The Edmonton Oilers will be forced to make a decision on defenceman Tyson Barrie in the next few seasons. The Oilers’ right side got crowded in a hurry, and they can’t afford a power-play specialist who won’t be needed on the power play for much longer $4.5 million a year.
Edmonton has been grooming Evan Bouchard to fill Barrie’s role in the future. A short-term deal given to Barrie provided enough time for Bouchard to develop at the NHL level. That timeline has fast-tracked in a major way since Bouchard has already looked very good to start the 2021-22 season.
Oilers’ Future Cap Issues
Bouchard’s entry-level contract is up in two seasons, and at the rate he is progressing, he is in store for a nice pay raise. Whether it’s a short or long-term deal, the Oilers will have to make room for this defenceman at all costs. A top power play can’t run perfectly with a weak spot, and the Oilers only have one spot open for a defenceman on that unit. The defenceman that fills that spot needs to be able to perform at the level the rest of the unit is playing at.
By the time the Oilers have to re-sign Bouchard, there will only be three defencemen and nine (total) players still under contract: Darnell Nurse ($9.25 million average annual value (AAV)), Barrie ($4.5 million AAV), Cody Ceci ($3.25 million AAV), Connor McDavid ($12.5 million AAV), Leon Draisaitl ($8.5 million AAV), Zach Hyman ($5.5 million AAV), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ($5.125 million AAV), Zack Kassian ($3.2 million AAV), and Warren Foegele ($2.75 million AAV).
Before Bouchard gets his raise, the Oilers will have to spend money on other restricted free agents (RFAs) and possible unrestricted free agents (UFAs), including Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Brandan Perlini, Tyler Benson, and Ryan McLeod. Stuart Skinner and Dylan Holloway’s contracts are also up at the same time.
Before the Oilers need to address Bouchard’s extension with the team, the focus will be on goaltending. He has already taken on some of Barrie’s duties offensively and defensively, so the time to sell high on Barrie is sooner than we had hoped.
Barrie’s Defensive Lapses
Barrie’s key asset is his offensive talent, which often overshadows his defensive breakdowns and overall bad plays and decisions. In the third game of the season, he was a liability defensively. Oilers head coach Dave Tippett wasn’t seeing much from him, which caused Bouchard to take his place on the top defensive pairing for the remainder of the game.
How does a defenceman who leads the league in points not get a single Norris Trophy vote? It speaks volumes about his defensive game. Yes, points are heavily factored into the voting for this award, but to still not receive a single vote means he had huge problems in his own end. Of the 67 Norris Trophy winners, he’s the first to lead all defencemen in scoring and not get a vote.
At the very least, a team shouldn’t be paying a defenceman (or any player for that matter) $4.5 million per season to play bottom-pairing minutes. I wouldn’t touch Duncan Keith and Ceci right now because they’ve been solid in the middle-pairing role. Right now, if Bouchard is playing well, or Barrie isn’t, the only option is to interchange the two.
Bouchard has already seen significant time on the penalty kill and some time on the power play. Against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, he had the game of his career. Barrie is stunting Bouchard’s growth a bit, and this wouldn’t be as big of a topic to discuss if he already had more freedom to move up in the lineup. With more unchallenged ice time and more time with the Oilers’ big guns, his offensive production would increase drastically (from “Lowetide: Why Oilers defenceman Evan Bouchard is poised to exceed expectations”,The Athletic, 6/25/21).
On Tuesday, Bouchard did everything. He scored the goal that put the Oilers back on top 5-4 halfway through the third period while adding a power-play assist on the game-tying goal to start the comeback. He had more blocks (seven) than the rest of the Oilers’ defence combined while also taking more shots (six) than the rest of the defencemen as well. On top of that, he was a plus-2 and played over a minute more than Barrie.
If Barrie continues to struggle defensively, and Bouchard plays well at both ends, we might see a permanent solution as soon as this year. If the trade deadline or offseason allows the opportunity to upgrade in goal, the Oilers should take it. Barrie’s $4.5 million off the books will go a long way in that regard, especially if the team can seamlessly fill that void.
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 the NHL Stat Corner and trade talks from around the NHL.