Tying Down Tyson Barrie

Mike Chambers, of The Denver Post, delivered a dose of good news to Colorado Avalanche fans in regards to restricted free agent defenseman, Tyson Barrie. It appears that, despite the massive amount of smoke surrounding him by pretty much anybody willing to get on a radio show, Joe Sakic has no interest in trading him.

The next question that comes up with Tyson Barrie, now that we are sure he will be a member of the Avalanche next season, is what will his next contract look like? If you thought predicting trades and drafts were difficult, trying to figure out what number a team and player will land on takes the cake. I am going to attempt to approach this looking at the things I think both sides would be discussing when trying to land on a specific number, in addition to identifying comparable players. Let’s see what we come up with.

Barrie’s Positives

Barrie’s offense is his obvious positive. He has led all Avalanche defenders in scoring in each of the last two seasons. He set personal bests in points (53) and assists (41) in the 2014-15 season, and in goals (13) during this past season. Barrie has put his name near the top of the lists of defensive scoring each of the last two seasons, being in the top-10 in defensive scoring during the 2014-15 season. Barrie clearly has a strong case when it comes to his offensive numbers.

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The Avalanche are not a team famous for their possession stats — quite the opposite — but Barrie is generally one of the better players on the team when it comes to fancy stats. In a league that is becoming increasingly driven by these kinds of statistics Barrie has an advantage, though he is coming off a less than stellar possession season. It will be interesting to see what he does without the likes of Nick Holden as his defensive partner.

Barrie’s presence on the power play goes along with his offensive abilities, but watching the Avalanche power play over the past few seasons has made it clear that the top unit runs through him. Barrie’s quick feet, strong passing, strong one-timer, and elusiveness makes him an ideal player to quarterback a team’s power play.

Barrie’s skating and speed are among the best on the team. The Avalanche are a team that like to play fast, especially in transition, and Tyson Barrie is one of the biggest catalysts for this. When Barrie is on his game, he is able to change games and swing contests in favor of his team largely because of the way he transitions and gets his team moving from defense to offense.

Barrie’s Liabilities

Looking at Barrie, it is impossible to deny that his size can hold him back. This is never more clear than when he is stuck out on the ice against power forwards. More than a few times Barrie has been caught trying desperately to move a much larger player out from in front of the net and having absolutely no success, or just standing to the side of said larger player because he knows he’ll likely fail if he tries to move him. There are the times when it feels like Barrie needs to be sheltered because he just isn’t big enough to handle some of the players he’s out there against.

While Barrie’s offensive numbers definitely work in his favor, the consistency of his play is definitely not. Barrie is a very streaky player who puts up most of his points in bunches, and when he is doing that he is absolutely electric. At the same time, when he isn’t putting up points in bunches, he has a tendency to disappear in all areas of the ice.

His passing is less crisp, his offensive game is forced or just awkward, and his defensive game is a bit lazy. These all lead to some questionable decision-making, which leads to turnovers or bad pinches, and then ultimately to goals against. Barrie is only 24, and is still maturing as a player, but the way he just disappears from time to time is not good.

What I will say about Barrie’s game, that will especially benefit him when it comes to contract talk, is that it is much easier to quantify his positives in terms of dollars on a contract than it is his negatives. You can go into a contract negotiation and say 50 point defenders make this much money, whereas it is much harder to say that his inconsistencies mean the team should pay him a certain amount less. All in all, Barrie really has the stronger ground.

Comparable Players

Over the past two seasons, there are only six defenders in the whole NHL who have amassed more points than Tyson Barrie. They are: Mark Giordano, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Kris Letang, Brent Burns, and Erik Karlsson. The three players below him that round out the top-10 are Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Dustin Byfuglien. These are some of the best defenders in the league, and one reason why I’m sure Barrie wouldn’t mind it too much if things did end up going to arbitration.

Karlsson, Burns, and Letang are all on the very high end of the offensive category, with numbers far surpassing everybody, so I’m not going to look at them. Subban’s contract is the type that the Avalanche absolutely will not do, whereas Roman Josi’s is unbelievably team-friendly, and it’s just not realistic to think that Barrie would take that kind of contract. In the end, the players that are likely the best comparables are Ekman-Larsson and Giordano.

As I mentioned above, some of the most solid comparable aspects of their games are the concrete numbers of goals and points. For Barrie, his numbers and points are very similar to those two players. Ekman-Larsson currently carries a cap hit of $5.5 million on a contract that started four seasons ago. Giordano’s new contract kicks in next season and will carry a cap hit of $6.75 million.

The New Contract

A couple of things are fair to say at this juncture. 1) Ekman-Larsson, if he were getting a new contract this season, would likely command a far higher cap hit than his current $5.5 million. 2) Barrie is not as complete of a defenseman as either of these two players. That being said, players like Barrie are in huge demand in the NHL, if you couldn’t tell by everybody and their mother barking up the “Tyson Barrie is available for trade” tree. Barrie has a large advantage.

I expect that the Avalanche will want to keep him close to their structure level of $6 million on the cap hit, and I do think that they should be able to do this, reasonably. The best case scenario for the Avalanche would be if Barrie agreed to a contract anywhere in the neighborhood of Erik Johnson’s extension, which will have him making $6 million against the cap for the next seven years. Since a long term deal would take Barrie into some unrestricted years, the Avalanche might have to pony up a little bit more cash to make this happen.

I predict the contract will be six years with a cap hit of $6.25 million.