Last summer Tyson Barrie was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a key part of the Nazem Kadri deal much was expected of the right-handed offensive defenceman. The season got off to a rocky start however as then head coach Mike Babcock miscast him.
Barrie shines as an offensive force and power play quarterback. Babcock insisted on forcing him to play a shut down role with limited time on the power play. Barrie looked out of place and uncertain in this role and he quickly lost confidence scoring only seven assists in 23 games.
When Sheldon Keefe replaced Babcock, he immediately corrected this player mismanagement. Barrie bounced back almost immediately with four goals and 15 points in 20 games.
With Toronto almost certainly priced out of his services, the question looms.
Where Will Toronto Maple Leafs Free Agent Tyson Barrie Land?
Since the implication of the salary cap, there were very few high-end players getting to unrestricted free agency as teams were locking them up early to very long contracts. When the better players did hit free agency, they commanded top dollar and term. In the last two years, this has started to change with players demanding shorter contracts and showing a desire to test the open market.
This year presents some new challenges to the general managers. A flat cap for the foreseeable future puts teams in a bind to just re-sign their own free agents. Free agents from other teams are a luxury many simply cannot afford this year. Combine this with the roster concerns of the looming Seattle Kraken expansion draft and this may not be the best year to be an unrestricted free agent.
Regardless of this, there are always a few teams that are positioned to take advantage. With many teams crushed against the cap ceiling, there are others that have space and are willing to spend to improve now.
Barrie is an exceptional offensive defenceman. In the past five years he is 10th in league scoring at that position. He has outscored such premiere names as Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Dougie Hamilton, and Morgan Rielly. While no one argues that he is not as defensively responsible as those players, there is always a market for high-end offensive specialists.
- Tyson Barrie learned an extremely valuable lesson this year in making sure the team he goes to needs him as an offensive power play quarterback. He will sign with a team that does not have that position filled. This likely eliminates teams like the Vancouver Canucks who have been linked to interest in Barrie previously. The presence of Quinn Hughes on the first unit power play would make him redundant.
- The team needs to either be competitive or willing to pay top dollar. After spending most of his career out of the playoffs, the last two years playing in the postseason likely have him wanting more of the same. If this is not possible, going to a less successful team willing to pay more could be in the cards.
- The team needs to either have the cap space or the ability to create the cap space.
Top Spots for Tyson Barrie
The Winnipeg Jets would seem to be an obvious landing spot for Barrie simply because of their need for defence. Last year this team experienced the loss of four of their top six on the back end. The holes left by Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot were glaring this past season. The Jets have over $15 million in projected cap space for next year and the only large contract upcoming is Patrik Laine in 2021-22.
Winnipeg has also been a highly competitive team over the last few years. They enjoy elite goaltending and high-end offensive forwards and were often touted as a Stanley Cup favourite. The addition of Barrie on the blue line could push them back into those discussions.
Neal Pionk is the only question mark here is. Pionk put up great numbers on the first unit power play. This could possibly have the Jets looking for a different style of player for the back end rebuild. If they view Pionk as a better defensive player who could play penalty Kill and second unit power play then Barrie would be a fit.
The Arizona Coyotes are one of those teams that always seems to be in turmoil. Combine that with an incredible ability to seemingly never improve and it makes you wonder why they are on this list. The answer is there is no team in the league that needs Tyson Barrie more. For too many years, Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been the only bright spot on the back end in the desert. The problem with that is he simply plays too many minutes in all situations.
At the end of 2021-22, Arizona will have three of its aged defence core coming off the books. These players, all in their 30’s and all playing on the right side, are Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Of the three, only Hjalmarsson is worth re-signing and only at a lower salary than his current $5.475M per year. This would allow him to slot into the second pairing as a safety net and mentor to Jakob Chychrun.
Adding Barrie to boost their power play, which was 18th in the league last year, would also aid their goal production overall. Last season the Coyotes were 22nd in the league in goals scored.
The Coyotes would have to make some very adept moves to fit in Barrie’s signing as they are right against the cap for next year. Trading Antti Raanta and promoting Adin Hill into the back up spot would be step number one. The following year would provide much more space so all they need is to make the numbers work for year one.
The Calgary Flames are a team that always seems to be lacking a key piece to push them over the edge. This year the Flames were 20th in goals for and the addition of an offensive force from the back end would certainly help.
Mark Giordano has been the primary source of offence from the defence core in Calgary but he is now 36-years-old and is likely to start slowing down at any time. Even now, he is no longer on the first unit power play. Instead, the Flames rely upon Erik Gustafsson in that spot. Replacing him with Barrie is an immediate upgrade and would improve the already good results on the man advantage.
Re-signing T.J. Brodie and adding Barrie would provide the Flames with a top-four on the back end of Mark Giordano / T.J. Brodie and Tyson Barrie / Noah Hanifin. With projected cap space of just shy of $17 million for next year, this is an easy signing for the team.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders are an organization that had been incredibly bad for quite a long time. The overdue firing of Garth Snow and the hiring of Lou Lamoriello as general manager and Barry Trotz as head coach immediately turned the team around. While the team has found its way back into the playoffs, they still have a weakness on their power play. They ranked 24th in 2019-20. The addition of Barrie would certainly improve their numbers with the man advantage.
The Islanders have a somewhat murky financial situation however. With projected cap space of just north of $8 million, there would appear to be some room. The need to sign RFA Mathew Barzal could likely eat up most of that money. Then they would still need to find the cap space for RFA Ryan Pulock. If possible, the trading of Johnny Boychuk could free up $6 million. If the Islanders also moved Thomas Greiss to a team in need of a high-end back-up to make room for Ilya Sorokin, that would also free up another $3.33 million.
The financial picture looks to make the Barrie acquisition just too difficult without a Lou Lamoriello miracle. If history has shown us anything, it is never count out Lou if he decides he wants something. The question would be, does he want Tyson Barrie?
The Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks have been involved in trade speculation and reported interest in home town boy Barrie for quite awhile now. Unfortunately for Canucks’ fans, the flat cap has exposed the history of general manager Jim Benning‘s over-payment in both money and term to free agents in the past.
With approximately $17 million in projected cap space, and only 16 players under contract, the Canucks face the daunting prospect of using that to try to re-sign UFA goaltender Jacob Markstrom, forward Tyler Toffoli, and defenceman Chris Tanev. It is unlikely they will be able to sign all three of those players let alone an outside free agent such as Barrie.
It is also hard to see Barrie wanting to come to Vancouver. He’d be competing for power play time with their young superstar defenceman Quinn Hughes.
The Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens are, arguably, one of the teams most in need of Barrie’s services. In 2019-20 they were 19th in league scoring with an average of 2.93 goals per game. They also posted the 22nd ranked power play. While these are not bottom ranked numbers, they are unarguably terrible for a team that tries to sell itself as a contender built around Carey Price and Shea Weber.
The addition of Tyson Barrie on the second pairing and first unit power play would allow for more offensive options. Offering the opposition different looks with the man advantage beyond feeding Weber for a one-timer again and again, would likely result in better results.
Despite the fit and the cap space the Canadiens enjoy next year, the signing of Barrie is a long shot. Montreal has experienced issues attracting free agents in the past due to a number of issues. Firstly, most Canadian teams suffer from a onerous tax rate. Secondly, outside of Montreal, the Canadiens are not viewed as a Cup contender based on the results of the last few years.
Shea Weber being moved off the top power play unit is also highly unlikely. This would leave Barrie in a similar position as he faced in Toronto this year.
Barrie is certainly leaving Toronto this off-season. The flat cap situation will certainly affect his top dollar in a negative way. So many teams having little or no financial flexibility. With that said, it is conceivable that he will elect to take a short-term deal to rebound from his Toronto numbers as well as let the cap recover. Or, perhaps he will elect to take a lower cap hit with max term. Either way, expect the market for him to be strong.