CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE: CAM BARKER

The Edmonton Oilers rolled the dice on a reclamation project with Jason Smith back in 1999 and came up winners. Is there a chance Cam Barker could provide the Oilers the same kind of payoff?

While Edmonton GM Steven Tambellini, who grabbed Barker off the scrap heap July 1 after he had his contract bought out by the Minnesota Wild, and fans won’t have an answer right away, the circumstances of Barker’s arrival are strikingly similar to Smith’s a dozen years earlier.

That doesn’t for a second mean that Barker and Smith stack up as comparable players in substance or style, but it struck me as I was doing research on Barker in preparation before an interview with him on Nation Radio how much he has in common with Smith.

Suffice to say, Tambellini and fans would be thrilled if Barker has the same tenure here as Smith, who ended up playing 542 regular season games with the Oilers, plus 45 more in the playoffs, and captaining the team before being dealt to Philadelphia in July 2007.

Different time? Sure. Different players? Yes. But anybody who suggests Barker is nothing more than a failed first-rounder and a longshot who is unlikely to amount to much, might be forgetting that Smith arrived here tagged much the same way.

THE RESUMES

— Both Smith and Barker were drafted in the first round out of the WHL. Smith was selected 18th overall from the Regina Pats in 1992.

Barker has even better pedigree. He was taken third overall, behind only Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, in 2004 from the Medicine Hat Tigers by the Chicago Blackhawks.

— Significant injuries have played a part in both their careers. Smith’s time with New Jersey got sidetracked in November of 1994 when a knee injury suffered in practice limited him to two games in 1994-95.

After being dealt to Minnesota by Chicago, Barker never did find his stride with the Wild and played just 52 games in 2010-11 after, among other things, hurting his back against the Oilers in a game Feb. 22.

— Both came cheap. Dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs by the Devils during the 1996-97 season, Smith didn’t fit into coach Pat Quinn’s plans and Edmonton GM Glen Sather got him for a fourth-round pick in 1999 and a second-rounder in 2000. Pretty cheap for a future captain.

Deemed expendable in the Windy City, Barker struggled so mightily in Minnesota the Wild bought him out and the Oilers inked him to a one-year deal for $2,25 million.

— Both arrived in Edmonton at the age of 25 as young veterans entering what should be the physical prime of their NHL careers after stints with two previous teams.

Smith had played in 326 regular season games with New Jersey and Toronto. Barker checks in for camp with the Oilers with 271 games in the books with Chicago and Minnesota.

NOW OR NEVER?

Smith was seen by many as nothing more than a depth defenseman, a guy who could play third-pairing minutes and provide a physical element. He wasn’t expected to add any offence. He didn’t.

But Smith became more than that in terms of impact on the team, carving out a niche with a level of punishing play few expected, playing through injuries with the pain threshold of a cadaver and by providing quiet but unquestionable leadership in the dressing room.

Barker? He hasn’t proven he can consistently play anything more than third-pairing minutes at even strength. But he does possess the tool Smith didn’t — the potential to produce offence and, the Oilers hope, to be a secondary option to Ryan Whitney on the power play. Barker had 40 points in just 68 games with Chicago in 2008-09.

Of course, Barker has produced next-to-nothing over the last two seasons with Chicago and Minnesota — just 6-20-26 in 122 games. Can Barker regain his confidence and contribute offensively? Fair question. Will Barker make a career-defining stand here in Edmonton the way Smith did?

I don’t know the answer to that last question, but with a one-year contract at a palatable salary, Barker looks to me to be a gamble worth taking. What’s the worst possible outcome? He gets cut loose after one year. Best-case? Hmm.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    Props to the first post.

    The big question is if Barker shows success over the first 20 games of the year, at what point does the management work on an extension?

    • Puritania

      Not till the end of the season. He’s an RFA at the end, so there’s no rush, he can’t sign with anybody else unless we don’t qualify and let him loose.

      Plus, with a guy who has been labelled as lacking consistent effort, 20 games doesn’t mean much, you’ll want to see if he can bring it over a full year at the very least.

  • Dan the Man

    I completely agree that Barker is a gamble worth taking. A one year contract for a 25 year old D-man with everything to prove.

    Add that to the fact this is a rebuilding year and you have nothing to lose.

  • DieHard

    Would be sweet if Barker covers his draft rank. He has got a lot to prove to himself. He’s got a young talented team to develop with. Ideal situation for all. If he doesn’t make it Oilers didn’t lose, just Barker. Here’s hoping for success.

  • Nice job today again, Rubin. Swell job of talking hockey as we float through the middle of the off-season horse latitudes (and a beautiful day to boot).
    I liked what I heard from Barker and I am excited to see how this bet turns out. Having said that, I’ve felt pretty good about a few lottery tickets over the years as well.

  • DieHard

    Very safe gamble on barker. He has all the tools just needs to regain his confidence. We re the perfect fit for him. I say he ll be a solid top 4 guy 18-20 mins and 30 points at least.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    @arif. He was an unrestricted free agent only because he was bought out. He’ll be a restricted free agent after this year if the Oilers qualify him.

      • O.C.

        In between car auctions?

        Sunday mornings would be a great time to catch the Saturday Podcast.

        There are a lot of careers made of DMen who have most but not all tools. Oil have the right coach for Barker.

        • Barker has the tools to be a player. The rest comes down to maturity, timing, luck, fit and his desire to excel.

          If Barker is satisfied to tread water a year or two longer, he can fade away and get on with real life before the age of 30 having already made 12-15 million bucks. He’ll be quite comfortable.

          If he’s determined to prove these past couple of seasons have been bad luck and bad timing and sets out to show he’s a player, the Oilers will have something.

          I don’t know him well enough to say which way he’ll go.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I had mentioned on previous articles that Barker was the one Dman that I really wanted Tambi to take a run at. He obviously has enough raw talent, seeing as he was drafted so highly. He has had success at this level as well with Chicago. He’s no Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook, but on the Oilers roster he is for sure top 4. Hopefully he can find some confidence and run with it. If nothing else he has a bomb from the blueline which is an asset on the PP.

    Hopefully he can stay healthy!

  • Here’s for hope! the hope that Barker comes in and makes an impact for years to come.

    Then maybe we can stop all the trade Gagner for such and such D prospect and a pick.

    Here’s to a kid getting a second chance and a new home, and reaching that potential.

    I hope Barker can look back at the end of the season and say getting released to the Oilers was the best thing that happened

  • Little Buttcheeks

    If we see a ‘best case’ situation with Barker’s play this year is he a free agent at the end of ’11-’12 and liable to walk for much more money and a chance to win some Stanley Cup hardware elsewhere?

    • Actually, that’s not possible. Because of Barker’s age, he’s actually a restricted free agent at the end of this year. Which means that if he plays horribly, the Oilers can simply not qualify him, but if he plays well, we retain his rights.

      Basically, the Oilers hold all the cards with this player. This is probably the right time for them to take a high-risk move with a player like this; after this season, they’re going to have to make a more serious effort to improve defense and goal.

  • Lofty

    His draft pedigree makes him a very easy gamble. Motivation goes a long way to success. This a guy who’ll be coming to training camp motivated tot he nth degree. I believe we’ll see the very best that Cam Barker has to offer us this season. His age is perfect for this team. He’ll fit nicely I think. Let him settle in and get used to a new sysytem and Ithink by the 30 game mark we’ll see the guy Chicago drafted 7 years ago. The Smith analogy is a good one. I would put Craig Muni in that catergory also. Another ex-Oiler who came over from the Leafs and succeeded here as a player. Was a 2cd rounder 25 overall.

  • No fanbase appreciates an honest effort like this one. If Barker comes to play, he doesnt even have to put up points to earn respect. That goes for the whole team. When the Mulleted One has story telling time, hopefully he gets across what these fans want (because he knows every single one of us). If you put the effort forward, the crowd will back you (see: The Red Ox). If you put the effort forward, the bounces will come, the wins will come, the ladies will come and FINALLY, the CUP WILL COME!

  • some epic comments here!!, especially #24

    I have to disagree about Gator not putting up points. Ill never forget his diving backhander deke off the post against detroit, game 6 i think. He also had a money OT goal against DET, come to think of it, he was a Det killa!!

    • Smith had 169 points in 1,008 games, although he did reach 20 points once with the Oilers.

      By comparison, he knocked guys senseless with a forearm shiver 799 times. hacked opposing forwards across the wrists 6,059 times, face-washed yapping forwards 1,325 times, blocked shots with his face 313 times and turned down shots of pain-killer to mask torn ligaments, broken bones and other injuries 466 times.

      Old school. Tough as nails and mean as hell.

  • DantheMan said: “…the fact this is a rebuilding year and you have nothing to lose.” Really!

    Steve Tambelinni and others may share this opinion, a defeatist approach to contending. There are others, including myself, that believe the Oilers have some very valuable trading chips that with an adroit management could fill the necessary holes on the roster to challenge for a playoff spot. The addition of Smyth and Bellanger will add some mentoring and NHL experience to the forwards. Unfortunately, the organization has left the D and goaltending suspect and its expections are very low — looking for another lottery pick in the entry draft.

    As this all there is?

  • Milli

    If he was anything nearing “Gator” we would be sooooooo happy!!! I’ll never forget Smith being stiched up behind the bench because he refused to go to the room…that man was TOUGH!

    • Jason played the final games of the 2001-02 season with a fractured leg. Never said a word.

      He played an entire playoff series with rotator cuff tears in both shoulders. Never said a word.

      His surgically repaired knee was always sore despite a brace. Smith had the ugliest feet in hockey, gnarled and swollen and covered in welts all the time. He had his feet in ice buckets every day during the season during his time in Edmonton. Some days he could barely walk, but he always found a way to skate. Never said a word.

      The only players I have covered first-hand as a reporter with a pain threshold even close to Smith were Kevin Lowe and Igor Ulanov.