Tyson Barrie's defense may be underrated, but that's not why the Leafs acquired him

Take it from Kerfoot. (John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports)
Take it from Kerfoot. (John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports)

Alexander Kerfoot swears it.

It’s a misread, in his mind, to assume that Tyson Barrie is a liability defensively. No doubt certain data points can be circled to support the notion, but Kerfoot insisted last week in his first public appearance since his trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs that the right-shot defender deserves more credit for being an effective presence at both ends of the ice.

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“He is more than that,” Kerfoot said, having acknowledged already that Barrie is one of the top-producing defensemen in the NHL at Dominic Moore’s Smashfest charity ping pong tournament.

On one hand, Kerfoot would most likely have a better handle on the abilities and limitations in Barrie’s game than anyone connected with the Leafs; the two have shared affiliation with the Colorado Avalanche for the last two seasons. But on the other, what other stance could Kerfoot take? Under no circumstances would he use his first front-facing appearance in the market to perpetuate the concerns festering over Barrie’s complete package.

What will bear out all the facts, ultimately, will be Barrie’s performance in a Leafs sweater, but in all likelihood he will stay a polarizing figure in what could amount to just a one-year stint. That’s because Barrie’s game sets up as one that will encourage fans and media members to constantly weigh the extent of his defensive shortcomings against the aspects of his game that are far less open to interpretation.

Which is, that he’s an offensive juggernaut.

Barrie is one of the elite point producers at his position, and his attacking presence makes other high-end players even more dangerous — and for the Leafs, he comes priced way below market value.

It seems his new teammates share in the notion that Barrie’s all-around game is better than it’s been advertised, which is of course certainly better than the alternative. But it’s the plainly obvious about his game that has everyone most excited.

“Defending him as a winger, you always have to know where he is because he can really hurt you in the offensive zone,” Zach Hyman said at his own summer charity event, relating it back to his own experience.

“I’ll be trying to look out for those breakaway passes for sure,” said Kasperi Kapanen, eyeing a future experience for himself.


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 Keeping it classy with the fellas for my 28th!

A post shared by  Tyson Barrie (@tysonbarrie4) on

Ranked eighth in points among defensemen over the last six seasons, and owning the sixth-highest total across the last two campaigns, production alone puts Barrie in a class above nearly all his peers.

But what might separate Barrie from others at his position who host a plus-offensive skillset is the like-mindedness he shares with elite differentiating forwards.

Kerfoot believes that Barrie has the ability to elevate star teammates because he thinks the game the same way that they do.

“He makes the same reads that those top guys make.”

Where we have seen the most benefit of Barrie sharing perceptive qualities with the handful of players charged with the sole responsibility to create and score has been on the power play. Barrie has tallied the third-most points over the last two seasons there, matching him with arguably the league’s premiere offensive defender, Brent Burns. Only he’s reached that total in 18 fewer games.

That single-minded focus that Barrie plays with isn’t exclusive to the special teams scenario; when the puck is on his stick he’s looking to launch an attack.

Based on this feed to Kerfoot (and with all due respect), the special plays Barrie can manufacture with his unrelenting offensive intent aren’t exclusive to a connection with a cross-positional equivalent.

Then there’s this pass, again to Kerfoot, which helps to illustrate the proficiency that Barrie has with his stretch deliveries. He puts a little extra zip behind it to make sure it slips through a mess of opposition sticks.

 via Gfycat

(Is it any wonder why Kerfoot speaks so highly of his teammate, by the way?)

In addition to his puck moving abilities, few defenders pick as many spots when jumping into the rush.

When all things are equal, be it with the puck on his stick or while supplementing an attack, Barrie will more or less prefer the high-reward play over the safe alternative.

His offensive insistence will invariably backfire on occasion (though it should be mentioned that he moves the puck out of the defensive zone at an incredibly strong rate) and the mistakes borne out of that style will ultimately serve as the source of the criticism portioned out to him while with the Leafs.

But while it’s possible that the coaching staff endeavours to introduce selectivity to Barrie’s game, the move to acquire the high-volume point man is as much about fully embracing the style the organization has chosen.

The Leafs have invested so much of their resources into the attacking element of the game, it’s best they are able to get them the puck from the right side in addition to the left with Morgan Rielly.

Having assembled arguably more talent at that position than what Barrie had to work with in Colorado, the expectation should be that the defenseman continues to produce at an elite level — advantageously, in a contract season.

For the Maple Leafs, and the bigger picture, it’s about having all the parts and systems working better together, rather than one aspect of the operation incongruously trying to outweigh the deficiencies of another.

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