Tyson Barrie was awarded a three-year contract worth an average of $4.5 million a year from the Edmonton Oilers in the offseason. He led all NHL defensemen last season with 48 points in 56 games in the shortened campaign. Also, he was an integral member of the Oilers’ number one ranked power play, playing fetch with Connor McDavid and company.
It’s not groundbreaking news that his weakness is his defensive game, but the fact that he led all blueliners in scoring offset his defensive woes to some degree. This season, however, his point production has dropped substantially. Last season, he averaged 0.85 points per game (P/G), and he’s now averaging 0.43 P/G. If the Oilers aren’t getting the high-level offensive production from the defender and subpar defence, what should they do with him?
With the emergence of Evan Bouchard and his ability to run the first unit power play, the first plan of action with Barrie should be to trade him— The Hockey Writers’ Rob Couch listed three possible trade destinations for him. However, if there aren’t any trading partners willing to take on his $4.5 million annual salary, then maybe it’s time to try him as a forward?
Barrie Didn’t Receive a Norris Trophy Vote
An argument can be made that Barrie racked up his points by piggy-backing off of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl last season with 23 of his 48 points generated on the power play. There might be truth to that; however, he still deserves credit where credit is due. Not every NHL defenseman can quarterback a number one power play and be in sync with some of the best players in the world. At the same time, he’s the first player in the 67- year history of the Norris Trophy to lead defenceman in scoring and not receive a single vote. That’s baffling.
The Norris is awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position, and it’s voted on by the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association. Last season, all the voters must have been aware of Barrie’s defensive woes for him not to receive a single vote.
Barrie Struggling Defensively
The 30-year-old offensive defenceman is listed at 5-foot-10, and due to his smaller stature, he has a hard time containing bigger NHL forwards. He’s not the most fleet-footed, and when a speedster like Nathan Mackinnon comes barreling down on him, the Colorado Avalanche forward would win that battle almost every time. Unfortunately, like many offensive-minded defensemen that aren’t elite players, the defensive part of their game tends to be subpar.
Barrie had one of his toughest games of the season on Feb. 8 against the Vegas Golden Knights. In the dying seconds of the first period, the Oilers were down by one. On the power play, he took a point shot that was blocked and gave the Golden Knight a 2-0 rush going the other way that they were able to bury for a short-handed goal. In the second period, Barrie fumbled the puck at center ice, which created a 2-on-1.
If the general rule to defend against a 2-on-1 is that the goaltender takes the shooter and the defenseman covers the open man, Barrie did neither, nor did he make an attempt to break up the play. Jonathan Marchessault easily slid the puck over to Alex Pietrangelo, and he buried it past goaltender Mike Smith.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-off. Most recently, against the Los Angeles Kings, the Oilers were up by one, and Philip Danault was left alone in the slot. Barrie saw the Kings’ forward, pointed at him, but left him wide open, and Danault tied the game. Fortunately, Edmonton pulled off the win. But time and again, Barrie will get caught puck watching in the defensive zone, gets overwhelmed in puck battles, and makes incorrect reads on the offensive blue line.
Barrie Could Excel as a Forward
With new head coach Jay Woodcroft, it seems time for a midseason reset for the team. Everyone’s been given a clean slate, and it could be a chance for Barrie to reinvent himself. The Hockey Writers’ Jim Parsons noted that Woodcroft is known for thinking outside the box when it comes to deploying his roster, and in his first few games behind the bench, he’s opted to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. If that’s the case moving forward, why not move Barrie to one of the forward spots?
Despite Barrie’s defensive woes, he is quite good with the puck offensively. He stickhandles well and can handle the puck in tight. He has the patience to wait for seams to open, and he has a great shot when given time and space. Having said that, the Oilers’ top players — McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – read off him well. In unison, they process the game at an elite level, so why not slide him over to one of the centers’ right sides?
If it works, the team would essentially be killing two birds with one stone; Barrie would no longer be a defensive liability on the backend, and they would gain an offensive forward with defensive ability. Former NHL coach and three-time Stanley Cup-winner Joel Quenneville once stated that he likes having defensemen play forward. He used former NHL player Dustin Byfuglien at both forward and defence with the Chicago Blackhawks and recently gave Mark Pysyk the dual role with the Florida Panthers. He stated:
“They usually have that mindset of being above the puck, so they keep themselves in the play, and defensively they have that responsibility. You get to handle the puck a little bit more, but I think they’re always in that position where offensively they’re complementing the guys they’re playing with, being either the safety guy or the extra guy that’s always going to be in the right spots.”– Joel Quenneville (from “Dual-Role Players? NHL Defensemen as Wingers Show it Can Be Done,” The Denver Post, 1/13/20)
Moving Barrie to the forward position would give him offensive freedom while being defensively capable, without being the last line of defence on the blue line. With the trade deadline near, what would you do with him moving forward?
He’s the first ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – He’s been featured on CBC Radio providing hockey analysis for the Edmonton Oilers – He’s a freelance writer and Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.