With every loss for the Edmonton Oilers, it looks more and more clear it’s not just one thing that needs to be addressed. Everybody knows goaltending is a major issue and has been for some time, but in this article, we are going to look at a defensive move that doesn’t only see the Oilers adding a defenceman, but moving one out at the same time to fill a specific need. The most likely candidate would have to be Tyson Barrie.
Even though the Oilers have struggled offensively over their past 14 games, winning only twice, keeping pucks out of their net has been a major issue as well. Of the defencemen who have suited up for the Oilers this year, the two that fit the bill of defensive defencemen the most are Kris Russell and Markus Niemelainen. Unfortunately for the Oilers, Russell is past his prime and is more injury-prone, currently on the injured reserve (IR). While the other, Niemelainen, looks to be almost ready, but the team has too many contracts to keep him up in the NHL at the moment.
The Oilers wouldn’t just need one of these two players to be playing for the team, they would need them playing in the top-four, whether that is on the left side ahead of Duncan Keith or on the right side on the first or second pairing.
How New Defensive Pairings Make Barrie Expendable
The Oilers had lots of time off, though affected by COVID, and had time to mess around with lines and see if other combinations could work in the wake of their slump (“COVID chaos continues as Edmonton Oilers cancel practice, reschedule next game”, Edmonton Journal, Jan. 9, 2022). This saw Cody Ceci play alongside Darnell Nurse on the first pairing and Barrie play second line minutes with Keith. Which left Evan Bouchard to line up on the third pairing with William Lagesson.
The first problem with this is the amount of ice time Bouchard is given when playing on the third pairing with someone who would be lucky to play over 10 minutes as a defenceman. The game against the Ottawa Senators saw Bouchard play less than 12:30 and they were scored against multiple times at five-on-five. For a young defenceman that has played better than his ice time recently has shown, he needs to be put in a position to succeed.
The Oilers also need someone who is more defensively capable on the ice more, as Barrie has been getting more ice time as of late over the young star. Not only has Bouchard been better at five-on-five than Barrie offensively, but he is also out there killing penalties and when the Oilers had a lead late in the game to defend it.
With Barrie higher up in the Oilers’ lineup and Bouchard lower down, they quickly found out why these pairing won’t work in the long run, making it so Barrie can be traded for someone who can play in the top-four at five-on-five and even push Ceci down to the third where he’d likely thrive.
Hopefully, sooner than later, the Oilers’ coaching will realize that Bouchard is under-utilized and put in a position to fail on the third pairing alongside Lagesson and elevate him to at least the second pairing where he can play 20 minutes a night. Maybe a Keith/Barrie pairing could’ve worked years ago when Keith was in his prime, but now the two leave the Oilers defensively vulnerable in their own end. Bouchard had played his best hockey on the top pairing, so that should be a priority for the young defenceman, while even though Ceci has struggled this season, he should still be a top-four option over Barrie at five-on-five.
Barrie’s Niche Can Be Covered by Bouchard/Nurse
Barrie’s niche and the thing he excelled at in his first season with the Oilers, was his play on the power-play. This season, after a very strong team start on the man advantage, it has dried up and fallen back to earth to where other top teams are sitting. It wasn’t even as if Barrie was a massive contributor in the first place, recording only nine power-play points in 34 games compared to 23 in 54 last season.
With his and the team’s production down, especially as of late, we can ask the question, does the Oilers’ power play really need Barrie, or can it run just as efficiently, if not more if they have Bouchard or Nurse at the point? I believe it can, especially if Bouchard is there. He has the ability to walk the line, get shots through, and has a strong slap shot. This allows for the Oilers to get more tips or rebound chances if they have the goalie screened, as well as give them a dangerous one-time option at the point.
We have also seen Barrie be pulled off the power play and the Oilers send out Nurse in his place. Nurse has a hard shot and can defend in the event of a break the other way against them. He also has the ability to really move and control the puck, something we saw multiple times against the Senators. The power play can run just as efficiently without Barrie because the Oilers still have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the two key pieces as to why the unit produces so well.
Teams That Would Make a Hockey Trade for Barrie
Adding a top-four defenceman to play beside Ceci would give him support, as I think the weight has really fallen on him this season after Adam Larsson left. The Oilers don’t have to be picky either, they could add the defensive defenceman on the right side as well since Barrie would be moving out in the corresponding move.
As Ken Holland made clear in his press conference, he is not going to go out and pay big for rentals, so a short-term fix in the form of Ben Chiarot or Mark Giordano is now out of the question unless it’s a sign-and-trade with Chiarot. A few teams that come to mind who would be trade partners with the Oilers would be the New York Islanders and Anaheim Ducks. These two teams could use a power-play specialist and have a defensively-reliable top-four defenceman to send back in return. They are also in sort of the same boat as the Oilers, on the cusp of being a contender this season. On the Islanders, Scott Mayfield is cheap and has another year left on his deal. While the Ducks have Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson, both of whom would require a new contract on being traded and are a little more expensive than Mayfield.
A couple of teams that could be interested in Barrie later in the season could be teams that lose out on the John Klingberg sweepstakes, whether that’s before the trade deadline or in the offseason. Teams like the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, and Carolina Hurricanes could also use the help on the back-end but have less to offer in the way of a hockey trade mid-season.
While Niemelainen develops and Bouchard continues to get better, the Oilers need to focus on addressing support in keeping pucks out of their net, as the offensive side of the game is covered. Barrie is the clearest choice to be moved with his contract and term, so don’t be surprised if we see a deal involving him on the way out happen within the year.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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