Let's Calm Down About Tyson Barrie
The point totals aren't painting a fair picture of the offensive defenceman
Mark Spector of Sportsnet has to dip into the historical record to contextualize Tyson Barrie’s brilliance:
Look back through hockey history. Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier had Denis Potvin. Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Johnny Bucyk had Bobby Orr.
There was a Coffey for Gretzky and Kurri, Messier and Anderson, a Zubov for Modano and Hull, and even a Letang for Crosby and Malkin.
We’re not putting Barrie up those Hall of Fame blue-liners quite yet, but he is that same breed of player when fixed up with McDavid and Draisaitl. And Edmonton hasn’t seen that guy since Coffey himself.
The pending UFA, who has 30 points in 34 games, has the Edmonton media buzzing not only about a possible extension but maybe even a Norris campaign, a cemented spot as the permanent running-mate for #97 and #29, and perhaps even a place in Hockey History.
Barrie’s been good, a very pleasant surprise for the Oil who has certainly been more useful than he was last season. But let’s calm down for a minute here.
Barrie is an excellent example of why points can be an extremely misleading way to evaluate defencemen - and why it’s ridiculous that the Norris Trophy is mostly determined by them. Here’s the top five defencemen in points right now, with a breakdown of where those points come from:
Playing with two forwards who (arguably more than any other players in the league) generate offence primarily by themselves, Barrie’s hockey card stats have been hugely inflated. Over half of Barrie’s points have come on secondary assists, almost half of them have come on the powerplay, and half of those powerplay points have themselves been secondary assists. As Eric Tulsky (now of the Carolina Hurricanes) showed in 2011, secondary assists are basically noise and reveal very little about a player’s actual offensive impact. So how much stock do you want to put in the production of a player who’s getting almost a quarter of his points off powerplay secondary assists?
I grabbed clips of each of Barrie’s 28 assists so far. You can see for yourself what these look like:
Barrie makes some nice passes here, especially on the powerplay. No one ever said this guy isn’t a good offensive player. But viewing these points objectively there are plenty of occasions in which #22 makes a very simple play and McDavid and Draisaitl then do McDavid and Draisaitl things - or else Barrie makes a nice play that is much more likely to result in a goal because it ultimately ends up on the stick of one of those two.
25 of Barrie’s 30 points (83%) have included a goal or an assist from McDavid and/or Draisaitl. Only one of his points has come without one or both of #97 and #29 out there.
But come on, I mean, he’s producing at a 70+ point pace. No Oilers defenceman has done that in the McDavid era! If he’s not Norris-calibre, why haven’t Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom even come close to this level of production in the past?
The first reason is that McDavid and Draisaitl weren’t both producing at 140- and 120-point paces in the past.
The second reason might be deployment. Let’s take a look at Barrie’s deployment compared to the Oilers’ other big-minute defencemen in the past four seasons as found on NaturalStatTrick:
Barrie is spending 79% of his minutes with one or both of McDavid and Draisaitl, an indication that Dave Tippett is aggressively pairing his blueliners with his stars in a way that the Oilers haven’t before. In the past, Klefbom and Nurse have spent between 50 and 57 percent of their time with the superstars, a decent chunk but a far cry from what Barrie has enjoyed so far this season.
Barrie is having a great season, and it’s clear that his ability to break out the puck - something that was extremely absent from the Oilers D in recent years - has helped their offence. His weaknesses are still present, including poor defensive play and the habit of firing way too many point shots (he ranks 7th among blueliners in personal share of on-ice shots), but despite these faults he still ranks 8th among North Division defencemen in Wins Above Replacement. This is a significant increase compared to his past two seasons, especially his campaign with the Leafs when his awful defence cancelled out what he brought offensively.
But is he somebody you want to spend 70-point-defenceman money on? When Barrie signed with the Oilers in October for a cheap one-year deal, everybody said “there he goes trying to build up his value with McDavid powerplay points so he can cash in.” And now that he’s doing that, suddenly we’re none the wiser again?