June 3, 2023

Tyson Barrie‘s name has constantly come up as one of the Edmonton Oilers’ top trade candidates over the past year, thanks to the rise of Evan Bouchard and their cap situation. Having Barrie on the roster is a luxury if more than one defender can do a similar job.

Tyson Barrie Edmonton Oilers
Tyson Barrie, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

In an inconsistent year for the team, the defence, and Bouchard, Barrie has played the best among defenders on the Oilers, making any decision to trade him a tough one. He has one more year left on his three-year, $4.5 million annual average value (AAV) contract signed in July 2021. With Barrie’s strong play this season, outplaying a young Bouchard in a contract year especially, the decision to trade him has become more difficult.

Barrie Has Played like the Oilers’ Best Defenceman

Though goaltender Jack Campbell’s play hasn’t been good this season, a number of goals scored on both him and Stuart Skinner stem from poor defensive play. A lot of that is the defencemen’s duties. They constantly allow opponents to get open in their end and lose coverage for easy goals. It also doesn’t help that seemingly every bad turnover leads directly to a goal against. That has been demonstrated in the past two losses to the St. Louis Blues and the Anaheim Ducks, where three-plus goals have been directly after bad giveaways.

Related: Oilers & Ducks Discussion Signals a Puljujarvi Trade Is Likely

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Darnell Nurse made two turnovers that led to goals, including the game-tying goal by the Blues with 20 seconds left while shorthanded. In the following game, Bouchard made one especially bad turnover that led to a breakaway goal against. He also screened Skinner on a shot that should have either been blocked or an easy save, seeing as he was the only one in front of the net. These big mistakes by two of the team’s top defencemen didn’t need to happen, and the Oilers lost games they should have won.

That said, Barrie has played better than the rest of the defence (from “It is hard to come to the defence of this Edmonton Oilers Defence: 9 Things”, Edmonton Journal, Dec. 18, 2022). He ranks eighth in the NHL in points (25) among defencemen and has 10 assists in a six-game point streak. He also ranks only second to Rasmus Dahlin in power-play points among defencemen with 17.

Tyson Barrie is on a 5-game point streak (0-9-9) and has moved up to 8th in NHL scoring by Defencemen (4-20-24/31 GP) https://t.co/Nj0eD54GaN

Compared to the other Oilers’ defencemen, Barrie has the fewest giveaways with 16, and he has played every game. Kulak is the only defender even close in this regard, turning the puck over 17 times. Nurse has 41 giveaways, Bouchard has 31, Cody Ceci has 19, and the other three, Markus Niemelainen, Philip Broberg, and Ryan Murray have combined for 28 giveaways in 40 games.

Barrie also leads all Oilers’ defencemen in expected plus/minus (which analyzes where shots came from, for and against, while a player is on the ice at even strength). His expected plus/minus is 3.4 while the only other defender who is above 1.5 is Bouchard with 3.2. The team save percentage while Barrie is on the ice is .922 – compared to Nurse and Bouchard, that number is very good; Bouchard’s is a horrible .875, while Nurse’s is just .909. Turnovers play a big part in both Barrie’s lack of goals against while he’s on the ice, and the other two being on the ice for many.

As for the through percentage – the percentage of shots taken that go on net – Barrie ranks second among the group of Oilers’ defencemen.

Barrie Is Outplaying Bouchard This Season

Barrie’s offence took a bit of a hit with the emergence of Bouchard last season. After he led all defencemen in the NHL in points in 2020-21 with 48 in 56 games, he only recorded 41 in 73 games last season. Bouchard led all defencemen on the Oilers with 43 in his first full season in the NHL in 2021-22 and took power-play time and ice time away from Barrie.

Edmonton Oilers Celebrate
Jesse Puljujarvi #13 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Vancouver Canucks with teammates Darnell Nurse #25, Connor McDavid #97, Leon Draisaitl #29 and Tyson Barrie #22 (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Barrie averaged just 18:58 of ice time last season, the second lowest in his career and lowest since his second season in the NHL in 2013-14. He is a top-four defenceman, but the Oilers have three right-shot defenders who can play top-four minutes. That’s where the problem lies for next season. Right now, it is fine, since Bouchard is on his entry-level contract, but that ends after this season. There’s no doubt he will get a raise, but whether the Oilers lock him up long-term or on a bridge deal remains to be seen.

The Oilers are already against the cap, and Barrie has been a trade candidate because of Bouchard since last season. So, while Bouchard was still paid under $1 million AAV, the Oilers could afford to pay for both defenders who play a similar game and can run the power play. What Edmonton can also afford to do is sign Bouchard to a bridge deal to prove himself since his first two seasons have been very different. If he would’ve carried over his play from 2021-22, then the Oilers would be discussing signing him long-term, and Barrie would have to be the cap casualty.

Last season, Bouchard took a lot of time away from Barrie on the power play because of Bouchard’s effectiveness at five-on-five, but the power play was still more productive overall when Barrie was on the point. Regardless, Bouchard earned his power-play time, and the Oilers were setting him up to take over.

Flash forward to this season, and Barrie has again been a mainstay on the top power-play unit, producing a ton. His average ice time is back up to 19:54 per game. Though it isn’t as high as his career average, it is still a minute more he spends on the ice than last season, and has really earned it. With Bouchard’s mistakes and lower offensive output and Barrie’s strong overall contribution to the team, it has made the decision to move on from Barrie before his contract is over very difficult.

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