The Maple Leafs broke the NHL internet on July 1st, capping off an active free agency opening with a massive blockbuster trade to bring in Tyson Barrie. Despite him being super offensive, he’s much more than a right-shot Jake Gardiner.
Immediately the comparisons were being made. The idea is that the Leafs just dropped Jake Gardiner in free agency to get the right-handed, right-sided version of him in Tyson Barrie from the Colorado Avalanche. Sure, both players are “offensive minded” defenders, but the similarities stop there.
If we’re talking points, then it isn’t close. We’re judging offensive defensemen here, and Tyson Barrie nearly doubled Jake Gardiner last season. With his 59 points, Barrie finished last season seventh in defensive scoring. Gardiner put up a respectable 30 points, but in this comparison was heavily out produced.
You can look to powerplay time to justify a large chunk of these points, which is fair as Barrie had 23 PP points vs. Gardiner’s 5. That being said, Gardiner was a second unit powerplay player and was eclipsed by Morgan Rielly last season. Barrie’s elite offensive production will push Rielly if not Babcock into putting him on the top unit.
Defensively, the two players are hard to compare. Gardiner was a second pairing defenseman who was even demoted to the third pairing with the acquisition of Jake Muzzin in January. Barrie, on the other hand, was a top pairing defender all season long. While this granted Barrie the opportunity to chip in more offensively, it also burned his +/- rating.
Barrie ended the season a -3 in +/-. On a team as offensively gifted as the Avalanche, this may come as a surprise, however, there is more to the story. Rantanen – McKinnon – Landeskog; that is the heartbeat of the Colorado offense, everyone else was far behind the top unit. This internal imbalance of skill essentially thwarted the defensive core when any of the other three units were on the ice.
Gardiner posted a really strong +19 rating. Circumstance out of it, Gardiner is a great skater and solid passer, he earned that rating by outletting the puck to his effective forward core and excelled in that area. The point that needs to be made is that Barrie will be much more effective in his place.
Eye Test Winner
Where Jake Gardiner failed, I believe Tyson Barrie will succeed. Not everyone in Leafs Nation is a stat-head, fancy stat guy, or can even define Corsi. What will dictate Barrie’s success in Toronto will be the eye test, ie. how he looks cruising up the ice and meshing with either Morgan Rielly or Jake Muzzin.
The one advantage he already has over Gardiner is his right-shot. Coach Mike Babcock specified liking a balance on defensive shots/handedness because, in his eyes, when I team is breaking out and exploding on the rush time is saved when players are naturally carrying the puck on their strong side. Gardiner’s left shot plus the acquisition of Jake Muzzin saw him either slotted in the third pairing or on his offside (or forcing Muzzin to his off side). This wasn’t ideal for the coach and thus hurt the team.
It should be interesting, seeing Babcock rebound from losing some of his favourite toys in Hainsey and Brown, but the additions of right-shot defensemen in Barrie and Ceci could out-weigh those losses. If anything helps Barrie it’ll be his ability to score and his speed up the ice. If he gets on the score sheet the positives will outweigh the negatives.