Will Barrie’s Defense Hinder Maple Leafs?

When the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Tyson Barrie from the Colorado Avalanche, general manager Kyle Dubas knew what he was getting in return; a skilled, offensive defenseman with top-two potential for their blueline.

When the trade was made, there was a lot of talk that this move would put the team back into the “Cup Contender” category. It filled a major need for a top right-handed defenseman. Barrie has shown glimpses of this type of play in Colorado. Through 484 games, he’s posted 75 goals and 232 assists in his career. Additionally, he has three 50-point seasons.

Barrie is known for his offensive impact, but his defensive play has been questioned. There’s no doubt that he’s an offensive catalyst, but will he be able to provide a steady defensive presence, knowing his offensive mindset? In a way, he can.

Barrie and Others speak from experience

We all know the saying, “No one knows a person better than themselves”. This is the case with Barrie.

“If you grow up a defenseman your whole life, you’re not working on the toe drag or beating guys on offense,” said Barrie in an article posted on The Toronto Star on April 30, 2019. “I always did that. I always made sure to really try to enjoy that part when I was playing hockey. I think it shows in the way I play. I like scoring and trying to beat guys one-on-one and stuff.” (from ‘Colorado Avalanche’s Tyson Barrie shows why hockey players need to play forward and defence while growing up,’ The Toronto Star- 4/30/19)

Former Colorado Avalanche Tyson Barrie’s defensive play has come into question. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The defensemen in today’s NHL is different from what we’ve seen in the past. It’s another aspect to their repertoire instead of just being a player to hold their own as a “defensive specialist.” This still has a place but defensemen today need to have offensive instinct to jump into the play and help out as the pace of the game increases. Barrie has this mix.

Former teammate and captain Gabriel Landeskog had this to say about Barrie’s game: “Tyson’s worked on his game over the last handful of years and gotten really good at creating offense, jumping up in the rush and making plays when he gets it in the O-zone. He’s also defending real well right now because first and foremost, that’s what a ‘D’ has got to do. No doubt, he’s got the skill of a forward and can make the plays.”

Tyson Barrie
Former Colorado Avalanche Tyson Barrie looks to bolster the Toronto Maple Leafs blue line.(Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

Former head coach Jared Bednar echoed the positive review: “Some of the plays he makes, they’re not high-risk plays, but he’s up the ice and making an impact offensively. He’s getting pucks through to the net and been highly competitive on the defensive side of things, too, just his gaps and breaking up plays. He’s more physical down low.”

The fact that the captain and head coach of his former team are impressed with his defensive approach should be reassuring for the fans. It’s not ideal to have another strong puck-moving defenseman on the team, but it’s the philosophy for the Maple Leafs that they’re going to be fast and competitive. For Barrie, he feels that he’s the missing link to help “push them (Maple Leafs) over the edge.”

Barrie’s Underlying Numbers Better Than We Thought

There’s always a risk when acquiring or having multiple puck-moving defensemen. There’s the belief that they solely focus on offense, while forgetting the defensive aspect. For Barrie, that may not be the case. While we got a scouting report from a former teammate and coach, the numbers also show that he’s not that much of a major liability on defense.

Tyson Barrie vs. Morgan Rielly RAPM Chart, 2018-19, from evolving-hockey.com

Based on this chart, both Barrie and Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly can generate a lot of offensive chances. Rielly’s numbers are extremely noticeable, especially in terms of offensive goals for and expected goals for. However, both are on the negative spectrum in terms of giving up shots and scoring chances in their own end as the defensive expected goals and Corsi-for (CF%) suggest. Barrie’s numbers are not as bad as compared to Rielly’s expected goals against and CF%, which would suggest that Barrie might be a better defender at shot and goal suppression than Rielly, as he’s slightly just below the average.

While both have faced tougher competition, it could also come down to defense partners. Rielly spent most of last season with an aging Ron Hainsey. With Barrie, he led a Colorado blueline in points with 59. The next one was Samuel Girard at 27 points, that’s a 32-point gap between the two. Barrie’s ice-time is also something to take note of. He averaged 21:47 a game and just over four minutes a night on the power-play. In addition, his CF% was among tops on the team, controlling the play 52.56% of the time he was on the ice.

Vancouver Canucks Loui Eriksson Colorado Avalanche Tyson Barrie
Vancouver Canucks left wing Loui Eriksson skates to a loose puck as Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie swats at it. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

Barrie had the second least amount of shots against per 60 on 5-on-5 with 30.44. While that number is high, compared to the other players, he’s at the bottom of the list. Ian Cole had the lowest shots against per 60 at 29.62. While Barrie has faced 667 shots against, he’s faced 55 less compared to the next highest (Samuel Girard) and has a shot plus/minus of 109. Knowing the type of player he is, mixed with his ice time and being a positive possession player, that’s a pretty good margin of difference between his shots for and against.

To support Barrie’s puck-moving abilities here’s a chart created by CJ Turtoro that focuses in on a player’s shot contributions, zone exits and entries.

Tyson Barrie’s Player Chart. Visual by CJ Turtoro, 2019.

Based on the visual, Barrie has a high success rate of exiting and entering the zone. This is a good sign considering the Leafs are made for puck possession and focusing in on the transition game from defense to offense. Adding Barrie is a huge boost to their blue line in order for them to be successful in that regards.

The Verdict

There’s no reason to believe that Barrie wouldn’t have an impact on the Maple Leafs blue line. The offensive game is there, but to suggest that Barrie might struggle defensively might not be as bad as some make it out to be. The Maple Leafs look to be in a good spot going forward and have improved their defense core. Barrie’s impact in his own zone should be an improvement compared to what we’ve seen in the past, while still sticking to the belief that the team’s defense will be able to drive the offense as well.

All stats from Natural Stat Trick