When the Edmonton Oilers are off to franchise record-setting start, and their pair of superstars are scoring like almost no players ever have, it overshadows everything else. That might be both a blessing and a curse for Tyson Barrie. When the veteran blueliner was mostly ineffective in the Oilers’ first few games, nobody was concerned. Likewise, now that he’s picked up his game, no one has really noticed.
Barrie had three points in Edmonton’s thrilling 6-5 overtime victory over the New York Rangers on Friday (Nov. 5) at Rogers Place, to give them a 9-0-1 record, their best through 10 games in franchise history.
There was a lot of buzz about the win. Days later, people were still talking about it. But the conversation was about Connor McDavid scoring what might be the goal of the decade. The fact Barrie notched his highest single-game point total since last March hasn’t been mentioned.
There’s no reason to think Barrie is bothered by the lack of attention. He re-signed with the Oilers on a team-friendly deal (three years with an annual average value of $4.5 million) during the offseason, so he could be part of exactly this: a fun team that enjoys playing together and does a whole lot of winning. However, he has played a bigger role in that winning of late. He was held to zero points in Edmonton’s first three games, but he has since racked up two goals and six assists in the last seven. The 30-year-old did not have a positive rating in any of the Oilers’ first seven outings but has been plus-one in each of the last three games.
Barrie Moved Down the Lineup
Barrie’s increased production has coincided with his move from the Oilers’ top blue-line pairing to their nominal third pairing. He began the season playing on Darnell Nurse‘s right, his partner for most of last season. But the last half dozen games, he’s been slotted in alongside Slater Koekkoek or Kris Russell, while the fast-rising Evan Bouchard, 22, has played most of his minutes with Nurse.
Head coach Dave Tippett has been flexible with his blueliners, distributing ice time without regard for defensive hierarchies. Already, Barrie has logged anywhere from 14:12 to 23:16 ice time, topping 20 minutes on four occasions and twice playing less than 15 minutes.
Overall, he’s averaging 19:07, which is the least among the five Oilers defencemen who have played all 10 games. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They don’t need him to eat up the minutes as they did in 2020-21, and this season, Tippett has been able to deploy Barrie, who has never been a shutdown defenseman, in situations best suited to his offence-oriented game.
Barrie Contributing in Different Situations
Three of Barrie’s eight points have come on the power play, compared to 23 of 48 last season when he led all NHL defensemen in points. Though the sample size is small, it represents a 10% increase in the ratio of points scored at even-strength, and his time on the power play hasn’t changed much, going from 3:30 per game last season to 3:07 through the first 10 games of 2021-22. In other words, Barrie is averaging 0.50 even-strength and 0.30 power-play points per game, compared to last season when he averaged 0.45 and 0.41, respectively.
The Oilers are boasting a power play that’s as dangerous as any the NHL has seen in years, so Barrie’s points on the man advantage will come. But continued production at even-strength would be an unexpected but welcome improvement.
Barrie & Bouchard Can Co-Exist
Tippett has done well to find ways for the Oilers to get their money’s worth from Barrie at no cost to Bouchard’s development. Most believed that the two blueliners are too similar – right shot, offensively inclined, power-play quarterbacks – to both have a place in the lineup, and, already, some have suggested that Bouchard’s rapid progression could mean Barrie gets traded this season.
But Bouchard has been a revelation on the penalty kill, and Barrie is proving to be efficient at 5-on-5 when he’s not being matched against the opposition’s better players. Barrie’s ice-time is down about 10% from last season’s average of 21:24, but sometimes less is more: He’s on pace for 16 goals and 49 assists, both would be career-highs for the 11-year NHL veteran who’s played for both the Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Getting 60-plus points from a defenceman making $4.5 million is a pretty good bargain, no matter his pairing. And as long as the team keeps rolling, why fix what isn’t broken? Next up for the Oilers is a date with the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday (Nov. 9).
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.