Offensive defencemen are often misunderstood. It seems the majority of Leafs’ Nation have turned on Tyson Barrie and feel strongly that he is bad. That might be the case. He might be bad. However, there are numbers that state otherwise. Numbers don’t lie, but the reality is that they don’t tell the whole story either.
The fact of the matter is that Tyson Barrie seems to be one of the main topics that is dividing Leaf fans right now. And boy, is the fan base ever divided right now. Sports Twitter seems to be the place where fans can (and do) gather to yell at each other. I can’t think of a fan base in professional sports where the fans seem to love arguing more than Leaf fans. Their favourite people to argue with? Other Leaf fans.
Remember six months ago when people were complaining to each other about Ben Harpur? Acquired from Ottawa this summer, Harpur is nowhere close to playing for the Leafs anytime soon; mostly because he was traded to Nashville on Monday morning, but he wasn’t really that close in September either. However, the Leafs’ coach at the time was Mike Babcock, and the unpredictability of his evaluation of talent seemed to be dictate he could be playing 23 minutes a night in the regular season. Harpur simply playing preseason games seemed to spark a new fight on Leafs’ twitter every day. The reality was that he wasn’t the defenceman in that trade that was gonna cause Leafs’ nation the most grief in the long run.
While everyday seems to have a new topic to yell about – whether it be the recent poor play of Frederik Andersen, the Leafs’ trade deadline targets, the somewhat fictional concerns about John Tavares not being a leader, or the Leafs somehow losing to their Zamboni driver – Tyson Barrie is the current recurring debate it seems.
It’s understandable that people care about Barrie’s play. Barrie was acquired on July 1st in a blockbuster trade with Colorado that most notably sent Nazem Kadri, who played 561 games in a Leaf uniform, to the Avalanche. 561 games is nothing to sneeze at in Toronto. Kadri was part of the identity of the organization. To trade a name of that stature, there needs to be good reason. Barrie was (or is, supposedly) that good reason. Barrie is considered an elite offensive defenceman who has always been advertised as a player who struggles defensively. Nobody should be shocked by that.
However, there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding as to what Tyson Barrie does when he’s on the ice. Every night, Leaf fans seem to be up in arms about Tyson’s most recent mistake. The other half of the fan base rushes to his defence, spouting off his positive possession numbers and offensive stats since Sheldon Keefe took over as the head coach. Leaving the question: who is right? Is Tyson Barrie bad, or good?
The answer is quite obvious: it can be both. Here’s a look at Barrie’s major statistics; in 63 games played, Barrie has 5 goals and 30 assists. Barrie has averaged 21:38 minutes, and has 159 shots for just a 3.1% shooting percentage (I can feel the “Tyson, Stop Taking Point Shots” crowd rolling their eyes right now). Barrie was terrible under coach Mike Babcock, but since Sheldon Keefe took over, he has a 53.53% Corsi percentage and a 51.03% expected-goals percentage.
Good players can, and do, sometimes make bad mistakes. Some just do it in more critical spots than others. In those 63 games this season, Tyson Barrie is credited as having 51 giveaways, which ranks him 25th in the NHL. It is worth noting, Barrie had 23 giveaways in 22 games under Babcock; the remaining 28 giveaways have come in the 41 games under Keefe. The important thing to understand about giveaways is that in order to give the puck away, you must have actually had the puck in the first place. I’m not saying a giveaway is a good thing, but if you look at the giveaway leaders in the NHL, many of them also have positive possession numbers and are otherwise considered good players. Matthew Barzal leads the NHL with 69, while Leon Draisaitl is 14th and the best player in the world, Connor McDavid, is 19th in just 56 games. (Ben Chiarot is also 3rd, so it’s not to say all players who give the puck away are also good).
I would argue that Tyson Barrie is a player who is good with the puck most of the time he has it. Creativity just doesn’t work out all the time. Creativity does leave you prone to mistakes. The confidence to try something new or unconventional is what separates the good from the great. If nobody was ever afraid to make mistakes, we’d see a lot more mistakes in a typical NHL game. The tendency to play a “safe” game is a lot more prevalent in the NHL than the casual fan realizes, and it is because of this that people overreact when players make them, especially in a market like Toronto.
The idea of the offensive defensemen’s team always having the puck so they don’t have to defend is nice in theory. Sometimes it works, but when it doesn’t, the mistakes get magnified. It is the same principle that made players such as Jake Gardiner, Tomas Kaberle, and Phil Kessel so hated in Toronto. Effort doesn’t always look like a heavy open-ice check, or a two-minute clinic on the penalty kill. Sometimes these little plays aren’t always obvious to the naked eye, and especially not on television.
Tyson Barrie makes mistakes, and these mistakes are often big ones. I’m not saying Tyson Barrie is a perfect hockey player. Nor is Jake Gardiner, or Tomas Kaberle, or Phil Kessel (although Phil is a perfect person as far as I can tell). What I am saying is that it’s possible for Tyson Barrie to make dumb choices while also making a lot of good ones. Tyson needs to be better, but that applies to every player on the team as well.
The trade deadline passed, and Tyson Barrie remains a Leaf. It is irresponsible of Leaf fans to say Tyson Barrie has been horrible. He hasn’t been amazing. He’s done a lot of good things, but some of those things get clouded by mistakes. Among many other Leafs, the expectations on him for the final 19 games are high. Ultimately, Barrie hasn’t sunk the Leafs. The trade to acquire him hasn’t sunk the Leafs. If the Leafs are currently sinking, and I don’t believe they are, it seems as if they’ve collectively done it to themselves.