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Tyson Barrie is an irreplaceable piece for the Colorado Avalanche

Colorado’s top line is good but Tyson Barrie makes them even better

NHL: Boston Bruins at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s become common practice for a large segment of hockey fans to criticize the puck moving defenders on their team. Jake Gardiner in Toronto, P.K. Subban when he was in Montreal and now Tyson Barrie in Colorado.

When it comes to the Colorado Avalanche, there is no more polarizing player than Tyson Barrie. The 27-year-old defender is praised by some and celebrated as the elite puck-moving defender he is. On the flip side, there are fans that will criticize his play and look to get him out of the lineup no matter how many points he puts on the score sheet or how big an impact he has on the rest of the lineup.

Currently tied for ninth in the league among defensemen, Barrie is on pace to eclipse the career-high 58 points he put up last season. There’s no debating the fact that he’s one of the best in the league when it comes to putting up point but the criticism has always been about how he impacts the other aspects of the game.

How important is he to the team’s offense?

One thing you want from a top-flight puck moving defender is the ability to lead his team’s breakout and transition game. Barrie is no exception. His skating and ability to carry the puck allows the team to play a very up-tempo style when he’s on the ice.

Tyson Barrie’s performance

In terms of raw point production, Barrie is elite. He’s in the upper percentile for goals and assists - both primary and secondary. That’s the part that everyone knows, he’s a point producer, but to some, that’s all he brings to the team.

Digging a little deeper you can see that he’s also in the upper echelon when it comes to breakout and transition play. When it comes to both defensive zone exits and offensive zone entries, there are very few in the league that do it as well as Barrie.

On a team that has to suffer through Patrik Nemeth and Nikita Zadorov carrying the puck, Barrie’s transition play is a necessity.

Does he make his teammates better?

In short, yes.

We all know how good Colorado’s top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog is. They’re the best scoring line in hockey and have carried the team offense for the past two seasons. They are great in all situations, but they’re at their best when Tyson Barrie is on the ice with them.

Play with and without Tyson Barrie

Players TOI SF/60 SA/60 SF% GF/60 GA/60 GF% On-Ice SH% Off.�Zone Faceoff %
Players TOI SF/60 SA/60 SF% GF/60 GA/60 GF% On-Ice SH% Off.�Zone Faceoff %
Big-3 with Tyson Barrie 157 37.51 29.86 55.68 3.44 1.15 75.00 9.18 67.38
Big-3 w/o Tyson Barrie 275 30.54 29.88 50.54 4.14 2.40 63.33 13.57 55.17
Tyson Barrie w/o Big-3 234 31.01 27.68 52.84 3.33 2.82 54.17 10.74 51.85
Big-3 with Samuel Girard 203 32.74 30.09 52.11 3.54 2.36 60.00 10.81 64.16
Data from Natural Stat Trick

It’s not just the big three either, Barrie’s shot assist numbers are among the best on the team - and by far the best of the defenders. No matter who he is playing with, Barrie makes the forwards more dangerous.

Not only does the top line generate more offense when they’re on the ice with Barrie, but he also helps them defensively. They give up nearly a goal and a half per 60 minutes fewer with Barrie than they do without.

Can he be replaced by Samuel Girard?

When I brought up the topic of Barrie helping the big-three, I was met with a comment about Sam Girard’s ability to do the same thing. The simple fact of the matter is he can’t - at least not yet.

As you can see from the chart above, the Av’s top line has played with Girard a lot more than they have with Barrie so far this season. While playing with Girard the line generates 32.74 shots per 60 minutes - that’s nearly 13% fewer than they generate with Barrie.

Girard has the potential to turn into an elite puck mover in the league, but he’s not there yet, so we should temper the expectation that he could immediately step in if the Avs were to trade Barrie. Girard is a wonderful skater and a very good young defender, but he’s simply not ready to carry the load as the team’s top puck mover.

Is he a liability defensively?

Despite popular opinion, no he’s not.

This season, the Avalanche have been in the middle of the pack when it comes to shots against. As a team they give up 30.91 even-strength shots per 60 minutes. When Tyson Barrie is on the ice, that number drops to 28.62.

Of all the Avalanche defender, Barrie has the fewest shots against per 60, and the best shots-for percentage and a team best 2.92 CF%rel.

It should be noted that while Barrie has the best shot suppression numbers on the team, those numbers are aided by his nearly 59% offensive zone starts. That said, Barrie still has more defensive zone starts per game than each of Girard, Zadorov and Nemeth.

It’s more than just possession and shot suppression numbers that show Barrie’s underrated defensive ability. Last season, he led the team in defensive blue-line breakup percentage. No Avalanche defender broke up more plays at the blueline than Barrie.

Whatever you think about his style of play - he doesn’t hit hard, he can be prone to bad giveaways - the simply fact of the matter is that the Avalanche are better defensively with him on the ice than they are without him.

It’s not just in relation to his own teammates, Barrie’s even-strength defense is above league average. That’s a far cry from the “liability” so many fans like to claim he is.

From HockeyViz

Tyson Barrie is one of those players where the eye test doesn’t match up with reality for some fans. It’s easy to see a guy get out-muscled in front of the net or suffer from an obviously bad giveaway once a game. It’s human nature to focus on those notable plays while overlooking the other 20 minutes he’s on the ice for in a game. The numbers show that rest of Barrie’s game - both offensively and defensively - brings enough positive to greatly outweigh the negatives we see.

He’s not a perfect defenseman - far from it - but what Barrie does well, he does really well and it more than makes up for the deficiencies in his game.

His name has been brought up as a potential trade candidate in order to find a scorer for the season line, but if you do that, you’re filling one hole by creating another giant one. You lose the offense from the back end, but possibly more importantly, you lose the defender that helps the top line more than anyone else.

Subtracting Barrie from the lineup makes this Colorado team worse, and I don’t think that’s something Joe Sakic is want to do. So as the Avalanche try to build into a legitimate contender, Tyson Barrie is going to be a big part of any success they have.