Amid a flurry of criticism, extending Tyson Barrie seemed like a relatively harmless move for the Edmonton Oilers. But the gift of hindsight has proven this to be one of general manager Ken Holland's worst decisions.
After a very impressive 2020-21 regular season, the Oilers were flat-out embarrassed in the playoffs, getting swept by the Winnipeg Jets in the opening round. It was clear that despite having two of the best stars in the game in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, this team needed to greatly improve its depth. The good news was that for the first time in his tenure with the Oilers, Holland finally had some cap space to make the necessary changes.
By the time the offseason wrapped up, reactions were mixed at best as to the job Holland did with that cap space. Though there were some positives, such as re-signing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a team-friendly deal, and adding a scoring forward in Zach Hyman, there were puzzling moves as well. The most scrutinized of all was trading for a 38-year-old Duncan Keith, though many also criticized trading Ethan Bear for Warren Foegele, as well as failing to add a goaltender.
One move that didn’t seem to generate much talk at all, however, was the extension handed to Barrie.
The 30-year-old bet on himself after an off 2019-20 campaign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, choosing to sign a one-year deal with the Oilers. It paid off brilliantly in the following season, as he led all blueliners in points in 2020-21 with 48. Though there were concerns about his defensive play, there was no denying that he was the most offensively gifted blueliner this team had seen in some time.
Given Barrie's successful season, it didn’t come as a major shock when he signed a three-year, $13.5-million extension this summer. As each day passes however, it is becoming increasingly evident that this signing was a major mistake by Holland.
Perhaps the most alarming sign regarding Barrie’s play last season was that despite his big point total, he didn’t receive a single Norris Trophy vote. This was likely a result of media believing his points were inflated in a big way by being placed on a power-play unit with both McDavid and Draisaitl. Nonetheless, he did what the Oilers had hoped when they brought him in on the one-year deal.
That hasn’t been the case in 2021-22.
Through 34 games this season, Barrie has three goals and 17 points. Those numbers may not seem bad, but they're very underwhelming when considering the amount of opportunities he is continuing to see on the man advantage. To make matters even worse, 22-year-old Evan Bouchard, who is one of Oilers' most promising young talents, has 19 points on the season. Despite this, he remains stuck behind Barrie on the depth chart when it comes to the power play. It is becoming increasingly evident that he is ready for a bigger role, but head coach Dave Tippett seems hesitant to make that happen.
Given the style of game Bouchard plays, it calls into question why Holland chose to bring back Barrie at all. Both are offensively gifted blueliners who struggle on the defensive side of the puck and lack physical presence. Having them both on the right side in the top six has become a big part of the reason why the Oilers are an easy team to play against at even strength, and that should have been a problem Holland visualized prior to giving Barrie a three-year deal.
Looking at this Oilers roster now, there are still many holes from a season ago which they failed to address. Their blue line has gotten arguably worse, and they still lack both a starting goaltender, a top-pairing right-handed defenceman, and a third line centre. The money given to Barrie could have been spent elsewhere to try and fix some of these other problems, but Holland chose differently. Now, they are once again a cap-strapped team, and will almost certainly look to move Barrie prior to the 2022-23 season to give them some flexibility.
Though it didn’t receive as much attention, this move is playing a huge part in why the Oilers are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture. It's probably a move that Holland would take a do-over on if he could, and one that he deserves criticism for.
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