Maple Leafs UFA Preview: Tyson Barrie

(Cole Burston/CP)

With the NHL officially setting their Free Agency start date to October 9th, teams officially have a date to lock up their free agents by. The Leafs have 10 players set to become Unrestricted Free Agents, here’s a preview of the biggest one: Tyson Barrie.

Tyson Barrie’s 2019-20 Season

To say Tyson Barrie didn’t have an ideal year would be an understatement. After being acquired alongside Alexander Kerfoot and a 2020 6th round pick in exchange for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, and a 2020 3rd round pick, the Leafs held high expectations for Tyson Barrie. He was set to be the right-handed defenseman Toronto had been needing for decades. Barrie was valued so highly that he was reportedly asking for around $8 million per year on a long-term extension.

And then… it just didn’t work out.

Former Leafs coach Mike Babcock’s system was pretty much the worst-case scenario for him. His first twenty or so games were abysmal, even if he had games where he was putting points up. Barrie went as far as saying: “It feels kind of hopeless.” during his period of struggle.

But then Mike Babcock was fired.

RELATED: Did Mike Babcock Almost Ruin the Leafs?

I think how Barrie did after that is the key to getting a team to sign him for a significant amount of money.

Whether people want to admit it or not, post-Babcock Tyson Barrie was much better than what we’d seen from him before Babcock was fired…

Offensively, that is.

Barrie had the 13th most points in the league in games played after Mike Babcock was fired, with 32 points in 47 games.

Defensively, it’s a very different story.

Tyson Barrie has never been a great defender. Offense is his thing, he’s generally always been pretty bad in his own end. Babcock’s system just exposed his flaws. They still remained under Sheldon Keefe, but they weren’t exposed as often.

He finished the season with 39 points in 70 games, but his output under Keefe was one to watch. However, Barrie went scoreless in the playoffs, leaving Game 5 early after hitting his head on the ice. Ultimately, from an offensive defenseman, you need to see more consistency there offensively.

Defensively, he just wasn’t a fit for the already offense-heavy Maple Leafs.

Tyson Barrie
Mark Blinch / National Hockey League / Getty

What Will a Team Get in Tyson Barrie?

With Tyson Barrie’s season, there has to be a few question marks about what you’re getting. Are you getting the 50-point Barrie that impressed in Colorado? Or the Tyson Barrie that faltered at times in Toronto?

The truth is, they’re both the same player.

“Yeah, idiot, of course they’re both Tyson Barrie!”

That’s not what I mean. I mean that Tyson Barrie didn’t magically become a worse defenseman.

That’s the thing about Tyson Barrie. He’s not a player that finds success on his own. Obviously, almost all players get better with better players around them. However, Barrie’s success is pretty much directly tied to the success of his teammates.

The biggest thing is that he’s just atrocious defensively. With most offensive defensemen, their offensive upside overshadows most defensive inconsistencies. With Barrie, however, he needs to be sheltered or put with a defense-oriented defenseman in order to succeed.

However, former Leafs coach Mike Babcock instead decided to put him in a shutdown role, and he (for obvious reasons) did very poorly.

It ultimately affected the rest of his season, but Barrie also didn’t have the same support system he had in Colorado, which made his dip from a career-high season inevitable.

A team that signs him needs to keep all this in mind. They need to evaluate if their team can provide a system that can allow Tyson Barrie to perform to the best of his abilities. In the right system, Barrie would be a tremendous signing.

Barrie is an offensive defenseman. He’s a great skater and finds his biggest strengths in making plays. He’ll be able to provide a team with offense from the blue line, he just needs the right support to mesh with, and he’ll likely become the 50-point defenseman that teams saw in Colorado. Defensively, his decision-making lacks. He’s unable to properly cover his man, and he often gets caught in front of the play.

This play, in particular, sums up most of Barrie’s problems in Toronto. Here, you can see a few things. 1. He’s already way too far up during 3-on-3 overtime, easily vulnerable if Montreal gets the puck back. 2. In almost any case, shooting the puck on a low-quality play that deep during sudden-death overtime with no one covering defense is a terrible idea. 3. He has Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner beside him! There’s no reason why he should be the triggerman on that play, and it costs the Leafs the game.

Two things need to happen for Tyson Barrie to succeed. The team needs to make sure they have defensive insurance behind him. And Barrie needs to do his part too. His flaws were exposed for everyone to see in Toronto, he needs to work on minimizing how those flaws get exposed in the future.

Who Should Sign Him?

That might be the most confusing part of it all. In all likelihood, the team that signs Tyson Barrie likely won’t be the best fit for him. A team that sorely needs offense might look at him to jumpstart their play in the opposing end, but what happens when the playmaker doesn’t have the right people to make plays to? It goes the other way too, what if a team has too much offense? That’s something that made Barrie more of a liability than a strength in Toronto.

adam larsson oilers 1 1040x572 1
Jason Franson/CP

A team that’s being strongly linked to Barrie are the Edmonton Oilers. I’m not really sure if they’re a fit for Barrie or not. On one hand, the Oilers are similar to Toronto in a sense. They have guys like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, as well as a guy like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If Barrie is played in a second-pairing role, as well as on the second power-play unit, something that’s likely with the return of Adam Larsson, then the move could be a fit. However, the question lies in who will line up beside Barrie.

The Oilers are set to lose Oscar Klefbom for the duration of the 2020-21 season, leaving them with Darnell Nurse, Caleb Jones, and Kris Russell as their only left-handed defensemen. With Darnell Nurse set to line up beside Larsson on the first pairing, it doesn’t leave the best options for Barrie. Do they put him with the raw and developing Caleb Jones? Or the underwhelming Kris Russell?

The Vancouver Canucks are also a team that I think could show interest in Tyson Barrie. With Chris Tanev approaching free agency, the Canucks may have a hole to fill. This, however, depends on how the team’s chase for Oliver Ekman-Larsson goes, someone who, if acquired, would likely take up any remaining cap space. Even if they do go for Barrie instead, there’s the question of who they’d put him beside. It’s not ideal to put Barrie beside the sophomore, Quinn Hughes. Do they opt to put him beside Alexander Edler and move the pair to the second-pairing? It sparks a long list of decisions to make on their promising roster.

While those are two interested teams, I think it’s possible that many other teams could be enticed by Barrie’s potential to bounce back.

Whatever happens, it seems as if that on October 9th, Tyson Barrie’s underwhelming journey in Toronto is set to come to a close.

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Featured Image: Cole Burston/CP


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