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Why are we trying to trade Tyson Barrie?

There’s something distinctly strange about the clamor I’m seeing to trade Tyson Barrie away from Toronto. It seems the primary target at this trade deadline for Toronto is a top 4 RHD — and yet it’s our prerogative to trade away a top 4 RHD? One we literally just acquired this offseason?

It’s clear that there’s some discomfort with the way Tyson Barrie plays hockey. For anyone that was somewhat aware of Barrie before his transition to Toronto, it should have been clear that we were not getting a typical defender.

To be clear: I have no information that says that Toronto is trying to trade Barrie away. This is only a commentary on some of the discussion I’ve seen and heard that seems intent on dealing Barrie away.

I want to start this commentary by saying that I know that it’s hard to watch Barrie sometimes. There are honest mistakes that cause real negative outcomes that I’m not disputing.

The negatives are easy to diagnose: bad shot selection, ineffective defensive zone coverage, and more bad shot selection. The bad moments are cringe-inducing, sometimes.

However, the same argument I clung to with Jake Gardiner is what I’m presenting with Barrie: the positives significantly outweigh the negatives, and the positives are harder to see than the negatives.

That isn’t to say that the positives are invisible, though. Any shift you watch with Tyson Barrie, you’re likely to witness a patient, elegant approach to exiting the D-zone. You’re also likely able to watch him partake in high-pace passing place in the offensive zone, as if he’s a third winger with his mobility and vision.

He’s been a positive player when it comes to advanced stats as well, which I know aren’t everyone’s favourite topic of discussion, but they hold real value. This season, the Leafs are have a shot attempts percentage of 53.67% which is well above an average impact. His numbers for expected goals percentage, similar to shot attempts but factoring in where those shots are taken from, are worse at 51.23, but still having an overall positive effect. This difference with expected goals is possibly driven by the bad shot selection we mentioned earlier, or it could be affected by giving up more dangerous opportunities in the defensive zone. Most likely it’s a bit of both.

One of the biggest outward disappointments with Barrie has been his lack of point production. With seasons that were on pace for 68 and 62 points in his previous two seasons with Colorado, this year’s 43 point pace is concerning on the surface. However, underneath, there’s a major factor contributing to Barrie’s mediocre production, and it’s shooting percentage. This year, while Barrie is on the ice, the players around him are shooting at a 7.94% clip. League average shooting percentage is about 9%, and over Barrie’s career he’s usually had 10.2%. This bad luck or bad system design or bad shot selection is significantly affecting the points that Barrie has been able to get this year.

The talk right now is that Toronto is considering dealing Barrie if they can find a better “fit” on defense, according to Frank Seravalli. This probably means someone who plays a more defensive style like Josh Manson or Troy Stecher.

I’m not against this plan outright. I just wanted to give people the opportunity to consider that Barrie is not a negative impact and that selling him as a pending free agent isn’t going to net the package that you probably hope it will; certainly it won’t net the package that we paid for him (and Kerfoot) in Nazem Kadri.

Final Thoughts

Overall, if the Leafs find an opportunity to improve on defense in the longer term then they should do so. But getting a better rental than Tyson Barrie is going to cost you, and may not have the net impact people are hoping for. Tyson Barrie is a very good hockey player, and while his talents are mostly on the offensive side of the puck, he’s still overall going to give a net positive impact for Toronto. To trade that away will likely be a mistake.