Although the Oilers signed their final RFA Ryan McLeod to an affordable one year deal, the team is still in somewhat of a cap juggling situation. With virtually no room left to spare, the Oilers will have trouble putting together a full roster. As more than usual, rumours are abound surrounding less efficient contracts that Oiler fans look to as potential trade candidates.
The current issue the Oilers are facing
Certainly fitting that bill, especially at a passing glance, is Tyson Barrie. As Evan Bouchard has all but eclipsed him at even strength and on power play, Barrie is often viewed negatively as a flawed, redundant, and expensive option. Surely, many a cynical soothsayer would go as far as to categorise Barrie as a one dimensional offensive option on the Oilers right side.
At this point, Barrie’s defensive limitations are widely known, even without the confirmation of consistently poor metrics in this regard. Good for more than his share of defensive lapses, there is no doubt a number of fans who begin to bemoan the defender for his lack of reputation as such. For fans, and potentially GMs, across the league, there are likely fewer and fewer who covet Barrie despite his notable quality on the attack.
With two years left at a $4.5 million cap hit, Barrie’s contract is simply more costly than one should hope to pay a third pair option. From this oversimplified and macroscopic view the case for trading Barrie is somewhat straightforward, if not now then next year. The time may come when other cap demands make the contract untenable as the Oilers prepare for the distant days of 2023–24.
Lineup usage and context
There are several hypothetical situations that would immediately change the circumstances around Barrie’s fit cap–wise. For one, injuries are an inevitability, an unfortunate situation that would bear the silver lining of some temporary cap relief.
Of course, any injuries to the right side of the Oilers’ blueline would see Barrie’s presence more critical. Given that development is not always linear, Barrie also affords the Oilers a luxury on the small chance that Bouchard has a down season. Paired with the fact that Barrie showed great synergy with Brett Kulak, it would not be too surprising to see Barrie play minutes more akin to that of a second pair defender outright. With Darnell Nurse injured in last season’s playoff run, the Oilers deployed their pairs fairly evenly – the pair of Kulak and Barrie showing admirably with the increased workload.
Even if he is relegated to a third pairing role, Barrie’s style and quality both lend themselves favourably to many prospects pushing for third line spots. The likes of Markus Niemelainen and Dmitri Samorukov would do well to have Barrie as a partner. Perhaps Ryan Murray could fit nicely on Barrie’s left side, though it should be noted that Barrie needs to be deployed with a partner of both significant defensive and physical presence to win in zone defensive battles in cycles and at the net front.
There are worse things, though, than ensuring that no matter which defence pairing is on the ice that the Oilers will have a strong puck moving option. With such a dynamic forward group, Barrie helps the Oilers play to their strengths all the way down the lineup.
What’s the alternative?
What’s more, and finally, is that with Barrie moved, the Oilers might quickly find themselves looking for a player of Barrie’s skill set to man the third pair. Looking around the league for such players might bring you to Kevin Shattenkirk, a similar player in style and experience, who comes in at a $3.25 million cap hit. Given the costs of trading Barrie, then potentially paying extra for a team to retain salary on a similarly skilled replacement, if not the term attached to any free agents acquired next offseason, it would add up to be quite a bit more costly than keeping the player for the remaining two years of his deal.
Considering the in–house options behind Barrie on the right side are Philip Broberg not only cracking top six but doing so on his weak side, or perhaps the long shot of Jason Demers’ PTO bearing fruit, the Oilers simply don’t have the depth to afford inaction in reinforcing the position should Barrie be moved.
Though at first glance Barrie might look like an obvious trade candidate, the context of the Oilers lineup makes his services more valuable to retain.
Two seasons from now is too far away to predict with any significant degree of certainty, but it is not impossible to envision a future where it might even make sense to re–sign Barrie to a subsequent deal at a lower cap hit.