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Cam Barker's Early Season Struggles

Remain calm.
All is well.

All is well!


When Steve Tambellini signed Cam Barker, the Edmonton MSM celebrated Barker's arrival. Comparisons to Jason Smith, talk of revivals, rejuvenations and using his bought out status as a kick in the head flowed like hundreds of hands patting the Oilers' GM on the back.  Readers and fans unsurprisingly took up the same opinion, talking about a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman with pedigree and power play prowess.

But the reaction in the 'Sphere was markedly different.  Eyewitness accounts directly contradicted the MSM opinions.  An investigation into his underlying numbers turned up a player who couldn't beat third-pairing minutes with easy zone starts, and never played anything more difficult than those third-pairing minutes.  Sure, there was that one decent season on the power play with Kane, Towes and Sharp in front of him and Keith next to him, but that one small sample size was outweighed by an unimpressive body of work.

Jonathan Willis said it best:

If history is any indication, Cam Barker can play sheltered third pairing minutes and still lose the scoring chances battle. He’s a bad even-strength defenseman, and has been for the entirety of his career.

While it's still early in the 2011-2012 season, Barker's early season struggles are nothing new.

The table is sorted by Corsi Adj.  The table is sortable by column, simply click on the header.

TOI Rk ZS Rk Corsi Adj Adj Rk
Corey Potter 5 3 17.23 1
Andy Sutton 6 7 12.51 2
Tom Gilbert  1 6 10.09 3
Ladislav Smid 2 5 6.9 4
Jeff Petry 4 2 -10.84 5
Theo Peckham 7 4 -14.37 6
Cam Barker 3 1 -18.75 7

To put Barker's 5-game performance in perspective, his adjusted Corsi of -18.75 is in the neighborhood of Jason Strudwick's amazing 2009-2010, a season in which Strudwick finished with an adjusted Corsi of -22.41.  He's been given the easiest starting position on the team and has the worst Corsi on the team.  "Shelled" is the word that best describes Barker's on-ice performance thus far.  And though it's too early to expect QualComp to be useful, below is a list of the lines Barker has spent the most even strength time against in each of the first five games:

vs. Pittsburgh: Pascal Dupuis, Jordan Staal, Joe Vitale

vs. Minnesota:  Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck

vs. Vancouver: Jannik Hansen, Manny Malhotra, Marco Sturm

vs. Nashville:  Colin Wilson, Blake Geoffrion, Matt Halischuk

vs. Calgary:  Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrison, Alex Tanguay

Only against the Flames last night has Barker faced top-flight competition.  It should be noted that Calgary had last change, meaning the Iginla-Barker matchup is one they were actively seeking and one that Iginla exposed a number of times as he repeatedly skated by Barker as he entered the zone.

Ryan Whitney's return from his persistent foot injuries brings the total number of defenders on the roster to eight, so unless someone is felled by injury in the very near future, the Oilers are going to have to send a defenseman to Oklahoma City when Sam Gagner returns from injury.  The MSM is pointing at Jeff Petry and Lowetide explains why.   Petry has been significantly better than Barker - they were paired together in Barker's best two games - yet because of waiver eligibility, he'll be sent away.  It's Petry's ability to move the puck, thereby saving Barker, that's allowed Barker to keep his numbers out of Strudwick territory. The Oilers are once again making themselves a worse team because of waivers.

Can Barker be better?  Better than he's been, but not by much.  As many 'sphere analysts have noted, Tom Renney is more concerned with zonestarts than forward matching, so he understands Barker's limitations and shows it by giving him the easiest starts.  He could work harder to get him third-toughs minutes and things might improve for Barker, though as discussed in the opening, he's never been able to beat third-toughs in his career.  The best Renney could do is to reduce his even strength TOI and limit the number of minutes Barker is exposed to the shelling.

Barker's player card courtesy the venerable and terrifying Gabriel Desjardins'