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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Edmonton Oilers better off without Tyson Barrie for the long-term?

The Edmonton Oilers made a big splash in free agency by signing Tyson Barrie to a one-year, $3.75-million contract.

He’s been the right-shot, puck-moving, offensive-minded defenceman the Oilers have longed years for, and it’s great they were finally able to land him doubly so on a team friendly deal. By the eye, he’s everything you want him to be: an elite skater who moves the puck incredibly well.

There’s definite value in it, especially for the Oilers who historically have struggled to do that from the backend. Barrie’s an offensive wizard, too, expressing creativity from the back end, as noted by head coach Dave Tippett last night. It seems he’s quickly developed into a big piece on this Oilers team and those around him love the addition.

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He came to town at a time when the Oilers knew they would be without Oscar Klefbom for the season, and it wasn’t known how deep the team’s defence was going to be. And with that, Barrie’s played over 22 minutes a night, up a full minute over his career average, helping to fill the minutes lost by Klefbom’s absence.

Surely, Barrie has helped to sure things up on the back end and has provided a new look on the Oilers powerplay quarterbacking the point.

While he’s been dynamic this season and has scored the second most points among NHL defencemen scoring 24 points in 29 games.

We’ve now had a good look at Barrie and what he is for the Oilers and there’s a few significant things that jump out when we start to look under the hood.

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First off, here’s a look at some of his key underlying numbers at 5×5 and all situations.

CF% GF% xGF% PDO
All sit. 57.39 62.96 62.10 102.5
5×5 49.76 52.73 49.83 101

He’s scoring at the highest rate of his career this season, scoring 2.23 points per hour. He’s benefited heavily from secondary assists this season with 13 of his 24 points being those, while his 1.21 second assists per hour is double that of his career average.

While that has increased, his primary points per hour (goals and first assists), has dipped from his career average of 1.76 down to 1.02.

Barrie’s most common 5×5 defensive partner this season has been Darnell Nurse and the two have begun to build some chemistry. They play high-event hockey, meaning there’s lots of shot attempts at both end of the ice when they’re out there.

Together they haven’t looked bad, but have been propped up by a 103.4 PDO. They’ve controlled 51.41 percent of the shot attempts, and 59.32 percent of the goals, but their expected goals rate dips to 50.83 percent.

The two have been blessed by having Connor McDavid and their most common forward linemate. Here’s Barrie’s key analytics with, and without McDavid at 5×5:

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TOI CF% GF% xGF%
22 w/ 97 375:19 64.98 70.18 71.64
22 w/o 97 270:48 46.17 45.83 44.17
97 w/o 22 270:48 61.16 70.97 71.11

It’s a pretty stark comparison, and it’s one that is similar (to a lesser extent) with virtually any other player on the Oilers roster. As all of this is happening, Barrie’s playing the majority of his minutes (38.4%) against middle competition, as defined by puckiq.com, and is doing well there posting a 49.6CF% and a 58.8 GF%.

But when his quality of competition increases, Barrie struggles. Against elite competition, where Barrie has played his second most minutes (34.2%), his CF% dips to 47.7 and his GF% drops to 35.3. These WOWY splits are a common trend in Barrie’s game over the last number of years dating back to his time in Colorado.

Although Barrie’s numbers jump out as being very good, there’s some underlying issues that have grown apparent.

Barrie is benefitting greatly from non-primary points, and a high PDO, which, as we know, isn’t sustainable over long stretches of time.

So is there value keeping Tyson Barrie around the Oilers for the long-term? That I’m not sold on.

But when we start to look big picture for the Oilers franchise and their defence, I have concerns over Barrie and what his fit would look like. The Oilers have two, very good young defencemen in Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard. In my eyes, the pair would be able to replicate what Barrie brings next season, and beyond.

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Bear’s had his struggles this season after a slow start to the year while a late January concussion only hindered him further. Still, I find him to be a reliable player who moves the puck better than almost anyone else on the Oilers defence. Bouchard, meanwhile, has looked sharp when he’s played and is one of the highest scoring defenceman per hour this season at 5×5. I wrote about him earlier this week.

On top of that, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Barrie command upwards of $5-$6 million a year on the free agent market. That deal is too rich for the Oilers in my eyes with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto to sign, a goaltender to find, and a potential rearrangement of some other depths pieces. Would Barrie consider signing longer-term in Edmonton at a contract similar to what he’s making now to chase Stanley Cups? Maybe, but that’s hard to say.

The Oilers, in theory, could trade Barrie at the deadline and maximize his value as an asset to the organization. Barrie was, of course, traded from Colorado to Toronto along with Alex Kerfoot and a sixth round pick for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, and a 3rd round pick.

Could the Oilers get a similar package by moving Barrie at the deadline? Edmonton has a pretty big need for a bottom-six centre and Barrie undoubtedly could fetch that and then some.

Do I think this will happen? Almost certainly no. While Barrie’s numbers aren’t that great, the Oilers are winning games and he’s a part of it, no matter what the numbers say.

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Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]