If you’re expecting a poor year from Tyson Barrie, there are really only two explanations:
- You aren’t a Colorado Avalanche fan, or
- You’re expecting him to be a very different kind of defenseman from what he actually is.
During the 2016-17 campaign, Barrie put up his worst statistical season since the 2013-14 campaign, despite playing in 10 more games last year than he did the last time he hit just 38 points.
He fell below 10 goals for the first time since his 32-game 2012-13 campaign, barely broke even in possession metrics (despite being used in a primarily offensive role for the first time in three years), and dropped off almost comically (for everyone but the Avalanche, that is) in power-play production.
That’s not likely to see a repeat, though.
Reason #1: There’s no way the Avs can be that bad again (can they?)
Barring another freight train disaster of a year from the team as a whole, it’s unlikely that Barrie sees his numbers fall that low.
While his goals fell as well, his assist production dropped on its own, particularly in those power-play situations.
Assuming that Barrie’s power-play playmaking woes aren’t entirely his own doing, an improvement by the team overall is likely to see him reap the benefits as well. Bottomed-out years by names like Gabriel Landeskog and veteran Jerome Iginla, not to mention a disappointing season from Matt Duchene and just one 20-goal scorer on the entire roster, led to a season where everyone’s numbers almost dominoed into a bottom line of suckage all around.
Head coach Jared Bednar seemed to see some turnaround in the underlying numbers down the back stretch, though, and an injury to Erik Johnson certainly didn’t help - particularly for Barrie, who was left to shoulder the load of the blue line nearly by himself for nearly half the season.
If Johnson is back for the full year and Bednar stays the course he seemed to be on by the final stretch of the season, expect things to go well for Barrie.
Reason #2: His own numbers were unlucky, not truly awful
It’s worth mentioning that, while Barrie could have been better, he also could have been a lot luckier.
With just seven goals on 182 shots recorded, the blue liner shot at an atrocious 3.8 percent on the year - dragging his career shooting percentage down to seven percent and sitting as a clear outlier over his full sample size.
Unless the 25-year-old defenseman magically lost his ability to find the back of the net, he generally manages to score on nearly twice as many shots as he did last season. Assuming luck tilts back in his favor (which the law of averages suggests is a likely outcome), he should return to the 10-15 goal range with little trouble.
It also says something that Barrie only saw his relative shot differential go up by a fraction of a percentage in relation to his teammates last year, despite starting nearly 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone and seeing a 4 percent jump in his Corsi For percentage at even-strength.
That’s a sign that he may have actually been being used properly, along with the rest of his teammates - after all, they all saw jumps in possession metrics under their new bench boss.
Possession tends to lead to underlying stability and translates to sustained success once you factor out the fringe seasons. That’s why Patrick Roy only had finite success using his system - and why, if Barrie’s shooting percentage goes back up, he’ll see more success under Bednar as time goes on.
Reason #3: He’s a damned good defenseman
Barrie gets a lot of flack for not being Colorado’s second Erik Johnson, which is too bad. It undermines the kind of defenseman that he truly is - which, while he lacks elite shot suppression tactics, is the kind that drives the play back up the ice.
Is he another P.K. Subban? No. He’s actually not especially close. He’s also no Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns.
But he’s certainly a decent comparable for some of the league’s second-down tier of offensively-minded defensemen. Take a look at a quick snapshot of him compared to John Klingberg (who, you might recall, is a big piece of the puzzle for Dallas moving forward):
Trying to fit him into the wrong role makes it easy to criticize his play, and his drop in offensive production last year made it easy to question whether or not he was still a good player to have in a top-tier role. But unless he had a mysteriously permanent regression in his age-25 season, he’s bound to continue to be a highly serviceable piece in the future.
That includes next year.