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Mark Barberio: An unheralded strength on the Colroado Avalanche blueline

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Barberio is a lot better defensively than many give him credit for.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

.The Colorado Avalanche recently announced the re-signing of defenseman Mark Barberio to a two-year $2.9 million contract. The signing might have come as a surprise to some, but at a cap hit of $1.45m, Barberio is going to provide very good value on the bottom pair for the Avalanche over the next two seasons. There are a number of Avalanche fans that are upset at the signing. Barberio is seen as a risk-taker on the back-end that doesn’t seem to pass the eye test for many.

But how does his play actually impact the Avalanche lineup?

The coaches trust him

This doesn’t always mean a whole lot. Coaches often fall in love with a certain kind of player, despite what the numbers tell them. In the case of Barberio, the Avalanche coaching staff has good reason to trust his play.

This past season, Mark Barberio played in only 46 games for the Avalanche, he tied his career high with 13 points, but there is a lot more to his game than the points he puts on the score sheet. Coach Bednar decided that he was going to deploy Barberio in a very defensive role this season. At 62.8%, Barberio had one of the highest rates of defensive zone starts on the team. Despite starting the vast majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, Barberio had the best even strength CF% relative to his teammates of any regular Avalanche defender.

Beyond the defensive zone starts, Barberio has also been counted on to serve as the anchor of the team’s second penalty kill unit. His 2:09 shorthanded ice time was third most for a defender on the team behind Erik Johnson and Patrik Nemeth.

The numbers

Advanced statistics might not be for everyone, nevertheless, here is a summarized look at Mark Barberio’s 2017-18 season:

His numbers are all pretty impressive for a guy asked to play in the bottom-4 of the team’s blueline. The relative corsi is best among Avs defenders, the P1/60 is third behind only Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie and while the xGoal differential is negative, he’s actually got a positive 2.18 xGF%rel.

He is actually really good defensively

He’s starting in his own end more than most, but he’s not give up as many chances against as his teammates - that’s really impressive.

Let’s compare his play to Patrik Nemeth - who has developed the reputation as a shut down defenseman this past season. Nemeth and Barberio have roughly the same percentage of dZone starts at even strength. Barberio has a CA/60 of 57.19 - which is the best on the team among defenders. Nemeth’s CA/60 is 62.55 - the worst.

Not only does Barberio limit the number of shots against, the shots he does allow are usually low-danger attempts.

Above is a heat map of the shots the Avalanche gave up last season without Mark Barberio on the ice. As you can see, there are a lot of shots being taken from the outside and from the point, but there is also a high volume coming from the slot and below the faceoff dot.

Now let’s compare it to the shots against when Barberio was on the ice:

You can see that the volume of shots coming from the slot an below the faceoff circle is drastically lower. Barberio is able keep the shots out of the high-danger areas.

He makes his teammates better

(at least the ones that really matter)

The above figure show us the impact Barberio had on his teammates this season. While we see some get worse when he’s on the ice - Kerfoot and Andrighetto being the main two - there are a few really important numbers on the graph.

First, look at #16. Barberio played more even strength minutes with Nikita Zadorov than any other defense partner this season. Big Z’s shots-for improve slightly, while his shots against improve drastically when he’s on the ice with Barberio.

Now, let’s look at the defense partner he played with the second most - Patrik Nemeth. The swing is even more drastic here. Nemeth was significantly better this season when he was playing with Barberio than he was without. Those are the two guys that many fans see as “shutdown defenders” on this team. Both are made significantly better defensive players when they’re on the ice with Barberio.

The fact that all the blue squares are clustered in a flat line speaks to the fact that Barberio remains relatively consistent with the shots he gives up regardless of who he is playing with. Something that can’t really be said for most of his teammates.

Then there’s the Big-3. Numbers 29, 92 and 96 are all hovering around the average line without Barberio on the ice. With him, their shot production takes a huge leap. Barberio was making the team’s top line and offensive divers better with his play.

Not only did he make the best defensive players better defensively, Barberio made the best offensive players an elite shot generating trio.

He takes too many penalties

His play wasn’t all positive this season. Barberio has a knack for taking bad penalties. When being asked to act as a shut down defender, he’ll get overwhelmed by more tenanted opponents - often leading to a penalty. He trailed only Nikita Zadorov this season when it came to the worst penalty differential on the team.

When the season ended, many believed that Mark Barberio was finished with the Colorado Avalanche. He was set to become an unrestricted free agent and the team seemed like they would be ok moving on from him. Now, with a new two-year contract, we know Barberio is going to be around for the foreseeable future, and the Avalanche will be much better off as a result.