Tyson Barrie Has Been Fine, But He Can Be Better

After the Toronto Maple Leafs lost a heartbreaker to the Montreal Canadiens in overtime on Saturday night, all that kept appearing on my Twitter timeline was fans blaming Tyson Barrie for the loss.

The reason? He had the puck at the point and took a low percentage shot that killed possession and resulted in the winning goal at the other end of the ice.

This entire sequence just about sums up Leafs fans’ frustrations with Barrie’s play so far this season. In some Leafs fans’ minds, he comes across as a player that is blindly shooting pucks from far out and is hurting the team’s chances of success at both ends.

Some of these faults of Barrie may be true as he is not effective in his own end at limiting shots against. At the same time, he has also been a force in the offensive zone at getting pucks on target. Want to know what else is true? He has recorded five goals, 26 assists, and 31 points in 56 games, leading all Leafs defenceman in scoring. According to my calculations, that makes him on pace for roughly seven goals, 38 assists, and 45 points. Should he hit that mark, it would be the fourth time in his career that Barrie surpasses the 40 point mark.

On most teams, that would be a godsend to have a defenceman racking up points like that. In Toronto, however, the focus is squarely on his shot selection and the fact he takes too many point shots that rarely go in. And while that is true, it’s hard to deny that he has been doing his job racking up points as a defender.

Because that’s exactly what Barrie’s role is: he’s an offensive defenceman.

With that being his role, Barrie is going to be much better on the attack than in his own zone. Players like him thrive off jumping into the play, setting up scoring chances, and getting shots on net themselves. That’s why they aren’t as effective in their own end of the rink or on transition defence; it’s just the nature of being a defender who is at their best on the charge.

Many Colorado Avalanche fans were likely well aware of Barrie’s defensive shortcomings, but they also knew that when he was on the prowl either at even strength (ES) or the power play, Barrie was one of their best options to produce something offensively.

Taking it a step further, take a look at his underlying numbers at ES as of February 9th:

CF%53.91
CF% Rel2.54
FF%52.56
FF% Rel1.53
SH%52.80
xGF%48.99
SCF%52.58
HDCF%52.14
HDGF%50.00
Source: Natural Stat Trick

These numbers represent a player that has been able to help his team maintain possession more and generate more chances when he’s on the ice. While they aren’t eye-popping stats, they are solid nonetheless.

It’s true that numbers don’t tell the full story, but the above stats represent a defenceman that is doing his part. However, there is more to the story than just his underlying metrics.

Barrie has an on-ice SH% of 8.86, a 89.91 on-ice SV%, and a .988 PDO at ES. This means he has been fairly unlucky when it comes to team performance, which is partly out of his control. Jake Gardiner, by contrast, posted a 10.76 on-ice SH%, a 93.06 on-ice SV%, and a 1.038 PDO in his last season as a Maple Leaf, showing he was far more fortuitous compared to Barrie.

There’s no doubt that the loss of Gardiner stung, but Barrie has been doing his part to fill some of the void. By no means is this to suggest that the two are the same type of player (they aren’t), but it’s clear to see that the two players have indistinguishable numbers in a few areas.

Barrie was not brought in to become the second coming of Gardiner. The Leafs traded for him to add some firepower to their backend and increase the depth on the right side. It may not have worked exactly how Kyle Dubas envisioned it (*cough cough* Cody Ceci *cough cough*), but the Leafs would be in a much more precarious position this year if they didn’t have Barrie at all.

Which brings us back to the impasse that has some Leafs fans indignant of Barrie’s play this season: his lacklustre shot selection.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Barrie’s shot selection is not the best. It has prematurely ended a lot of offensive possessions, mainly because of his insistence to blast pucks from the point.

This type of strategy isn’t going to work from far out, especially if the puck doesn’t hit the target or doesn’t bounce in a position to be collected by his teammates. So far this season, Barrie has only created 11 rebounds at ES and just 13 in all situations (AS). This is a massive downgrade from where he was a season ago when he created 26 rebounds ES and 35 rebounds AS.

It also doesn’t help that his SH% at ES is at a putrid 3.17%, which would be the lowest mark of his career (apart from the lockout shortened 2013 season when he registered a 2.17 ES SH%).

So what can Barrie do to reverse the trend? He just needs to simplify his approach when shooting the puck.

Instead of going for the one-timer from the point, he should try instead to keep the shot low for a chance for it to be deflected or create a rebound. If the opportunity presents itself, he should jump into the play and fire the puck from a higher percentage area. If none of the options present themselves, he should simply pass to a teammate that can put the puck in the net.

Barrie was doing that for a stretch immediately following the promotion of Sheldon Keefe as head-coach, but has gone away from that as of late. The coaching staff has to figure out a way to get Barrie to alter his approach in the offensive zone and if he can find that new gear, he should have more success shooting the puck.

Being in the prime of his NHL career at age 28, Barrie is what he is at this point in terms of his role and play style. He’s not going to transform into a defensive defenceman overnight, but he can be more effective in his own end of the ice. Again, that will be up to the coaching staff to try and streamline his defensive technique.

He may be on pace for nearly 50 points on the season, but he can be more of a threat in the offensive end. His underlying metrics may be decent, but he can also be better adept at dictating possession of the puck. His on-ice luck may be down for the count, but he has proven to have more favourable results in the past.

All of this to say that Tyson Barrie has been fine this season. He can, however, be better than what he has shown.

All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com and Natural Stat Trick as of February 9th.  

Thoughts on the Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford Trade

After a demoralizing loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t take much time in making a drastic change to their roster. Mere minutes after the final horn blew, the Leafs had struck a massive deal with the Los Angeles Kings.

There are some conditions on the draft pick and Clifford is coming in at 50% retained salary, but it is essentially swapping a depth forward and two draft picks for a new backup goalie and a sand paper forward.

My initial reaction to the announcement of this trade was that of excitement, not only for the prospect of trying out a different goalie behind Frederik Andersen, but also because this transaction addressed a need that the Leafs have been sorely lacking all year. Ever since they dealt Nazem Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche, Toronto has been without a gritty forward who can play physical and provide some offence.

You would think that on a team that can score goals better than most NHL teams this wouldn’t be an issue, but it leaves them exposed should they clinch a playoff birth and may become intimidated on the physicality aspect of the game. It is an old-school thinking that being able to hit and stand-up is valuable. Yet even in recent years, most of the previous Stanley Cup winners possessed at least one player that had that aspect of their game being their signature trait.

Which is why adding a player like Clifford to a young Leafs team is so important; guys like him will fire the team up when they lay hits or draw fights and players will gravitate towards them because of how hard they work each and every day. He is the modern day version of a gritty forward who should provide value in the bottom-six and bring an element that hasn’t been present much of this season.

It certainly helps that Clifford is also an analytical darling and has found success at both ends whenever he’s on the ice. He doesn’t need to score 50 goals to be a valuable asset, but his stat line of 6 goals, 8 assists, and 14 points is certainly exceptional for a fourth line player.

This is part of the reason why I have been so vocal in expressing my desire for the Leafs to acquire Blake Coleman of the New Jersey Devils. And while Clifford is no Coleman, adding the former was the right call and a much needed addition to the lineup.

The exact same thing can be said of Campbell, who is the latest backup goalie to try and land the role of “The Guy That Can Ease Andersen’s Workload.” We are now four years into Andersen’s tenure and Toronto has yet to find such a player (although Curtis McElhinney came close).

Michael Hutchinson was the latest candidate, having been acquired midway through last season. His first full year in Toronto has, to put it mildly, not gone well. And while it is unfair to place blame on the backup for the team’s misfortunes, given his inconsistent play throughout the year, the Leafs have lost valuable points and are now in a dogfight to reach the postseason in part because Hutchinson hasn’t gotten it done consistently enough.

So all Campbell has to do to win faith in a fanbase that is currently restless is simple: just make some saves. Judging by his work with the Kings so far this season, he appears to be doing just that. Although a .900 SV% and a 2.85 GAA aren’t eye-popping numbers, they are miles better than Hutchinson’s stats (.886 SV%, 3.66 GAA).

As a result of this trade, the Leafs are a much better team than they were heading into Wednesday’s game. While they still need to acquire a top-four RHD, the transaction addressed two needs that desperately had to be sorted out.

Going the other way is Trevor Moore, who fans have grown to appreciate as an underdog player who made up for his small frame with tenacity and speed. There are some who are distraught to see him go, but the unfortunate reality is that Moore became replaceable during his time on IR.

With the emergence of Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall, there wasn’t going to be much room to fit Moore into the fold beyond the fourth line. And that is the worst spot to be in on any team, especially one like Toronto that is loaded with quality wingers throughout the organization.

Kings fans are going to get a kick out of him and will come to love his play style, which is a great fit on an LA team that is in a transition stage of their rebuild. He is young enough to be part of their depth core moving forward and can kill penalties. It also helps that he is a local kid who will be returning home, so he’ll likely get a kick out of playing for his childhood team.

Simply put, this is a trade that needed to happen. It would have been nice for it to occur a few weeks prior, but it was necessary nonetheless.

Toronto addressed two important needs and it only required to give up a depth piece plus some draft picks without letting go one of Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen. Given the critical state of the season the Leafs are in and how valuable each game is the rest of the way, Kyle Dubas made right by pulling the trigger on this deal.

As for when the Leafs will make the much anticipated trade of a top-four defender who shoots right, we will have to wait on that. For now, there is a lot to be excited about the two latest additions to the Blue and White.

All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com and Natural Stat Trick as of February 6th.  

A Tribute to Kobe Bryant

The news of Kobe Bryant’s sudden death on Sunday came as a shock to a lot of people in both the basketball and sports community. And how could it not, he was one of the most influential and popular athletes of the new millennium, going through one of the most storied NBA-careers we have ever seen.

When he first made the league fresh out of high-school, there were people comparing him to the likes of Michael Jordan and doubting he could match such greatness. By the time he hung up the shoes in 2016, Bryant not only made a case as a comparable to Jordan, but an excellent player in his own right.

The list of accolades in Bryant’s resume is loaded and impressive. He won five NBA titles, three of which came as a three-peat in the early 2000s alongside Shaquille O’Neal. He was named league-MVP in 2008. Twice in his career he was named Finals MVP. He appeared in 18 All-Star games, was named to the All-NBA first team 11 times, to the All-NBA Defensive team 9 times, and won two NBA scoring titles.

He spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angelas Lakers, finishing first in franchise games played, minutes, three-pointers, steals, and points. Additionally, he came up big in the playoffs, finishing his career fourth all-time in points, ninth in assists, sixth in steals, fifth in field-goals made, and eighth in three-points made.

Most impressively, he is 4th on the all-time points leaderboard, having only recently been surpassed by LeBron James.

Then there are the on-court accomplishments that still have fans clamouring to this day. Like his duels against Jordan early in his career, or his clutch performance in the 2008 Summer Olympics. There was his 2013 season where he put the Lakers on his back only to have an Achilles injury cut his year short. Or in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals where he led the Lakers to a big win over the Boston Celtics to clinch the title. Or his iconic buzzer beater in the 2006 playoffs against the Phoenix Suns. And let’s not forget how he capped off his career with a 60-point performance against the Utah Jazz.

There were also moments that made us smile. Like the time he quieted a Dallas Mavericks fan by counting the number of rings he had. Or when Chris Rock was trying to talk to him on the sidelines and he sat completely still. And, of course, the time he stood down Matt Barnes and didn’t flinch when the latter faked a pass to his face.

But perhaps no number will define Bryant’s career better than the number 81. That is the number of points he scored in a game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006 in game where the Lakers needed him to score badly. Bryant always rose to the occasion no matter the circumstances and more often than not came out on top.

While his reputation off the court has come into question at times, with the 2003 sexual assault case being the prime suspect, it’s hard to deny just how special of a player he was during his athletic peak. Players like him don’t come around very often and a lot of us were fortunate enough to witness him at his best while we were growing up.

This goes for some of the young NBA players that have recently gotten their career started. They are the ones who, like the rest of us, stood in awe as he pulled off his fadeaway jumper, his clutch shots, and his impressive dunks each and every night. They’re the ones who looked up to him as a player and modelled their games in part to what he was able to accomplish.

When I was growing up, whenever my friends and I would throw something out, we would always take a few steps back, yell “KOBE” at the top of our lungs, and threw our garbage in the air with the hope of it landing cleanly in the trash bin. It’s not an isolated incident (I’m sure most people around my age did the same thing when they were younger), but it goes to show just how much of an impact Bryant made in our lives.

So it’s no wonder a lot of people have been impacted by the unforeseen news of his untimely passing. Having someone you looked up to growing up being taken from this world at the young age of 41 is heartbreaking and saddening.

Whether you remember him donning the number 8 or the number 24, there’s no denying Bryant was one of the greatest NBA players of all time. A legendary athlete taken from us far too soon.

Rest in peace, Kobe Bryant.

All stats unless otherwise noted are from NBA.com and Basketball Reference.

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