Why Cam Barker Should Start On The Third Pairing

One of the Oilers’ moves that has gotten some favourable attention (Jason Gregor’s take is here; I’m not in total agreement but he makes a good argument) is their signing of defenseman Cam Barker, lately of the Minnesota Wild and previously a third overall draft selection of the Chicago Blackhawks.

My intent is not to argue or agree with the signing here. Instead, I want to explain why I think it’s a bad idea to start Barker off in the top-four on the blue line.

The biggest reason I think Barker needs to be regarded as a bottom-pairing guy is that he’s never been used in the top-four – even when he scored 40 points for Chicago, they used him on the bottom pairing for the vast majority of the year. At that point, he hadn’t developed into a complete defenseman – he was a bottom-pairing guy at even-strength and a power play ace.

It’s also interesting to see where his offense comes from. We’ll stick to that 40-point year, since that was the one everyone references as his finest season. He scored 29 points on the power play, which led the team – five points more than Brian Campbell and well ahead of everybody else. At even-strength, though, he managed just 10 points – sixth on the team and just two ahead of Aaron Johnson, who played roughly half as many games.

In talking to other fans of the team, I’ve found that a lot of them look at Barker as he was presented on draft day – as a big, offensive defenseman who can get involved physically and play in his own end; the complete package, in other words. The thing is that Barker’s almost 300 games into his NHL career, and while he’s certainly still young enough to improve he hasn’t shown that yet.

At his best, Barker has been a good third-pairing guy and an elite power play option. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to score consistently with the man advantage, something that would make teams overlook his problems and keep him in the line-up. There’s hope he can still put that together; he’s had success in the NHL before and all down the line there have been flashes that he’s a special player on the power play. He’s never been a guy that can handle an all-purpose role at even-strength at any stage in his career so far. Again, there’s hope that he can be better, that he can be an above-average third-pairing guy, but given that he was brutal in that role last year for the Wild it would be a mistake to slot him into the top-four in Edmonton and hope he can handle the pressure.

This is a guy rebuilding his career. He should get heavy power play minutes; that’s his skillset, and if he’s going to come through for the Oilers that’s one place where he can make them look really smart for taking a chance on him. At even-strength, though, it’s far better to start him off slow and let him rebuild his confidence and find his defensive game than to throw him in the deep end and hope that he survives. Let’s let him try and rediscover the success he had in Chicago before we start asking for the team to make him do more.

  • ralph_u

    I wouldn’t ship away Omark until we know what we have, no one can deny he dominated the AHL and made his linemates better (Reddox put up his best numbers I do believe) and no one can argue Paajarvi looked alot better when playing with Omark. No one is saying Omark is an 80 point player but I don’t think 50 points are out of the question. To me he is a perfect 3rd line player, he can hold his own at evens and doesn’t have to be a defensive presence because he isn’t put against top lines, but he can stir up some chances and draw penalties, and he is a PP guy and an awesome shootout guy, he is a cheap deal and he has played like half a season, keep him and see what we have.

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    why bother arguing where crappy players should start based on past history? how about just try throwing this dude in the fire and giving him a chance to succeed instead of putting him in “common-states” that hes use to – and didnt do well at? id rather see him get a vote of confidence from the staff to see if he has any First Round talent left. its going to be a real easy assessment that way. doing this overly cautious, egg-shell walking nonsense on a team with a defensive corp that is garbage isnt helping anyhow.

    “oh yes, Tom Gilbert still blows. but him and Whitney were kind of awesome for two seconds once… Smid… yeah… Sutton and Peckham… hot diapers.”

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    Gagner is at best comparable to Comrie without the toughness. I would trade him for a bottom 4 D man but that won’t happen. I doubt there is many GM’s in the league that have any beliefs that he is anything more than what he is. That is a guy who is small, slow and easily knocked off the puck. He is a great passer with good vision. What does that mean? He has to play with wingers much better than him to hope to have any success. If he plays with guys that are not goal scorers he will never exceed 40 points. He’s always a step behind the play. Period. (hey maybe that’s why he sees the ice so well… everything happens in front of him).

    Omark just turned 24. 5 pro seasons? Playing 50 games a year in the SEL or KHL is not the NHL or even the AHL for that matter. I think he deserves another look. He is smaller than Gagner but you would never know that by the way he plays. He maybe a defensive liability in the first 50 NHL games but if he can learn the NHL and how to back check he is a much better 3rd line option than Gagner.

  • positivebrontefan

    Putting Barker on the third pairing would mean there are 4 other defencemen (or 2 on the same side) that are better than him at even strength. At this point, it’s too early to say. Whitney and Gilbert are PP guys with a shaky even-strength game. Smid has hit his ceiling as mediocre and Peckham needs more development on the third pairing. Sutton is really your number 7 fill-in guy, and Chorney and Teubert need more time in the AHL.

    So Barker could just as easily win a spot on the top pairing, it all depends on who pairs up well together. At the very least, signing Barker gives them an NHL-calibre defenceman, of which there was a shortage last year.