The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Russian forward Alexander Barabanov to a one-year, entry-level contract worth $925,000 on Tuesday morning. This is following weeks of speculation as to where the forward would sign, as it was reported that there was interest from many NHL teams.
More than 20 NHL teams expressed interest in Alexander Barabanov.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 7, 2020
Barabanov spent the 2019–20 season (prior to the cancellation) with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinential Hockey League (KHL).
Here’s (likely) new Leaf Alex Barabanov scoring a highlight-reel goal: pic.twitter.com/dffud8Hq10
— 51Leafs (@51Leafs) March 28, 2020
Why did Barabanov spin before the pass? Cuz he can. pic.twitter.com/Od8O1RLoIc
— KHL (@khl_eng) February 12, 2019
— KHL (@khl_eng) January 23, 2019
He also participated in the 2018 Winter Olympics, which is where teams first began to notice him.
Toronto General Manager Kyle Dubas spoke about the team’s interest in Barabanov during a media call last week.
“He’s a winger, he’s strong, he’s not tall but a very strong player,” Dubas said in the media call. “(He has) great playmaking ability (and is) very good in tight.”
Dubas also pointed to the player’s ability to make plays under pressure and his ability to produce in the net-front area as additional reasons why the Leafs were interested.
This signing has caused some controversy. As Sean Tierney pointed out, Barabanov’s point totals in 2019–20 (20 points through 43 games) would translate to approximately 28 points over a full NHL season. For context, in his last KHL season prior to joining the Leafs, Ilya Mikheyev scored at a pace of approximately 44 points.
If league adj pts are your thing, Barabanov’s KHL scoring pace translates to 28 pts over a full NHL season (using Manny’s league adj formula).
Mikheyev, for context, scored at a 44 pts pace in his last KHL season before joining the Leafs.
Pts are just pts though so *shrugs* https://t.co/Q2iNoSbRgW
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) April 7, 2020
However, in 2018–19, Barabanov played a career-high 58 games and notched 46 points, which would translate to about 49 NHL points. As well, it is important to remember that Barabanov was signed as a cheap, skilled option to round out Toronto’s bottom six.
In recent years, the Maple Leafs have been successful at signing KHL free agents to cheap entry-level deals. Although there have been some misses (remember Igor Ozhiganov?), there have also been triumphs, most recently with Mikheyev. In 39 games prior to his injury (Dec. 27 versus the New Jersey Devils), Mikheyev notched eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points. Interestingly, both Barabanov and Mikheyev have the same agent, Dan Milstein.
Despite the difficulties in making the right decision when signing these players (with the different ice size, different pace and style of play, different quality of competition, etc.), it will continue to become more important for teams to pursue these free agents. Indeed, heading into what should be the beginning of playoffs but is instead the middle of week four with the season on pause, there is uncertainty surrounding next year’s salary cap—especially for the Maple Leafs, who have a large portion of the current salary cap being filled by the top six. Cheaper bottom-six options are essential.