Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you like him or not, Tyson Barrie should probably be traded

It seems that Tyson Barrie has become the Jake Gardiner replacement in more ways than one. He’s been a bit of the defensive whipping boy all season, but with Marincin scratched and Ceci injured, it seems like we are going to need to gear up for a ton of Tyson Barrie takes, and I’m going to get mine out of the way now.

We’ll start with that because it’s clearly the Barrie situation that is freshest and one that has fueled the amount of “Trade Barrie” takes that exist at the present moment in Leafs land.

Given that it’s 3 on 3 overtime and he has Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews with him, it’s bizarre that Barrie felt the need to drive the offense on that play. There’s also the issue that it clearly wasn’t the odd man rush, so by committing to go deep into the Habs zone it was fairly obvious that he would potentially be creating an odd man rush situation. Barrie also shot low, which was bound to keep the puck in play, and shot a perfectly positioned goaltender who could see him without obstruction. This was a stupid play that cost the Leafs and I like using it as an example of how frustrating Barrie is because it captures how frustrating he is at both ends of the ice.

It’s that 200 foot frustration that I think separates Barrie from Jake Gardiner, who I will continue to defend as a very smart offensive defenseman, a good positional player in his own zone, but the defenseman who caused me to have panic attacks whenever he was caught defending an odd man rush. Barrie doesn’t get the same benefit of doubt from me, and I may have brought out my old Larry Murphy blinders and only see the bad in his game.

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By the numbers, you can’t really be mad at Barrie…

%/Rate Relative
CF% 53.67 1.9
HDCF% 52.02 0.51
xGF% 51.73 -0.07
GF% 51.04 0.12
CA/60 56.45 1.34
xGA/60 2.37 0.12

He’s generally right around where the Leafs are with him off the ice, or slightly better, and he’s picked up 31 points so far this year, 22 which have come at even strength. Post Babcock, he’s delivering on exactly what was be asked of him, but that doesn’t change that there are frustrating elements to his game that many of us can’t get past. There’s also the fact that relative, means relative to the other Leafs, and nothing about those CA/60 or xGA/60 numbers should provide comfort that any of the Leafs are playing well defensively. They’re good enough offensively to still have favourable results, and Barrie is a big part of that, but defensively this team should leave everyone wanting.

The shot first mentality

This was an issue with Rielly under Babcock on the power play as well, so this might be more of a coaching/systems issue than anything we should put on Barrie, but like Rielly, Barrie doesn’t have the point shot to be an effective trigger man on the power play. That doesn’t seem to be stopping him or the Leafs from going with this, every bloody time. Sadly, it was Jake Gardiner who did have the point shot that would have benefited the first power play unit, but that never came to fruition. And while Barrie is a skilled quarterback, he’s been given a green light far too often, and as we can see from the overtime clip above, he’s comfortable shooting at other times as well.

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The plight of the offensive defenseman

At no point should any of us thought that Barrie was going to be a defensive stalwart, and in fact, he was always going to be a weight attached to his partner in his own zone. Unfortunately, the Leafs can only trot Jake Muzzin out so often during the game, and when Barrie was partnered with Muzzin against top offensive competition, that created too much of a liability for the Leafs. This isn’t Barrie’s fault really, and he did in his own zone what he was expected to do well, and that was once the Leafs regained control, he safely moves the puck up ice. He’s not a physical presence which is going to be a knock against him in the eyes of many, and my brain is rotten with memories of him misplaying odd man rushes, so as much as the numbers tell me he’s fine, my eyes and brain are rotten with defense I’ve convinced myself is bad.

Unfortunately for Barrie, taking away passing lanes in the defensive zone, and making the safe outlet play to a winger so they can take the puck across the blueline aren’t flashy enough to stay with me the way the brain farts do, and perhaps Barrie gets held to a different standard than Dermott, Holl, and others when it comes to defensive play, because they aren’t perceived as taking risks which lead to defensive misfires. They are just misfiring naturally.

The free agency factor and the trade deadline

It’s not that Tyson Barrie is bad, in fact, all evidence shows he’s been good for the Leafs. I just don’t think he was necessarily the defenseman the Leafs should have brought in. Where Muzzin perfectly addressed the needs of the Leafs, Barrie was more of a swap of Gardiner’s offensive defense on the left side of the ice for Barrie doing it on the right, and with a bit of a skill downgrade in the process. Whether the Leafs needed another power play quarterback when they already had Rielly, and have capable second unit options like Muzzin and Dermott available, now Sandin and Liljegren too, there probably should have been a push to find more of an all situations player, like Muzzin, but still preferably capable of playing on the right. Basically, the same situation the Leafs are in now, as we float names like Josh Manson at the trade deadline.

The success that Barrie has had under Sheldon Keefe has seemingly come with Rielly taking a step back, and that might be the best argument for pursuing other options going forward. Rielly is still on a team friendly contract for the next two seasons, and Tyson Barrie is at the very least looking at a Tyler Myers payday on July 1st.

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It’s because of that free agency status that I still land on the argument that the Leafs need to move on from Barrie at the trade deadline. He’s very good at what he does, but that’s arguably not what the Leafs need the most. Looking back on the CA/60 and xGA/60 against numbers, where Barrie is consistent with the Leafs points to the Leafs need to upgrade defensively. Losing another potential tradeable asset for nothing in free agency would sting, and trading Barrie opens up a spot for a potential replacement assuming that Dubas can find one. I’d say a lot of my trade Barrie rhetoric depends on a new RD joining the Leafs. (Please note, I’m not suggesting that this happens in the same trade, as no team is trading a defenseman with term for a pending unrestricted free agent.)

It’s entirely possible my eyes have deceived me on Barrie. It’s entirely possible I’m underappreciating both his defensive play and his offensive contributions because I don’t high risk defensive plays that have the potential to lead to catastrophic turnovers, but what I do know is that the Leafs have chosen to keep their pending free agents through the trade deadline the past few seasons and haven’t seen a return on that decision. Nothing about Barrie seems like his absence will significantly hold the Leafs back, especially if we are close to a Morgan Rielly return (all signs point to that not being the case), and jettisoning Barrie now helps the future. So a decision that supports the future with minimal impact to the present seems like a no brainer and that’s why Barrie has got to go.