Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Barabanov, Matthews & Bieber & Mikheyev

Although the NHL’s regular season has been suspended, hockey news is still emerging from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization almost every day. Little of that news involves players on the ice, but it does involve signings and what players are engaged in at home.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Keefe, Barabanov, Marner & Shanahan

In today’s post, I’ll focus on the work of Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas who’s been busy finding players for the organization. These include very recent signings.

Item One: The Rumors Were Right, Alexander Barabanov Signs with Toronto

On April 7, the Maple Leafs reported that Alexander Barabanov has signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the team for the 2020-21 season. The 25-year-old Barabanov was coveted by a number of NHL organizations, but the Dubas/KHL pipeline won out in the end.

Last season, Barabanov played with SKA St. Petersburg and scored 20 points (11 goals, 9 assists) in 43 KHL games. He added three points (one goal, two assists) in four playoff games. It was reported earlier that the Maple Leafs organization believes he can make plays under pressure, and if that’s accurate, he’ll be given a chance to earn a place on the Maple Leafs roster next season. 

CapFriendly reported his contract at $925,000. Barabanov, who has represented Russia in many international competitions, including the Olympics, brings experience.

Item Two: Kyle Dubas Is Looking Everywhere for Talent

One of my favorite Maple Leafs bloggers is Mike Augello from “Hockey Buzz.” In a recent post, he noted the tenacity with which Dubas scours the NCAA, CHL, and European leagues for prospects, noting that the Maple Leafs general manager has a way of signing young players to AHL contracts that don’t count against the 50-man professional contract limit. Then, he gives them a chance to grow into – if they show the talent – a roster spot with the Toronto Marlies and eventually develop into players with the Maple Leafs.

Related: Revisiting the Brayden Schenn Trade

Augello noted three recent examples: Latvian defenseman Kristians Rubins, former Carolina draft pick Hudson Elyniuk, and North Bay winger Justin Brazeau were signed to AHL contracts last season. Rubins and Elyniuk became core pieces of the Newfoundland Growlers ECHL Championship club in 2018-19 and then went on to play with the Marlies during the 2019-20 season. Rubins recently signed a two-year, NHL entry-level contract, and Brazeau led the Growlers with 27 goals.

Justin Brazeau, North Bay Battalion, OHL
Justin Brazeau when he was with the North Bay Battalion. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Last week, the Maple Leafs signed two more players to two-year, AHL contracts this week: forwards Gordie Green (Miami University) and Bobby McMann (Colgate), who are both undrafted 23-year-olds and captained their college teams. Call me biased, as a retired university professor, but I love that these young men finished their four years in the NCAA and were team captains. That, at least, hints at leadership and intelligence.

Item Three: Auston Matthews Teams Up with Justin Bieber for Instagram Live

On April 6, reported that Auston Matthews joined Justin Bieber and a cast of “stars” on Bieber’s first-ever Instagram Live show. On the show, the Maple Leafs center talked about hockey, life in quarantine at his home in Arizona, and other topics with the Canadian pop star who’s also riding out his own quarantine at his home in Ontario.

What does Matthews do while he’s in quarantine? His life probably isn’t that different from the rest of us: he’s binge-watching, video chatting with his friends, and hanging out with his family. Bieber is doing the same. For those who might not know, Bieber is a huge Maple Leafs fan and skated with Matthews and his rest of the team this season.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Matthews told Bieber that he’s already finished the Netflix series “Tiger King” and “Love is Blind.” In a more NHL-directed conversation, Matthews shared his favorite NHL players: former Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan and Chicago Blackhawk Patrick Kane. He also admitted that Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the toughest players he’s had to defend against on the ice.

[For my money, Matthews could not have chosen a better person than Doan. I became aware of him when I traveled throughout Alberta in my work in the province’s schools. Until the school closed in the tiny town of Halkirk in 2016, when student enrollment fell below 40 children, it was filled with Doan memorabilia. Although he became an NHL star, he never stopped supporting his community.]

Matthews suggested, “We play Buffalo a lot, and [Jack] Eichel is really good. He’s really strong.”

He also noted, “A guy like [Connor] McDavid is really fast … he’s hard to catch up with.”

Related: NHL Waiver Rules

Bieber’s not finished as a producer. He announced that he’d be doing more of these shows from his home.

Item Four: Ilya Mikheyev’s Agent Hopes the Maple Leafs Will Re-sign His Client

Agent Dan Milstein (who’s also Barabanov’s agent) noted that he’s hopeful the Maple Leafs will be able to re-sign Ilya Mikheyev next season. Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one is really certain how the NHL salary cap might be affected; but, the rumor is that the upper limit of the cap will come down because of lost revenue.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Spezza, Robertson & Tavares

The Maple Leafs want Mikheyev back and offered him a contract extension within a week of his horrifying wrist injury. On Dec. 27, he was sliced open by a skate in a game against the New Jersey Devils. That impressed Milstein, who reported that “The Leafs lived up to their promise and we’ve talked a bit since. If not for the work stoppage, he could’ve played after March 19. He’s very interested in re-signing there.”

Not only is the 25-year-old Russian forward a fan favorite, but he’s also become a representative of the Campbells Soup Company – Souperman, as he’s called. In his first NHL season, he scored eight goals and 23 points in 39 games. Mikheyev is set to become a restricted free agent who carries arbitration rights at the end of the 2019-20 season, (from “KHL star to choose between Leafs, Coyotes, Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 05/04/20).

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Given the unstable salary cap and what seems to be Dubas’ philosophy, it will be interesting to see who he might discover in a far-away rink next.