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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Barrie a Smart Bet

Tyson Barrie could have put more money in the bank last off-season had he sold his services to the highest UFA bidder, but he instead put a tough season in Toronto in his rear-view mirror by signing a one-year deal for a bargain basement $3.75 million with the Edmonton Oilers.

If there was a dictionary definition of betting on yourself, Barrie’s handshake with Ken Holland would be one of the best examples of that in recent seasons. Barrie looked at a roster boasting two of the best players on the planet in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, evaluated the opportunity, then got the ink done with a team in a city where much of the fanbase had been eye-balling him for five seasons or more, dating back to his days in Colorado.

Simply put, Barrie put opportunity ahead of money. From Darren Dreger at TSN on Oct. 10, 2020: “Barrie takes less to sign with the Oilers. 1 year, $3.75 mil. Had at least two other larger offers.” From TSN’s Frank Seravalli: “Tyson Barrie turned down more money elsewhere to join the Oilers, including a $6 million offer.” At the time, he left a lot of money on the table.

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Here we are after a 7-3 waltz over the Calgary Flames Wednesday, a game in which he had a career-high four assists, and Barrie sits atop scoring for NHL defencemen with 4-24-28. Simply put, he has been every bit the kind of dynamic offensive driver from the blue line and on the power play the Oilers have coveted for years. Barrie is going to get paid in his next contract, of that there is no doubt whatsoever. The only question is if that happens here.

MONEY IN THE BANK

Jan 16, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Tyson Barrie (22) blocks a shot by Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin (92) during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

“He’s an elite puck-mover and offensive player,” Oilers’ coach Dave Tippett said after the romp in Cowtown. “We’ve had some solid defenders, but nobody with the instincts with the puck that he has. When Ken went out and got him signed, those were the things we expected.

“The top offensive players, they love it when they’ve got a defenceman who can make creative plays to find you with the puck. That’s why he’s fit in so well with those guys up front. I give him a lot of credit. He’s a veteran guy who came in here and he didn’t want to push is way in. He got a feel for our team and he’s slowly worked his way in and had a really good season.”

Based on what the Oilers lacked in the absence of Oscar Klefbom and the make-up of a blueline group with promising but still unproven young players like Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones and Evan Bouchard, Barrie looked like a perfect fit to me when the deal was done. The perfect defencemen? No. But a great fit? Yes. We’ve known for years what Barrie does and what he doesn’t do. After a tepid start, he’s delivered as expected.

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“It’s pretty incredible, the skill we have on this team,” said Barrie, who has 14 points on the power play and 14 points at even strength this season. “It’s world class — as good as it gets.”

Yes, it is. Going into tonight against the Winnipeg Jets, McDavid leads the league in scoring with 18-38-56 after 1-2-3 against the Flames. Draisaitl, who had three assists in Calgary, is second with 17-32-49. It hasn’t hurt that Darnell Nurse, who had a goal and an assist last night, is having an excellent season with 9-13-22.

GETTING PAID

Holland is going to have some cap space to work with this off-season. Of course, he has other payroll considerations in dealing with what will be a flat salary cap, most notably signing a deal that makes sense to keep Ryan Nugent-Hopkins here. The way I and a lot of people see it, RNH is worth keeping. The question as always is how much it’ll cost to make that happen.

Same thing with Barrie. For me, there’s no question Holland should be taking another run at him at him as a UFA this coming off-season, even with Bear, Jones and Bouchard in the mix. We know what Barrie is and what he does. There is no what-he-might-become in the equation. We cannot say the same thing with any certainty about the kids.

So, what’s the number for Barrie? Term is also a consideration. Barrie is 29 and if he’s looking for more than four years, it gets dicey for me. I just don’t like paying players, be it RNH, Barrie or anybody else, too deep into their 30’s. After betting on himself, what I do know — unless he falls off the edge of the hockey world in what remains of this season — is Barrie is going to get paid. It’s worth discussing if that can happen here. Over to you, Ken.

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Previously by Robin Brownlee