We continue our look at next offseason’s potential free agent class by trying to project the next contract for some of the top players that could be available. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers and defenseman Tyson Barrie.
There is a lot to like about the Edmonton Oilers’ offseason.
While they did not land one of the top free agents or make a blockbuster trade, they did make a trio of smart, low-risk free agent signings in Tyson Barrie (one year), Dominik Kahun (one year), and Kyle Turris (two years). Individually, none of them will be a franchise-changer. But together they should help improve the depth of what has been one of the most top heavy teams in the league.
The most fascinating of those three signings is probably Barrie. Not only for the impact he could make in Edmonton this season, but for the impact it could have for him personally.
How he got here
Barrie spent the 2019-20 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs after being acquired in the trade that sent Nazem Kadri to Colorado.
The intention was for Toronto to add a top-pairing defender to its lineup and help the franchise break through the First Round door that keeps slamming shut in its face.
It did not exactly work out as planned. While Kadri excelled in Colorado, Barrie was a lightning rod for criticism in Toronto and had a down year offensively. The Maple Leafs allowed him to walk in unrestricted free agency where he signed a $3.75 million contract in Edmonton. It was reported at the time of his signing that he turned down at least one more lucrative offer elsewhere.
What happened in Toronto?
It was the confluence of unreasonably high expectations and bad luck meeting in a frenzied hockey market that was in no mood for patience or nuance.
The thing about Barrie’s 2019-20 season is that it wasn’t as bad as the loud noises coming out of Toronto would have you believe.
Was he as good as he had been in previous years? In some areas, no. Specifically his goal total and power play production, both of which took dramatic dives. Part of that was a sharp decrease in his shooting percentage, falling from a career average of 7.1 percent in Colorado, all the way down to 3.1 percent in Toronto. If he had shot at his normal rate on the same number of shots in Toronto that would have taken him from five goals in 71 games to 12 goals.
That would have changed some perception of his performance.
When it comes to his power play production, part of it has to come down to the fact that he did not get as big of a role as he did in Colorado.
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In Barrie’s last two years with the Avalanche he played 65 percent of the team’s power play minutes, with a lot of it running through him. During those two years he averaged 20 shot attempts per 60 minutes of power play time, the second highest total on the team behind only Nathan MacKinnon.
During his one year in Toronto, he averaged just nine shot attempts per 60 minutes of power play time. That was the was lowest total of any Maple Leafs player that logged at least 80 minutes of power play time. He was more of an afterthought on that unit.
Even with those issues, a lot of his 5-on-5 performance remained steady. His possession numbers were strong, his expected goal and scoring chance numbers were among the best of his career, and his assist numbers were right in line with everything he had done previously in his career.
His “down” year seemed to come down to some bad luck (shooting percentage) and a change to his power play usage.
Why Edmonton is a great fit
There are two key factors here working in Barrie’s favor.
The first is that if his shooting percentage rebounds back closer to his normal career level his production is going to immediately see a boost. Could that happen anywhere? Maybe! But there is also the power play factor.
Given Edmonton’s situation on defense where Oscar Klefbom will miss most, if not all, of the 2020-21 season, Barrie should be the top blue line option on the team’s power play. That power play also happens to already be the best power play in the NHL and prominently features two league MVPs (and two of the most dominant offensive players in the league) in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
There is a huge opportunity there to pile up points. Would that necessarily be a sign of improved play on Barrie’s part? Not entirely, but it would absolutely get noticed on the next free agent market. If his production rebounds and he maintains anything close to his underlying 5-on-5 performance there is every reason to believe he could become a top target again next offseason.
What he could be looking at
I still see this as this year’s Kevin Shattenkirk situation. A talented, productive defenseman that struggled through a bad fit, had his value drop, and then signed a one-year deal in a more favorable environment to re-boost their individual value.
Shattenkirk turned it into a multi-year deal with Anaheim this offseason.
Barrie could easily do the same next offseason. Especially in an offseason that does not have as many top-tier defenders to compete with on the open market. While Barrie was a clear distant third on the defense market this offseason behind Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug, next offseason’s market only has Dougie Hamilton as a potential top-tier free agent blue liner.
If he can become a 14-goal, 55-60 point player again why couldn’t he land a multi-year, $6 million-plus contract next offseason?
He took less money this year to bet himself in an optimal setting. It could work out for him long-term.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.