I don’t think I paid enough au revoir respect to Alexander Kerfoot and, especially, to Tyson Barrie after they were traded by the Avalanche earlier this month to Toronto. I debated for a few minutes whether to make this a “you gotta pay at least $3.49 a month to read the rest after the first couple paragraphs” story on this here subscription site of mine/National Hockey Now. But, naw, I can’t do that in this case. I know there are a huge number of Maple Leafs fans who have asked me about what Barrie and Kerfoot are as players and people. And, yeah, I could probably have gotten a subscription or two out of them over it. But this isn’t a clickbait site, so naw.
So, here’s what I think you’re getting, Toronto:
TYSON BARRIE: As a person, you can’t do any better. I was around the guy for eight years of my life, and he’s just a really excellent man. He’s polite, respectful, friendly, and, crucially, appreciative of what he has. I used to interview him a lot when he bounced back and forth between the minors and the Avs in his first couple of years, and he always just had the attitude of “I just gotta keep workin’ at it, I know nothing is to be taken for granted, I gotta just keep my head down and keep doing what they tell me.”
He had David Quinn, Dean Chynoweth and Joe Sacco as his coaches the first two years of his pro career, either with the Avs or in Lake Erie of the AHL. He really struggled those first couple years. He played 10 games for the 2011-12 Avs and put up exactly zero points. He spent most of that first pro season in Lake Erie, and his play there was mostly just…OK. Thirty two points in 49 games, minus-2, erratic puck-possession numbers.
It wasn’t until 2013-14 that he finally got a foothold in the NHL, but it was still a struggle. He was sent back to Lake Erie early in that season by new coach Patrick Roy. That was a really big deal at the time. It was widely seen as a big step back in his career, a repudiation by the new coach about his future/value with the organization.
Here’s what Roy said about Barrie after an October 5 WIN for the Avs in which Barrie played:
“Tonight, I was not 100 percent happy with Barrie. That’s why I put Parenteau (at the point) sometimes there. Tyson needs to keep his game more simple. When he’s losing the puck at the blue line or he’s making a bad decision at the blue line, this is not what we’re looking for. I think he could be a little bit better in that area.”
That would have killed a lot of guys. When Roy doesn’t like something about you, it’s a tough thing to overcome (I can speak from personal experience). You’ve got to work hard to get back in his good graces. Barrie did that.
He was recalled after a six-game stint in Lake Erie and he put up 38 points in 64 games overall for that team, which won the Central Division. He had two assists in the first two games of a first-round playoff series with the Minnesota Wild, until his season ended because of a blatant cheap shot, a knee-on-knee hit from Matt Cooke in Game 3. The Avs, up 2-0 in the series, lost in seven games. Cooke was suspended for seven games and the Wild bowed out in the second round, but little consolation that was to the Avs. With a healthy Barrie, I know the Avs would have won that series.
Here’s the thing: there are going to be nights when you love Tyson Barrie and nights where you…don’t. He’s a great guy to have on your team when you’re tied in a game or behind by a goal in a game. If you’re up by a goal or two in a game, you have to be really, really careful with his ice time. His lack of size prevents him from being a shutdown defender. He doesn’t love the physical side of the game. He’ll take a hit just fine, but he rarely dishes out a hit. He almost never gets really mad out there. Even after Cooke ended his season, he kind of spoke about it like it was a quarterly review of a corporate earnings statement. I know he was really mad inside, but it just doesn’t come out.
Part of my half-assed psychological assessment of that is: Barrie grew up pretty privileged. He is the son of Len Barrie, who not only played in the NHL, he partially owned an NHL team – the Tampa Bay Lightning. He didn’t grow up poor and hungry, with a chip on his shoulder. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have his own burdens because of that. When you’re the rich kid son of a pro player/owner, there is a LOT of pressure and unfair expectation.
Barrie earned Roy’s respect after that, but there were still some bumpy moments. Roy would sometimes pull his hair out when Barrie wouldn’t shoot the puck enough or get caught flat-footed at the offensive blue line. He had a tendency to fake a slap shot, deke a couple feet to the right or left and then try to float a wrister on net. Sometimes those would get blocked, and off the other way things went – not always to the good.
Barrie’s Corsi for percentage in all situations last season was 58.7. That’s a little deceptive though. He only had a 28.3 percentage on defensive zone starts. Translation: he wasn’t out there nearly as much when the puck started in the Avs’ end as at the opposite end. It’s easier to have a good Corsi number when you start out in the offensive zone.
Before I put everybody to sleep with a bunch more Corsi numbers, just know this: Barrie is great when you need a goal, either to tie or take a one-goal lead. If you’re up by a goal or two in the third period? Be careful with his usage.
No matter what, Barrie will be a credit to the Toronto organization and community. He’s absolutely without ego as a person and a guy I’ll truly miss being around. He’s got serious skill with the puck off the rush and he’s going to get you points from the back end. I hope he kills it in Toronto.
He is the second player in this evaluation who is the son of a professional sports team owner. His father, Gregory, is one of the richer men in Canada, the owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS. (Don’t bother trying to get an interview with him, Maple Leafs media, he’s NEVER given one).
He grew up a rich kid in the Vancouver area, a kid with his own regulation-size hockey rink – an indoor rink, mind you – in his own home. But here’s the thing: you’d never know it.
Yeah, he’s a bit of a cocky guy, a young man who not only is a professional hockey player but one who has an economics degree from Harvard. So, YEAH, HE SHOULD BE COCKY.
But there is NO chance you can make it in the NHL without really having the goods. Kerfoot is a guy who is 5-foot-11 he doesn’t really seem that tall. He looks small, but he plays much bigger. He’s a tough, tough kid. As Avs fans know, he can take a hit. He took a lot of big hits in his two years with the Avs, but he always got right back up and never whined about a thing. He came in to the Avs’ rookie showcase in 2017 in San Jose and really proved himself in a rough-and-tumble, Hunger Games kind of couple days. Basically, in the Rookie Showcase, they just throw everyone out there and see who is still standing after an Old Time Hockey kind of 60 minutes. Kerfoot not only showed he could compete physically, but he showed more skill than just about everyone out there – save for Tyson Jost.
Then he went out there, after making the team, and put up 19 goals and 43 points in 79 games for the Avs for a team that made the playoffs.
OK, a couple things about that first year: he had a 23.5 percent shooting percentage. That’s very, very difficult to maintain. In his second year, that rate fell to 12.5. He had a few pucks that bounced in off his head or off his butt that first season, and various other body parts.
Another thing: he will absolutely drive you insane at times over the fact that he won’t shoot enough. You WILL yell “SHOOT THE GODDAMN PUCK!” at least once, you Leafs fans. He looks to pass first, period. He has 197 shots on goal in 157 games. It doesn’t take a Harvard economics degree to know that’s not much more than one shot per game. Trust me, he should have a lot more.
Can he make it as a third-line center, where he seems to be pegged right now on the Leafs’ depth chart? Hmm. I’m a bit worried about that. He’s not a great defensive player. It’s not that he’s a BAD defensive player. He’s very smart at the little things, like knowing when and where to chip loose pucks out of the defensive zone and anticipating where the puck is going. The problem, as I’ve seen it, is he sometimes is a bit too late coming back after forays in the offensive end, and when things get really physical in the corners, when a team is cycling the puck effectively and getting to the front of the net, he can seem a bit too much on the margins.
He needs to be used in the right ways by Mike Babcock. If Babcock is expecting a mucker-grinder type as his third-line center, Kerfoot is not quite the right guy. Kerfoot wants to put points on the board. He’s an offensive player. If he’s expected to sacrifice a lot of that part of his game to be a third-line mucker and grinder, this might be a bad fit.
No matter what, though, he’s going to fight to succeed. Despite having a lot of advantages growing up, most people thought he’d be too small to play in the big time. He has proven them all wrong. He had to work for it as much as anyone else.
The same with Barrie, really.
Leafs fans, you have two really good people and players on your team now. The Avs are really, really happy they have Nazem Kadri now, too.
I think this will be the rare trade that both sides can claim victory on at some point.