One thing that’s going right for the Edmonton Oilers? Tyson Barrie

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Tyson Barrie is no longer leading all NHL defenceman in scoring, as he did last year with 48 points in 56 games. But he’s never played better two-way hockey for the Edmonton Oilers than he has in the last month.

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Barrie is only ranked 26th for scoring for NHL d-men this year, despite the fact he’s the quarterback of the NHL’s hottest power play.

He’s got nine power play points, but on the strength of his even strength point production his teammate Evan Bouchard is outpointing him 18 to 17 overall.

But Barrie’s defensive play for the past month has been solid, something I doubted I’d ever say. He’s making almost all the simple plays. He’s making sound reads. He’s avoiding major mistakes.

If you’ve ever listened to the Cult of Hockey podcast with myself and Bruce McCurdy, you’ve heard me rant repeatedly about Barrie’s poor decision-making, especially his ill-advised pinches in the o-zone that lead to two-on-one breaks against the Oilers and both Grade A shots and goals against. Such mistakes happened too often last year when Barrie’s rate of major mistakes on Grade A shots against was the highest that we’ve ever counted at the Cult of Hockey since our focus on analyzing Grade A shots started in 2014-15.

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Even though Barrie was the NHL’s top scoring d-man last year he was only able to earn a new three-year deal with Edmonton at $4.5 million per, hardly the kind of term and dollars one would expect such a prolific point scorer to earn. But the market spoke loudly and Barrie appeared to have listened, as he came into camp promising he was going to do much better on defence.

And he proceeded to stink it out on defence in the first month of the season, making an even higher rate of major mistakes on Grade A shots in the first 14 games this year than he did last year.

But in the last month, Barrie’s defensive play has picked up considerably. He’s no longer beating himself with poor decisions. He’s getting the job done. He’s been helped that he’s often been bumped down the line-up and not had to face the toughest competition on a partnership with Darnell Nurse. But he’s also held his own in the d-zone, something I never thought I’d say.

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In his first 14 games this year, he made 32 major mistakes on Grade A shots against in 212 even strength minutes, 2.26 such mistakes per 15 minutes of even strength playing time.

In his last 15 games, he’s made just 19 such mistakes in 256 even strength minutes, just 1.11 per 15, which is the rate you’d expect to see from a solid defensive NHL d-man.

For the past month, that decent defensive d-man has been Barrie, who can also still move the puck with great style and impact.

Just now, his contract is looking like a bargain, a major bargain.

Will that last? I can’t say. I don’t know. As I said, I never expected it to happen in the first place.

But Barrie has kept up this solid level of two-way play for a month. That’s a good run of games, long enough that I felt it was worth noting and writing about, long enough to hope that maybe he can keep it going, that he’s turned some kind of page at age 30 and is ready to play the best two-way hockey of his NHL career.

At the Cult

McCURDY: Nurse and Lagesson with COVID now

STAPLES: Oilers’ games postponed until after Christmas

LEAVINS: 9 Things

McCURDY: Player grades from Oilers’ gutsy win in Seattle

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