Saturday night’s game isn’t an ordinary one for the Colorado Avalanche - and it’s not only because of the unorthodox start time. For the first time in his NHL career, Tyson Barrie is going to be getting ready for a game in the visitor’s dressing room of the Pepsi Center. It’s going to be an emotional night for a player that had been a member of the core group in Colorado for a long time.
At the other end of the ice, Nazem Kadri is likely going to be feeling the same sort of emotion as he faces off against the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time in his life. Add to that the fact that the Leafs are coming to town with a brand new head coach and Saturday’s game could be as eventful as a regular season game in November can get.
This is the first meeting between the two teams since they hooked up for the biggest trade of the 2019 NHL offseason. Unlike most deals we see in today’s NHL, this wasn’t a salary dump or a move for the future that involved a bunch of draft picks and prospects. The term “hockey trade” has become overused and somewhat annoying, but that’s what this was. Good players went both ways in the trade as both teams were dealing from a position of strength in order to fill a very big hole in the lineup. The Avalanche desperately needed a legitimate 2C to play behind MacKinnon while the Maple Leafs needed to find a top-4 right-shooting defenseman. With Alexander Kerfoot and Calle Rosen and a couple draft picks thrown in, the trade made a lot of sense for both teams.
Barrie was a very good player in Denver. He was a polarizing figure among some fans but a player that undoubtedly fit in will with the core of the team. He was, however, expendable. With Cale Makar able to step into the top-4 and fill the void on the power play, it became evident that the Avalanche weren’t going to keep Barrie around once he hit free agency in the summer of 2020.
Though the trade immediately looked like a win-win situation, it has looked a lot more lopsided for the Avalanche through the first quarter of the season.
Barrie has been having a rough start to the season in Toronto. Maybe being back at the Pepsi Center can bring some comfort. Playing in blue and white, he simply hasn’t looked like the dynamic puck mover Avalanche fans have come to know. He was clearly struggling in Mike Babcock’s system as his new coach was asking him to play a style that simply didn’t work. He has looked uncomfortable in his new role and has seen his game suffer as a result.
Things may be set to change though as the Leafs made the big move of firing Babcock earlier this week. They have only played one game under new head coach Sheldon Keefe but instant improvements were obvious. Toronto played a much looser, possession based game that feeds into Barrie’s strength. He scored his first goal as a Maple Leaf and spoke afterwards about feeling better on the ice.
Surely, Barrie’s return to the building he called home for seven years will bring another level of comfort as he tries to work his way back to being the player Avs fans are used to seeing.
On the flip side, this will be the first time in his 583 game NHL career that Nazem Kadri will face off against the Maple Leafs. Drafted seventh overall by Toronto in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Kadri spent a decade in the organization before being the key piece of the Barrie trade. Though his time with the Leafs was tumultuous - and ended on a bit of a sour note - Kadri carved out a niche as a fan favorite who was one of the lone bright spots through some tough years for the franchise.
Kadri grew up in Southern Ontario and the Toronto Maple Leafs were the only professional organization he’d ever known. It would have been completely understandable if it took him a while to adapt to his new surroundings after the trade. Fortunately for the Avalanche, he hasn’t. Through 22 games this season, Kadri has recorded seven goals and 15 points while being a stabilizing presence in an injury riddled lineup.
Now he’ll face his old team for the first time as a truly indispensable part of the Colorado Avalanche.
The game will also see the return of Alexander Kerfoot. After missing a handful of games after extensive dental surgery, Kerfoot is back in the lineup with a Zadorov-like face shield. Centering the third line, Kerfoot has eight points through 21 games - a pace well below the average of his two seasons with the Avalanche. In an attempt to fill the void created when the Leafs traded away Kadri, Kerfoot simply hasn’t been able to produce.
Though the season hasn’t gone the way the Maple Leafs had expected, the team has a renewed sense of optimism after the coaching change.
Things have been much different in Colorado. Despite playing without two of their three all star forwards for most of the season, the Avalanche sit in second place in the Central Division and return home from a lengthy road trip having won five of their last seven contests. That includes two win from AHL goalies Antoine Bibeau and Adam Werner.
Even without the homecoming of Barrie and Kerfoot, Saturday’s game would be an exciting matchup between two teams that have the talent to play an up-tempo style of high-event hockey. Neither team is afraid to trade scoring chances. Add to that the history of the big trade and we’re likely to see a lot more emotion from both sides than we ordinarily would at this point in the season.
If you want to be in attendance at the Pepsi Center for Tyson Barrie’s return to Denver, or if you want to cheer on Naz as he takes it to his former team, there are a number of good deals available on StubHub.
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