There was a time when the Edmonton Oilers could find a good defenseman at midnight in a snowstorm. Last night, Cam Barker’s "pinch of sin" drove home the fact that the Oilers ability to identify useful blue may well be a thing of the past.
Last night, Cam Barker played on the third pairing and did not perform well. This is not a new item. Let’s have a look-see and try to find out how he’s being used and what the numbers look like.
The toughest zone starts go like this:
However, it should be mentioned that the difference top to bottom is minimal compared to the forwards on this year’s Oilers. I think it’s reasonable to suggest this graph looks exactly like a blueline group that is employed by a coach who (for the most part) isn’t line matching. This is a simple dance: 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 for the pairings. In this situation, I’d suggest Barker’s zone starts are "a little easier than average" as opposed to being "easy."
Barker’s qual comp is the weakest available among the NHL defensemen on the roster. Although coach Renney hasn’t been the line matching demon we saw during the MacT era, we do see that Barker (and Sutton) are facing the easier opponents and situations.
In this type of role–the same as he’s seen as an NHLer in Chicago and Minnesota–a player with the experience of Barker should be able to help the Oilers do some great things.
The most effective defensemen this season for the Oilers by CorsiRel are:
Whitney’s number is due to his injury, or more to the point his playing while trying to come back from injury. All numbers courtesy behind the net.ca, a gift from Gabriel Desjardins to hockey fans. A veteran defender like Barker should be expected to dominate the CorsiRel based on ease of opponent and middling zone start. Sutton has a better number despite tougher zone starts and similar qual comp. I think it’s reasonable to suggest Barker should be where Sutton is on this graph. Cam Barker is not having a good season, by eye or by number.
In the February games Barker has played since coming back from injury, here are the "Dennis King" scoring chances for each defenseman. Best to worst based on percantage of chances heading in a good direction.
DENNIS KING EV SCORING CHANCES IN CAM BARKER FEB. GAMES
- Andy Sutton 32-22 ,593
- Corey Potter 27-22 .551
- Tom Gilbert 27-24 .529
- Cam Barker 40-37 .519
- Ryan Whitney 46-49 .484
- Ladislav Smid 46-59 .438
- Jeff Petry 46-61 .439
- Nick Schultz 4-6 .400
Sutton has looked good this season, certainly playing at a level we didn’t expect. Potter to my eye has been subpar after coming back from the injury, but there they are at above .500 in the chance count since Barker returned from injury. Gilbert we can all agree was having a fine season before being dealt.
Barker’s position–weak opposition met by veteran defender–should be an area where the Oilers are having exceptional success in this metric. It is not a horrific number–Barker’s 4th best during this period–but he should be pushing the good times based on his pedigree, experience, salary and expectation.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
I’ve been staring at this for hours and can’t seem to take my eyes away from the situation. The numbers suggest:
- Barker is facing easy opps with fairly easy zone starts
- Barker is getting results that CorsiRel tells us should be better
- and we would expect a capable veteran to post much stronger numbers against this kind of resistance, something that pushes the puck in a positive direction in a very strong manner.
Barker is posting +.500 in scoring chances during February but the number should be better based on where he is in the batting order.
Terry Jones has an interesting item up on last night’s game. From that article, Tom Renney on Barker: "He was OK. We’ve got to work with Cam a little bit on his reads and his foot speed. I’d like him to use his size and strength. When he does he’s a very effective player. He passes the puck very well. You all know about his attributes. Cam is going to get opportunities to play here and he is going to have to play well."
When a coach says "we have to work on his reads and his footspeed" during the season about a veteran hockey player it’s about the same as a baseball manager talking about turning a line drive hitter into a home run machine.
In the words of Sponge Bob Square Pants, "good luck with that!"