Moving forward, what should the Oilers do with Tyson Barrie?

Photo credit:twitter.com/EdmontonOilers
1 year ago
There’s a countless number of topics to discuss regarding the Edmonton Oilers and their recent play as of late. 
After they began the year with a 9-1 record, their best start in franchise history, they’ve moved to a record of 9-11-1 in the past 21 games. They’re currently hanging on to the second wild-card spot, and multiple glaring issues that were previously pointed out have come to fruition.
Goaltending has definitely been one of these concerns. This was exceedingly evident in Edmonton’s most recent game against New Jersey, in which Mike Smith posted an 85.4 SV% and a GSAx (goals saved above expected) of -2.9. There’s little doubt he was the primary cause of Edmonton’s loss today. However, in spite of Edmonton’s inconsistent goaltending this season, one could argue that it may not even be their most significant issue. Many have Edmonton’s defence as their largest concern.
The league average goals against/60 at 5v5 is 2.41. Every single Oiler defenceman has a GA/60 worse than that. It’s just not acceptable, and it shouldn’t be really shocking either.
One of Edmonton’s defencemen I want to focus on is Tyson Barrie, who ranks near the bottom of the team in GA/60 and xGA/60. With a player like Evan Bouchard on the roster, what should the Oilers do with Barrie as the trade deadline comes closer?
*All stats via Natural Stat Trick and EvolvingHockey, and all cap-related info via PuckPedia unless stated otherwise

Tyson Barrie has continued his inconsistent defensive play this season

Tyson Barrie has had quite an intriguing tenure in Edmonton.
This past season, he led all defencemen in point totals. If you take a glance at his box score totals, he seems like a borderline-elite defenceman, but the issue with him has always been his play on the opposite end of the ice. Barrie’s impact on suppressing scoring chances against ranks in the 3rd percentile among NHL defencemen, or in other words, 97% of the league’s defencemen have posted superior defensive results in the past two seasons. He struggles quite a bit with zone denials, and I’ve frequently noticed how he can be prone to making risky pinches that subsequently lead to chances in the other direction.
I don’t think his defensive results will shock anyone, but some might be confused as to why his offensive play-driving at even-strength seems so low. One may ask; how can a defenceman with those lofty point totals rank in the 16th percentile for driving offence at even-strength?

There’s a simple reason for this. 
With Barrie and Connor McDavid on-ice, the Oilers have posted a rate of 3.6 goals per hour, and 2.8 expected goals per hour. With McDavid on-ice but with Barrie off the ice, the Oilers have posted a rate of 4.0 goals per hour, and 3.8 expected goals per hour. 
In simpler terms, McDavid’s line is superior offensively with Barrie on the bench, even if Barrie does pick up several assists here and there. This is true for essentially the entire top six. Draisaitl, Puljujarvi, Nugent-Hopkins, etc, have all generated scoring chances at a superior rate without Barrie as opposed to with at 5v5. 
The simple and near-undeniable fact is that Barrie doesn’t have a positive offensive impact on the top six at even-strength. He’s not necessarily a liability, but he can definitely perform better in that facet. At the moment, his offensive value is exceedingly dependant on the power play.
In terms of Barrie’s defensive play in 21-22 alone, his chance suppression rates still rank 2nd last on the team (just ahead of Slater Koekkoek). I feel he’s been quite streaky. He had a horrid start to the season, as Evan Bouchard took his spot on the top pair merely four games into the season. From there, his defensive play has constantly gone up and down.
Barrie had a streak of seven straight games (from November 27 to December 11) in which he posted below-average defensive results (in other words, Edmonton allowed chances against at a higher rate with Barrie for each of those seven games). However, he posted solid defensive results in each of the following four games. I thought he was excellent during Edmonton’s loss against St.Louis on Wednesday and during their win against Seattle two weeks back.
Still, I felt he visibly struggled again this afternoon against New Jersey. Barrie was on-ice for 13 scoring chances against at 5v5, the third-most out of any other Oiler player. It’s safe to say his results have been quite inconsistent in his own end this year, and my eyes most certainly agree.

Bouchard vs Barrie

Many, including myself, argued in the off-season that signing Barrie would be redundant due to Evan Bouchard. Both of them possess a very similar skillset, and Bouchard is considerably younger, cheaper, and has much higher potential. 
Still, Ken Holland signed Barrie for three years at $4.5M. On paper, it seems like a sweet deal for a player with those production totals. But does the contract seem as reasonable now, as Bouchard has forced Barrie to spend much more time as the 3RD? Four and a half million for a third-pairing defenceman definitely seems steep.
There shouldn’t be much doubt that Bouchard is the better player. He’s been one of the league’s premier offensive defencemen this year at even-strength, as his transitional ability and offensive IQ are superb.
Bouchard does have quite a lot of room to improve defensively as well, but his defensive results have still been superior to Barrie’s. Bouchard is also quite obviously much younger, and I feel that he’ll definitely improve his play in his own end as he becomes older.
In addition, I think Bouchard does deserve an extended look on the top power-play unit. He’s had plenty of experience on the man-advantage during his time in the OHL, and Edmonton’s power play has cooled down to a considerable extent since their PP% neared 50% in their first ten games. Barrie has posted excellent results on the man-advantage, but it might be the time for a minor switch-up. Why not give your best offensive defenceman at even-strength a chance on the PP?

Should the Oilers deal Barrie at the deadline?

With Bouchard’s predictable emergence this season, it should make Barrie expendable. Clearing his contract could be beneficial to Edmonton if they want to address the several holes in their roster this trade deadline. A right-shot defenceman with those lofty point totals should have a relatively high trade value around the league. Furthermore, the Oilers need to reduce their rate of goals against, and Barrie ranks dead last among Edmonton defencemen (with at least 300 TOI) in 5v5 GA/60 in the past two seasons.
Simply put, he just isn’t a good fit on this team.
The downside to trading Barrie would be that Edmonton would also require another RD, but I feel there’s plenty of cheap and solid 3RD options throughout the league with generally low asking prices.
Boston could be among the several teams interested in an offensively-inclined, power-play quarterback like Barrie. The Bruins has been searching for a PP quarterback ever since the departure of Torey Krug, and consequently, they could be interested in Barrie.
Edmonton could deal Barrie to Boston and acquire some picks back to clear cap space. Some may suggest a trade centering around Barrie and Brandon Carlo, and although I do like Carlo and his solid defensive ability, he’s signed for six more years (including this one) at $4.1M. His contract isn’t suitable at all. A defenceman on Boston that Edmonton could pursue is Connor Clifton, who’s also posted excellent defensive results but unlike Carlo, has a cheap cap hit of just $1M.
Detroit is another team that may pursue Barrie, as their power play ranks 27th in the league. In return, I’d love a player like Gustav Lindstrom. He’s currently on Detroit’s third pair, and has a cap-hit of just 850K. The Red Wings generate chances at a higher rate and allow chances against at a lower rate with him on-ice. He could be a solid, cheap option for the third pair.
Minnesota ranks 2nd in the Central Division, but 22nd in the league in PP%. They seem poised to be buyers at the deadline, and could also benefit from acquiring Barrie. In addition, the Wild also possess an excellent defensive system in general, making it a very suitable destination for Barrie himself.
Other third-pairing defencemen with cheap contracts and solid 5v5 results include Jani Hakanpaa from Dallas and Mark Pysyk from Buffalo. Perhaps the Oilers could even reunite with Matt Benning?
The bottom line is that Barrie is a player with offensive talent, but the several flaws in his defensive game make him an undesirable fit for the Oilers. With Evan Bouchard on the roster, alongside the fact that Edmonton needs to see improvement at 5v5, I feel he’d provide much more value to a different team than he does currently on Edmonton.
Happy New Year to all you amazing people in OilersNation! Wishing you and your families nothing but the best for 2022. 🙂
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)

Check out these posts...