The Toronto Maple Leafs continued their string of success in attracting European free agents to sign with them, as the club announced the signing of forward Alexander Barabanov to a one-year entry-level contract.
The 25-year-old St. Petersburg played seven seasons in the KHL for SKA St. Petersburg and for Russia internationally at the 2014 IIHF World Junior, the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang and three World Championships, and piqued the interest of more than 20 NHL clubs last season when he finished second in scoring behind New Jersey’s Nikita Gusev with 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists) in 58 games.
Reports last week indicated that the Leafs and Arizona were the leading candidates for the speedy forward, and that the Coyotes may have the upper hand in negotiations because they could offer more bonus incentives with their cap room, but the attractive opportunity to play with high-end skill players like Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander may have tipped it in Toronto’s favor.
"Alex is a player that we've scouted and watched, he along with many others over there (that) we're certainly interested in." Dubas said in a conference call last week. "He's not tall, but he's a very strong winger, tremendous playmaking ability, great skill level in tight. One of the other things that we like most about them is his ability to make plays under pressure and his ability to win pucks, protect pucks when people come after him and he uses his strength and be able to do that."
The one-year deal is at the NHL entry-level salary of 925,000, which allows Barabanov to be sent to the American Hockey League without waivers, but the deal also has a European Assignment provision (according to Cap Friendly) that would allow him to return to Russia if he does not make the club.
Although quite similar to the one-year deal for fellow Russian Ilya Mikheyev, the difference is that Barabanov will turn 27 in June, 2021 and thus will become an unrestricted free agent, while Mikheyev will be an arbitration-eligible RFA when his deal expires.
With the uncertain future of the salary cap and $40 Million being allocated to the core group of Matthews, Tavares, Marner and Nylander, GM Kyle Dubas’ task in the next few seasons is to keep having an influx of inexpensive contracts as a counterbalance. If the Leafs are convinced that Barabanov like Mikheyev can play in their top nine next season, then it could mean them moving out a winger like Kasperi Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson making more than $3 Million on a long term deal to add defensive help or give the Leafs more cap flexibility.
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