MACKNEY: Three game losing streak? Time to get creative. 18 points in 25 games on defense is cool, but what could Barrie do on the wing, and what could it mean for the rest of the lineup?
Correct. Tyson Barrie moving from the blueline, up to the wing. That’s my idea. He has never tried it before as far as my research has concluded, and I am yet to see this idea proposed elsewhere. However I think it solves a couple of issues that the Edmonton Oilers seem to be facing here at the halfway mark of the shortened 2021 NHL season. I have seen many online voices and thumbs criticizing some of the the ways in which Oilers head coach Dave Tippet has choses to deploy his players, and I have thrown my fair share of shade as well. Some of the main issue’s (aside from which goalie to play, which I am not even going to get into here today) have revolved around the right side defenseman, as well as the top six wingers. As a result of recent developments, this is an idea that I definitely think is worth a try.
The Right Side Defense Issue
For the first time in a while, the Oilers have too many NHL caliber defenseman. While it is a good problem to have, you still hope that the best players are the ones getting the most games.
Evan Bouchard has only played 12 games this season (including only 1/3 vs Toronto this week) which is less than half of the Oilers total games so far. As soon as Tyson Barrie was signed to his one year contract some fans were not pleased with the fact that it may block Evan Bouchard from getting NHL ice time. While you don’t want to force your young top prospects into NHL roles that they are not yet ready for, (like the organization has done before, sorry Schultzy), it was believed by many that Bouchard would indeed be NHL ready this season, especially after seeing how he played in Sweden during the fall.
It wasn’t until the seemingly annual injury bug hit the Oilers blueline that Evan Bouchard finally made his season debut, and he was excellent. In his limited games this season, the 21-year-old has quickly been effective on both sides of the puck. He has had one of the most accurate shots in the league in terms of not missing the net, and he has provided great offensive pressure from the backside. Simply watching him play has impressed me. Looking into some of his analytics, he also has impressive numbers. His offense is rated high, his defense is mediocre (but miles better than Tyson Barrie), and his transition game is rated the best in the league among defenseman (99/100) tied with the likes of Norris trophy winner Roman Josi (per Andy & Rono @HockeyStatsCZ).
So why the heck is he scratched? Tippett has too many right handed defensemen to work with now that they are all heathy with Barrie, Larsson, Bear AND Bouchard. For me, the most frustrating part was that the initial solution (once it was decided we would only play six defensemen), was to play Bouchard on the left side. Playing a right shot D on the left side is a fine idea if it means your six best defenseman get to play. My issue with it was the decision to force the least experienced guy to make the switch, and then when he did not immediately adapt to the new situation he was taken out of the lineup. For example, the Maple Leafs second goal during the March 1st game saw William Nylander beat the entire Oilers team off the off-side faceoff and score top shelf on Koskinen. This play included Nylander going around Evan Bouchard while he was playing on the left side, and watching the play back you have to think that if Bouchard was a lefty there would have been more he could have done.
My point is, there is a better way to use our top rookie, and a permanent opening on the right side would help. Moving Barrie up to the wing leaves a perfect three spots available for Larsson, Bear and Bouchard on the right, and then you can play left handed guys on the left (Nurse, Jones, Lagesson, Russell).
The Top 6 Winger Issue
I have seen suggestions by many Twitter general managers to trade Barrie for either future assets, or a goalie, or a top 5 winger. I don’t like the idea of trading Barrie for future assets unless we are selling, which we should not be this year, and like I mentioned earlier I am not getting into the goaltending in this article. That leaves option three: trading Barrie for a top 6 winger. First, why don’t we try him on the wing?
I am not suggesting that we throw a guy who has never played forward at the professional level on to the top line of an NHL team, but I am suggesting it is something we can work towards trying. What could it look like if we did decide to try Tyson Barrie in the top 6 forward group though?
The line of Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yamamoto was elite in the second half of the 2019-2020 season, and was reunited on March 3rd 2021 vs Toronto. They played well, and scored the only goal the Oilers have seen in three games. Does this mean they stay together? No idea. However, if they do stay together it leaves a gaping hole on the top line LW alongside McDavid and Puljujarvi. Last night James Neal was tried there, and I expect Kahun, Ennis, Nygard, Archie, Alex “suspension” Chiasson, Sam Gagner (*cries*), Hunter the Lynx, and maybe even assistant coach Glen Gulutzan to be tried in that spot before Tyson Barrie, but hear me out.
I do not like the idea of swapping forwards between the taxi squad and McDavid’s wing on a nightly basis. While that is a very Oilers thing to do, it really isn’t ideal. Tyson Barrie is someone who has been in the lineup every game, and based on the eye-test alone, seems to have some chemistry with McDavid on the powerplay. Also, Tyson Barrie right shot on the left side could be lethal for one-timers alongside the elite playmaker. If you’d rather Barrie not play on his offside, third and fourth line RW could also work.
One of the main drawbacks of Tyson Barrie so far this season has been his defense. Putting him on the wing can do one of two things for this. Either he takes his experience defending and becomes and solid two way winger, or he completely ignores the defensive side of the game, and we see just how much he is capable purely offensively. If he is on a line with McDavid and Puljujarvi he could really take either approach. McDavid has vastly improved his defensive game this season to the point where he is elite on both sides of the ice, and Puljujarvi is no slouch either as his underlying defensive numbers and analytics suggest he ~should~ be in Selke conversations. The line could hold it’s own in regard to defensive responsibility even without Barrie helping. It could work.
Try it. Worst case it doesn’t work and the Oilers can either make trade of some sort or find another solution (or continue to use players inefficiently). The permanent opening for Bouchard on the right side would be beneficial to him and the team based on results so far, and you could simultaneously help the top 6 forward group. Moving Tyson Barrie to the wing solves more than one recent issue at a time for the Oilers if it works, and while it will probably never happen (and definitely won’t happen before Barrie’s contract here is up) I would really like to see if it works, and just how much it could help the team on both ends of the ice.