Tuesday (Dec. 27) was a milestone night for Edmonton Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie, who notched career goal No. 100 in his team’s 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome.
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Barrie is just the 108th blueliner in NHL history to score 100 times in the regular season, an impressive feat that put him in the spotlight for what seemed like the first time this season.
In a season where Edmonton’s defense has struggled virtually every game, and rightly become a source of fan frustration, Barrie is one rearguard that for the most part has not drawn Oil Country’s ire.
This might come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the Oilers since they signed free-agent Barrie prior to the 2020-21 season. While the former Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs power-play quarterback has delivered as advertised offensively, Barrie’s defensive deficiencies made him a target of criticism on social media and sports talk radio.
While Barrie continues to be a key contributor this season when it comes to Edmonton’s goal output, producing points at a rate better than his career average, he doesn’t seem to be as frequently guilty when the pick ends up behind the beleaguered Oilers netminders.
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Maybe it’s just because his cohorts on the blue line have been so prone to lapses and breakdowns, but Barrie does seem to be playing better in his own end, and the Oilers sure need it.
Barrie Is Playing Better Defensively
By league standards, Barrie’s defensive statistics are mediocre. But they are also the best that the 31-year-old has recorded in years, and for a veteran that is now playing his 12th NHL season, that’s notable.
Barrie is averaging a career-high 3.40 blocks per 60 minutes. He’s doling out 1.99 hits per 60 minutes, an increase of 0.82 from last season and his highest average since 2014-15. His ratio of 0.58 takeaways to giveaways is a massive improvement from last season’s rate of 0.33. And with a plus/minus of plus-3 through 36 games, he is on pace to have a rating higher than five for the first time since his second full NHL season, 2013-14.
And while there is no official stat that tracks groan-inducing miscues, most fans would have to agree that Barrie has caused them far less facepalming this season.
Barrie Remains an Offensive Sparkplug
The Oilers didn’t sign Barrie to be a shutdown defenceman, and for all the defensive shortcomings over his first two seasons in Edmonton, one thing that can be said for the 5-foot-11 blueliner is that he has delivered as promised as an offensive defenseman, putting up 89 points in 129 games combining 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Incredibly, Barrie has taken it up another notch this season. With five goals and 23 assists through 36 games, he’s on pace to record the first 50-assist season of his career, and the first 60-point season of his career.
Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Connor McDavid, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have been dynamite for Edmonton, with all on pace to score at least 35 times this season. And before getting hurt, Evander Kane was projected to score over 30 goals. But after those five, no Oilers forward has double-digit points, leaving Edmonton desperate for depth scoring. Barrie has been the lone player to consistently step into that role, as the only Oiler not named Draisaitl, Hyman, McDavid, or Nugent-Hopkins to record a point in more than half of Edmonton’s games.
Oilers Can be Happy They Kept Barrie
Whether it was something ever seriously considered among the Oilers braintrust, there was plenty of water cooler talk in Oil Country that Edmonton should trade the aging Barrie and his contract (which carries an average annual value of $4.5 million and runs through the 2023-24 season), because the younger and cheaper Evan Bouchard could take the veteran’s spot providing offence from the backend and running Edmonton’s power play.
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Well, nearly halfway through the Oilers’ 2022-23 schedule, Bouchard has half the points (14 from three goals and 11 assists) of Barrie and is tied for worst on the team with a minus-12 rating. The 23-year-old’s performance is a significant regression from 2021-22, his first full NHL season, when he notched 43 points and had a plus/minus of plus-10.
Barrie, meanwhile, ranks top 10 among NHL rearguards for assists and points this season. His 19 power-play points are second-most by a defenseman through games of Thursday (Dec. 29). He also has points in nine of the last 10 games, and the Oilers will need him to continue that hot play if they are to defeat the Seattle Kraken in a key divisional matchup at Climate Pledge Arena tonight (Dec. 30).