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The Early Bird

Like Edmonton Oilers’ GM Ken Holland, fans of the Oil Drop were revved up and ready to roll this morning. Holland had made three separate deals and fans were complaining about at least two of them BEFORE the UFA season officially opened at 10 a.m. The early bird gets the worm. Much debate to follow.

Of the three acquisitions announced before the UFA gun went off and made official shortly after, one (Zach Hyman) was essentially completed days ago and two were the subject of much speculation (Tyson Barrie in and Ethan Bear out). All that to go with the signing of D-man Cody Ceci, getting ink done with Mike Smith a couple days ago and buying out James Neal. You can’t accuse of Holland of being asleep at the switch — of course, some will anyway.

Hyman, 29, comes in from Toronto for seven years with an AAV of $5.5 million. Barrie, 30, here on a bargain $3.75 million contract last season — one in which he led NHL defencemen in scoring — is back for three years with an AAV of $4.5 million. Buzz about Bear in recent days obviously had legs as he was sent to Carolina for left winger Warren Foegele.

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That’s a lot of done deals completed well before lunchtime with the targets remaining being a third-line centre and some help for Smith in the blue paint. Of course, getting things done quickly doesn’t necessarily translate to getting them done well. There’ll be no shortage of discussion about that in the coming days and weeks.

THE WAY I SEE IT

Apr 18, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman (11) skates against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. Canucks won 3- 2 in Overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll get a boatload of analysis of these moves and that’s all part of the fun. My initial takes.

The acquisition of Hyman fills a need in the top six. Namely, Hyman is a player who looks capable of being a complement to Connor McDavid on the left side or as a second-line LW. He goes to the net. He bangs some. He scores some. Pundits who have had eyes on Hyman talk about a player whose value exceeds what you get just looking at the boxcars. 

Some Maple Leafs’ fans have gone as far as to call Hyman the “heart of the team.” High praise in highly paid company. Yes, the contract is too long for a 29-year-old, but it was either that or the AAV goes up on a shorter term. Really solid get by Holland.

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Given how prolific Barrie was last season with 8-40-48 in 56 games, the term and the money is a home run for Holland. I don’t know how much interest there was in Barrie elsewhere, but getting him back while avoiding an overpay in term and dollars is a win.

Barrie isn’t a perfect player, far from it, as eyeballs and analytics will tell you. It’s fair comment to say he doesn’t fill the void left by Adam Larsson — he’s the polar opposite. That’s more the forte of a meat-and-potatoes guy like Ceci, 27, who gets four years with a $3.25 million AAV. The main concern by many is keeping Barrie will stunt the progress of 21-year-old Evan Bouchard. That used to be called depth, but I understand the sentiment and the hopes fans have for Bouchard.

There is much consternation over sending Bear to Carolina for Warren Foegele, and that’s understandable. Bear, 24, has shown he can play top-four minutes and there’s room for improvement, while Foegele is a third-line left winger. I don’t know Foegele because I haven’t seen him enough, but if he can improve a bottom-six that hasn’t been able to hold its own, he fills a need. The question is if Bear is too high a price to pay. Not sure about this one.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There’s lots to digest with what Holland has done already and there’s more to come. In a city where fans have seen too many blueliners sent elsewhere only to blossom with another team, a lot of any negative feedback with what we’ve seen so far surrounds moving Bear out. We’ll see how it plays out. Good luck to the kid.

Now, if Holland can find his 3C, somehow convince one of his GM pals to take Mikko Koskinen off his hands and land somebody like, say, Darcy Kuemper, then the mood could swing big time in a hurry. Dare to dream.

Previously by Robin Brownlee