Oilers Sign Tyson Barrie to 1-Year Deal

Defenseman Tyson Barrie signed a one-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers worth $3.75 million.

Drafted 64th overall in the 2009 Entry Draft by the Colorado Avalanche, Barrie spent eight seasons in the Avalanche organization before heading to the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer as part of the deal that sent Nazem Kadri to the Avalanche. Despite recording 39 points in 70 games during the 2019-20 season, his offense wasn’t enough to make up for his spotty defensive play, and the Maple Leafs opted not to re-sign him.

Throughout his 554 regular-season games in the NHL, Barrie has seen steady top-four minutes on the back-end. He can produce offense at five-on-five just as well as he can on the power play. In terms of possession, his results are a mixed bag.

Barrie often sees his best results when he is sheltered and given favorable matchups as well as offensive-zone starts. This allows him to do his thing while minimizing the chance that he’ll have to get back and defend. He should find even more success if his defensive partner is a “safe” player that doesn’t take risks in the offensive zone.

Fit With the Oilers

The Oilers do not have the cap space that other teams have – that’s part of the reason their offer to Barrie was lower than others that he received. They are almost capped-out, with a little over $700,000 in cap space available, so the term and dollar amount on Barrie’s deal is a blessing for them. With $29.5 million in cap space coming after next season, the Oilers and general manager Ken Holland should be in a position to retain their new defenseman if the fit works out for both teams.

Ken Holland Edmonton Oilers
Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Luckily for both parties, the fit here should be a good one. As an offensive-defenseman, Barrie is an immediate fit on the Oilers’ top power-play unit – a group that features both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. After playing with the guns on the Maple Leafs’ roster (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, etc.) he should have little trouble producing with two of the league’s top players.

While he’s a virtual lock for power-play time, Barrie will likely find himself on the Oilers’ second defensive pairing. Given his style of play, he’s a risk-taker, and players like that often need to be sheltered in order to maximize their impact on the ice. Given the recent developments regarding Oscar Klefbom, Barrie should still be in line for a healthy serving of ice-time. Through his 554 games in the NHL, he averages 21:47 of playing time. Expect more of the same with the Oilers.

The Keefe-Effect

When Barrie joined the Maple Leafs, the head coach at the time was Mike Babcock. Known for his strict, defense-first style, Barrie’s risk-taking style did not mesh well with his coach’s expectations, especially for a top-four defenseman. That all changed when the Maple Leafs fired Babcock and brought in Sheldon Keefe.

Keefe deploys a system built around offensive freedom and creativity – a natural fit for a guy like Barrie. The results were almost instant. Barrie scored his first goal of the season in Keefe’s first game behind the bench, and his point totals skyrocketed.

Tyson Barrie Toronto Maple Leafs
Tyson Barrie, former Toronto Maple Leaf (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The lesson here for Oilers coach Dave Tippett is that Barrie excels when given the freedom to make plays. Relying on him to be a shutdown defender is not wise; pairing him with a defender who is adept in all areas of the ice will help bring out the best in his game. Darnell Nurse or Klefbom (if/when he returns) could fit the bill.

On a one-year deal, both Barrie and the Oilers are placing a bet on the player’s fit in Edmonton. If that bet pays off, it will mean a big payday for the player, as well as a needed offensive presence on the Oilers’ blue line. His resumé suggests that this was a solid bet to make.