be easy," said Marner, "nothing’s going to be given to us especially with the team we have and the team we are. It's going to be a battle and got to make sure we're ready for that."
Easier said than done, especially in the centre of the hockey universe where the highs and lows are felt more.
"It doesn’t happen overnight," Auston Matthews said of establishing the proper mindset. "When you look back, Pittsburgh three Cups, Chicago three Cups, Washington winning that Cup, they went through adversity, it wasn't all just easy, all sunshine and everything, they went through a lot to get to that point ... as hard as it is sometimes when you're playing in a market like this and things aren't going well for you and you feel like the world’s crashing down on you, you try to stay positive and obviously try and get back on track as soon as possible and the game against Pittsburgh was a good stepping stone for us."
The Hurricanes are level with the Leafs on 72 points, but have played two fewer games. Carolina is coming off a rough home loss to the Rangers last night.
"I'm sure they're not going to be in a very good mood," noted Keefe, "we're going to have to be ready. One hockey game doesn't make a season, it shows us what we're capable of and we want to build upon that, for sure."
Kasperi Kapanen was certainly ready on Thursday night. The feisty Finn scored a big goal and dropped the gloves with Jared McCann for his second career NHL fight. Kapanen was standing up for Sandin, who received a questionable hit from Patric Hornqvist.
"He's a passionate guy and he steps up for me so I really appreciated it and I’ll get him back," Sandin said with a grin. "I'll stand up for him next time."
Sandin actually held his own pretty well throughout the night.
"He's had some games where it's been harder on him than others," said Keefe. "But I look at last game, as an example, a time when obviously our team needs to respond and it's natural to lean a little more on the experienced guys to help you in that cause, but he was as competitive as anyone we had in the game and that's a really good sign. He was not shy in the moment, physically looked like he was able to handle it. Still made his plays but was competitive around the net. Really good and healthy sign for a young defenceman."
Projected Leafs line-up for Saturday's game:
Hyman - Matthews - Marner
Nylander - Tavares - Malgin
Engvall - Kerfoot - Kapanen
Clifford - Gauthier - Spezza
Muzzin - Holl
Sandin - Barrie
Marincin - Dermott
Healthy scratch: Timashov, Liljegren
Injured: Ceci (ankle), Rielly (foot), Mikheyev (wrist), Johnsson (knee)