Is Tyson Barrie getting a Mcdavid bump?

Edmonton Oilers, Tyson Barrie #22 (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Edmonton Oilers, Tyson Barrie #22 (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images) /

We knew Tyson Barrie was a good puck mover, but we didn’t know he was THIS good.  At the time of writing this, he’s currently leading all NHL defensemen in points with 4-26-30 in 33 games with a +4 to go along with it.  It’s incredibly rare that an NHL D-man can hit the point per game mark because their added defensive responsibilities means they generally have less chances for offence than forwards do.  Yet, Barrie is flirting with the point per game mark, a remarkable feat for any d-man.

If Barrie keeps up this pace for the rest of the season, he’s on pace for 51 points in 56 games.  In a full 82 game season that would be 75 points.  He seems a shoo-in for the Norris trophy, and yet paradoxically this may not guarantee his spot in the lineup for next season.

Why?  Because there’s a story that’s underneath these numbers.  Barrie is getting a Mcdavid bump.  We know this because there are ways to peel back the layers of his play and look a little deeper.  Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor is it unexpected – most players playing with Mcdavid get a bump in their stats. That said, Barrie’s team friendly contract is up, and he’s worked himself into the conversation to be re-signed by the Oilers.  But if he’s going to be asking for $7 or $8 million a season, is it worth giving in to that ask to bring him back?  In these days of a flat cap for the next 3-4 seasons, it’s definitely a question to ask.

Now, my regular readers know my feelings towards advanced stats.  I don’t like them.  They’re harder to understand, and like the conventional stats they claim to replace, they still have flaws and a degree of subjectivity to them. So, in my opinion, they’re not an upgrade on conventional stats.

Related: Tyson Barrie Discusses The Battle of Alberta

However, there are no conventional stats that measure how players perform with their teammates on the ice, so I am reluctantly forced to venture into the territory of advanced stats.

The reference I am using is courtesy of Natural Stat Trick. Because I don’t want to turn this into a long, boring stats blog – I see this happening in other competitors’ blogs and instantly lose my interest in reading them myself – I’ll be focusing on only three main numbers – Corsi, Fenwick, and PDO – the luck number.  If you’re not familiar with those stats, use the links I provided and pay attention in particular to the formula.

As you can see by the link to the WOWY stat, Barrie is definitely getting a Mcdavid bump.  That means that he’s not as good as his boxcars are making him out to be, and we shouldn’t give him a big money contract when the season is over.  Let’s dive further into that.

Tyson Barrie’s CF goes down to 250 from 322 when Connor Mcdavid is not on the ice with him, and his CA goes up from 289 to 292.  So, although Barrie doesn’t necessarily go into a defensive tailspin without Mcdavid, he does produce a lot less offence and his proclivity for bad defensive play hasn’t gone away, it’s just being covered up by Mcdavid’s puck possession, extra opposition attention that then leaves other players more open, and his newfound commitment to better defensive play that helps drive his offence even more and takes some of the burden off his teammates.

Interestingly enough, although the effect is less pronounced, Barrie is helping Mcdavid produce more offence as well – which he should be, considering the minutes he plays.  That’s part of the puck moving defenseman’s job, to get the puck to the forwards so they can score.  What else is interesting is Mcdavid’s CA goes down when Tyson Barrie is not on the ice, meaning that Mcdavid plays better D when Barrie is off the ice.

The Fenwick numbers how us an almost identical trend – unsurprisingly, they help each other produce chances when on the ice together.  When Mcdavid is out there and Barrie isn’t, he produces less chances but also limits more chances.  When Barrie is out on the ice and Mcdavid isn’t, Barrie produces more chances but also causes more chances against too.  He doesn’t cause a whole lot more chances – the FA number only goes up by two – but it’s still worth noting nonetheless.

What does all of this tell us?  

This tells us that Mcdavid is helping to cover some of Barrie’s mistakes when the two are on the ice together, and that Mcdavid doesn’t have to worry about coverage as much when he isn’t playing with Barrie.  Barrie also produces some of his offence because of Mcdavid directly.  Now this isn’t always inside his control – Mcdavid is such a great player he’s bound to produce lots by himself and be a focal point of the Oilers offence, which is completely out of Barrie’s control.

But it does tell us that Mcdavid is helping to prop up Barrie when the 2 are out on the ice together, and that Barrie’s fantastic boxcars are in part because of Mcdavid.  This should come as no surprise seeing as how he was getting bumps from Mckinnon too when he played in Colorado.  TO has great forwards too, but Barrie just didn’t seem to have the same chemistry with them, for whatever reason.

Barrie is also getting a bump from the Deutschland Dangler Leon Draisaitl too, as his numbers with him tell a similar picture.  Same thing happens when you look at his time with his D partner, Darnell Nurse.  Only the FA is significantly different in the latter example.

How much of this is due to puck luck?  

Here’s where we look at PDO.  This is a stat that can be simply explained, so I’ll explain it myself.  PDO is a number that defines how lucky an NHL player is.  The baseline number is 100, and the higher the number over 100 the luckier the player is.  The lower the number over 100, the more unlucky the player is.

Fortunately for Barrie, puck luck doesn’t factor into things much when we look at his play with Mcdavid.  The two have a rating of 101.9 together, which shows an occasional bounce that helps them but not radically so.  Without Barrie, Mcdavid’s rating goes down to 100.5 – still on the lucky side but down a little.  Barrie without Mcdavid goes up to 101.  Without each other at all, the pairing’s number goes to 100.3.

So while the two do get the occasional fortunate bounce together on the ice, luck doesn’t enter into the equation much whether they’re playing together or apart.

What does this mean going forward? 

While Barrie is obviously talented and far from chopped liver as an NHL player, it does mean that Mcdavid is helping him to buoy his stats by bumping his boxcars as well as the amount of scoring chances.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing as not everyone can play well with Mcdavid.

As these advanced stats are publicly available, surely other NHL GMs have caught onto this as well as I have – or if they haven’t they will when they’re deciding who to pursue in free agency.

What this means is while Barrie may pursue a big money contract in the offseason, GMs should know that Barrie’s stats are inflated thanks to Mcdavid, and thus he would be a high risk gamble as a signing, which – in combination with the flat cap – will reduce the likelihood Barrie gets his big money contract and signs elsewhere.  Also, it’s important to note that Barrie is 29 years old right now, and will be turning 30 in the offseason.  Any other team that signs him to $7-8 million for the max seven years will be signing him until he’s 37.  That contract is likely to become a boat anchor about 3 years before it’s done.

Now NHL GMs tend to get a bit looney around the start of free agency and make a bunch of bad signings that bite them in the butt.  There’s a good chance someone will take a look at Barrie and say we need puck moving on the right side, let’s back the Brinks truck up to him.

But of course, the pandemic is the X-factor.  I’m willing to bet every NHL owner has told their GM they won’t tolerate big money contracts as much as they used to.  Revenues are bound to be down because fans are either not allowed in the building at all this season or for a good chunk of the season.

15 – that’s right – 15 teams in the NHL are currently over the cap and relying on LTIR to meet the cap ceiling.

Now the Oilers will be outside of cap hell next season, but does mean they should be the team that pays Barrie big money?  No.

There’s also the fact that Evan Bouchard should be playing a bigger role on the team next season, and they’ll need ice time for Ethan Bear too.  Signing Barrie impedes those goals, no matter how good a partner he is for Nurse and the top six forwards.

That being said, I wouldn’t rule out bringing Barrie back, but if I’m Ken Holland the absolute max I would go is $5.5 million for three seasons.  Preferably something in the range of $4.5-5 million a season for three seasons.  Anymore and you’re messing up cap space for the long term when guys like Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, and Evan Bouchard will need to get paid.

IMO Holland will have to wait Barrie out.  Wait until he gets more desperate for later in the offseason, and if he hasn’t been snapped up then you come in with the modest offer to bring him back.  If he does get snapped up, Oscar Klefbom is back anyway and you’ve pleased your owner by not giving out an inflated contract to an overhyped player.  Meanwhile, Barrie’s cap hit will be an impediment on the opposition’s roster in that case.

Wait out the player and let your counterparts make the mistakes.  That will be the key to whether or not to bring back Barrie.