What Are the Oilers Going to Do With Tyson Barrie?

The 29-year-old defenseman is having a career year. It's also a contract year. But that doesn't mean he's going to cash in on both salary and term in a flat-cap NHL economy, at least not with Edmonton.
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If Connor McDavid keeps up his current pace, he’ll finish the season with close to 100 points and win the scoring title by somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 points over his Edmonton Oilers’ teammate, Leon Draisaitl. As mind-boggling as it is to consider that, we could all at least fathom something like that happening. But how many of us would have envisioned halfway through the season that McDavid’s teammate, Tyson Barrie, would be leading all NHL defensemen in scoring? Go directly to the front of the class and collect your gold star if you saw that coming. (And we’re going to need proof.)

After a disastrous season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Barrie bet on himself in a big way and signed a one-year deal with the Oilers for just $3.75 million. Shortly after that, he fired his agent and jumped to CAA, hoping to capitalize on a big bouce back season, which is exactly what he has done.

But if you think a veteran GM such as Ken Holland is going to throw both money and term at a 29-year-old who is having a career year (he’s on pace for a 75-point season over 82 games) playing in an offensive division and getting the puck to some of the greatest players on the planet, that’s almost certainly not going to happen. Like all of his colleagues, Holland has made his fair share of multi-million dollar mistakes in the past. This will not be another one.

Sources close to the situation say that the Oilers and Barrie’s camp have not even entered preliminary discussions on a contract extension yet. When they do, as good as Barrie has been this season and as crazy as it sounds, the Oilers will probably be the ones with more leverage. All right, perhaps leverage isn’t the right word. But they’ll be able to offer ample evidence that there is no way they can offer Barrie both big money and term.

That’s partly because Barrie isn’t the only prominent free agent Holland has left to sign. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Adam Larsson are also pending unrestricted free agents and Kailer Yamamoto will be restricted. Darnell Nurse will be a UFA after the 2021-22 season, the same time Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones and William Lagesson will hit the market as RFAs, all being eligible for arbitration. With the salary cap expected to remain flat for the next couple of seasons, Holland will easily be able to make the case that his hands are tied. That’s because they are.

And even if they weren’t, the Oilers have an elite list of prospects in large part because of their young defensemen. Their top two prospects, Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard, are both promising blueliners. (And don’t give up yet on Dmitri Samorukov, who had a disappointing rookie year as a pro and returned to play in the KHL.) Bear and Jones, who have had their ups and downs as NHL players, are only 23 years old. And even though Oscar Klefbom is out for this season with surgery to repair a chronically injured shoulder, he expects to return. In fact, had the Oilers not been so uncertain about Klefbom last fall, there would have been a good chance they wouldn’t have signed Barrie in the first place.

And then there are a couple of elephants in the room. The first is that there’s little doubt Barrie is benefitting as much, or more, from getting the puck up to the likes of McDavid and Draisaitl as they are from receiving his passes. On the other hand, you need someone with a high skill set to get those passes through. But an even bigger factor is the fact that Barrie is 29 years old and that alone should scare anyone into giving both a lot of money and term. The NHL is littered with cautionary tales from Jeff Skinner to Erik Karlsson to Sergei Bobrovsky to Loui Eriksson that the deals have more of a chance of blowing up in a GM’s face than working out well.

It’s pretty clear that if and when Barrie sits down with the Oilers, he’s going to have to adjust his expectations. If he wants to remain in what has turned out to be a great situation and be part of a team on the rise, he’ll likely have to sacrifice both money and term and take a hometown discount for an organization to which he has only one year of service. If not, he’ll sign for better terms somewhere else and be playing for his fourth team in four years. 

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