October 26, 2020

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Hunting for help on the back end

Tyson Barrie has some flaws, but would improve Jets defence in several areas

Nathan Denette / The Canadan Press</p><p>Maple Leafs defenceman Tyson Barrie (94) turns hard with the puck as Arizona Coyotes right wing Phil Kessel (81) defends during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday Feb. 11, 2020. Barrie is in a strange spot. The Maple Leafs</p></p>

Nathan Denette / The Canadan Press

Maple Leafs defenceman Tyson Barrie (94) turns hard with the puck as Arizona Coyotes right wing Phil Kessel (81) defends during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday Feb. 11, 2020. Barrie is in a strange spot. The Maple Leafs

Opinion

After recently breaking down how well Dylan DeMelo fit into the Winnipeg Jets’ lineup, it’s time to continue our look at players available on the free market this offseason who could help the Jets recapture their competitive window.

The lack of an increasing salary cap ceiling is going to create a crunch where many teams can’t spend much on free agents. That means there may be more players than usual willing to slot into a spot in Winnipeg.

One player who is almost the complete opposite of DeMelo in style, but is worth looking at is Tyson Barrie. Much maligned in Toronto this season, Barrie has a reputation for being all offence and no defence, but the Jets could use a strong transition presence on the blueline to get the puck to their dynamic forwards.

Is Barrie’s reputation accurate? Let’s break things down the same way we did for DeMelo and see how he would fit relative to the Jets’ biggest weaknesses.

Barrie isn’t as strong as DeMelo in turning dump-ins into defensive zone exits, but he’s not too far behind — and there are other areas where he’s a little bit stronger. While Barrie isn’t an excellent defender without the puck, his puck management in Toronto was exceptional in both the defensive and neutral zones, committing very few turnovers while moving the puck efficiently.

Barrie boasted strong zone exit numbers and rarely messed things up with simple plays like D2D passes that plagued the Jets all season long.

The neutral zone specifically was an area where Barrie really stood out from his peers, turning the puck over just 6.2 per cent of the time he played it, far below his team’s average of nine per cent.

Like all players Barrie has his warts, but having a defenceman you can consistently rely on to exit the zone and move the puck through the neutral zone so your forwards can create offence is always a nice thing for a coach to be able to rely on.

So by the percentages, Barrie looks like a nice fit. But what about some of the frequency or pro-rated metrics, especially on the defensive side of the puck. Here, Barrie is behind the performance level of DeMelo — connecting on stretch passes less often and allowing more inner slot shots and slot passes against while he’s on the ice. But in all three metrics, he would still represent an upgrade for the Jets.

Despite his reputation for being a defensive black hole, neither of the most important metrics that measure the highest quality plays against show Barrie to be particularly weak as a Maple Leaf.

To be fair, it’s not like he was playing top level competition every night like Morgan Rielly would be — and matchups have a significant impact on those numbers. I don’t believe the ideal situation would be for him to play top matchup minutes in Winnipeg either, nor would that be the expectation.

With all the ire directed at Barrie in Toronto though, knowing that he wasn’t playing one of those top roles, the question is whether the granular data is missing something with him. How was his performance overall relative to his teammates last season?

Accounting for both offence and defence, while comparing him to his team when he wasn’t on the ice, Barrie appears to have been a huge drag on inner slot shot differential at 5-vs-5 in Toronto, while he hovered very close to team average everywhere else.

On the surface that looks pretty worrying for the Jets, because control of the inner slot was a big issue for them all season long, but we already know that defence from that area was not the issue for Barrie. The issue was that the Maple Leafs got far fewer inner slot shots for while Barrie was on the ice than when he was off, but how much of an impact does a defenceman really have on getting those shots?

We know Barrie moves the puck well, we know that his personal offence was not up to par this season despite nearly hitting the 40-point mark in 70 games, but why the huge drop? Looking into it a bit deeper, Barrie was above 50 per cent in expected goals for percentage this season overall, but his numbers saw a gigantic dip while on the ice with the John Tavares line, down into the low 40s, the offence just dried up.

That could be randomness at play, it could be some strange anti-chemistry between him and that line, but I don’t think he’s the problem that he was made out to be in Toronto.

With that said, you don’t want to be relying on Barrie to block shots, win puck battles, recover loose pucks in the defensive zone, or deny zone entries, but overall he brings a lot to the table. If he’s available at a reasonable cap number, I do think he’s a good option for the Jets.

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

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