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Working the powerplay

With special teams being the focus at training camp today, a look into Tyson Barrie’s powerplay history and how well he could integrate himself into the Oilers.

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

One of the biggest concerns for the Edmonton Oilers this coming season is around their defence core. Specifically - how exactly will head coach Dave Tippett replace the minutes left vacant by Oscar Klefbom who will be missing the season due to a shoulder injury.

Klefbom was heavily relied on by the coaching staff in all situations last season, leading the Oilers defencemen averaging over 25 minutes per game. He ranked fifth in the league, amongst a pretty impressive group of defencemen that often played about 40% of their team’s total ice time, and was one of only six other defencemen who averaged over 25 minutes per game last season.

A big reason why Klefbom’s ice time was one of the highest in the league last season was because of the significant time he played on the powerplay. He ranked sixth among all defencemen when it came to average minutes per games on the powerplay. And it shouldn’t be all that surprising considering that the coaches basically ran one powerplay unit with Klefbom playing 81% of the team’s total powerplay time. That’s a pretty staggering proportion, especially in comparison to the other top powerplay defencemen last season. Table below is ranked by ice time per games played (TOI/GP).

Player Team GP TOI TOI/GP % of team's PP time
John Carlson WSH 69 276.90 4.01 74.1%
Torey Krug BOS 61 235.78 3.87 72.4%
Quinn Hughes VAN 68 256.13 3.77 67.5%
Cale Makar COL 57 213.37 3.74 65.2%
Keith Yandle FLA 69 254.03 3.68 72.1%
Oscar Klefbom EDM 62 226.32 3.65 81.2%
Kris Letang PIT 61 210.88 3.46 69.2%
Rasmus Dahlin BUF 59 197.03 3.34 70.2%
Roman Josi NSH 69 229.20 3.32 61.4%

The good news is that the Oilers appear to have found a pretty decent replacement for Klefbom’s powerplay time in Tyson Barrie, who led Toronto’s powerplay last season in ice time, averaging 2.80 minutes per game. That was good for 22nd in the league among defencemen, but he only played 36.7% of the Leafs total powerplay time as Morgan Reilly also saw significant minutes on the powerplay. Worth noting however that after Mike Babcock was replaced as the Leafs head coach with Sheldon Keefe during the 2019/20 season, Barrie actually played 70.6% of the Leafs total powerplay time. Had Keefe been the Leafs coach for all of last season, Barrie would probably have been top ten league-wide in terms of powerplay ice time per game. And that would have been closer in line with the proportion of powerplay ice time he was getting in Colorado prior to joining the Leafs.

In 2017/18, Barrie led all NHL defencemen in powerplay ice time per game with 3.72 minutes, playing 60.2% of Colorado’s total powerplay time. The next season in 2018/19, Barrie again led the league, this time averaging 4.04 minutes per game, and seeing a bump in his proportion of the teams total powerplay time, reaching 66.8%.

It’s strange looking at Barrie’s powerplay numbers in Toronto under Babcock. In the first 23 games of the 2019/20 season, Barrie was averaging 2.33 minutes per game and only played for 41.1% of the Leafs total powerplay time. The Leafs ranked 19th overall in goals per hour on the powerplay with 6.24, despite ranking ninth in the league in unblocked shot attempts per hour - a proxy for scoring chances. After Keefe took over, Barrie saw a jump in his ice time, averaging 3.09 minutes per game and playing 70.6% of the teams total powerplay time. Still not as much as Klefbom played, but definitely has him in the group of league leaders. From that point, the Leafs powerplay generated 9.51 goals per hour, ranking second overall behind the Oilers, thanks in large part to a team shooting percentage above 17%.

The other interesting thing about Barrie is that while he plays a lot of minutes and has a reputation of being a powerplay quarterback, he doesn’t appear to be a shooter and tends to instead distribute the puck. That’s definitely ideal considering the Oilers were successful last season on the powerplay in large part to the high-end skill up front and Klefbom’s puck distribution from the blue line.

Of all of the Oilers shot attempts Klefbom was on the ice for last season, 17.2% were from his stick. That’s thankfully a drop from a couple seasons ago when almost 30% of the Oilers shot attempts came from Klefbom when he was on the ice. You may recall him and Nurse were a little trigger-happy that season under head coach Todd McLellan often shooting from low probability scoring areas - which likely played a role in the Oilers powerplay struggling early in the 2018/19 season. Last year, it was players like Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and Roman Josi who were taking about 30% of their team’s shot attempts on the powerplay, and all three of their teams ranked in the bottom third in the league when it came to powerplay efficiency.

Looking at Barrie’s proportion of shot attempts over his career, he seems to be playing more of a puck distribution role at this point of his career. A couple seasons ago, he was taking almost 30% of his team’s shot-attempts when he was on the ice – closer to the levels of Burns and Doughty - which may have led to his reputation as being a point man that a powerplay goes through. In his final season in Colorado however, that proportion fell below 20%, with his lowest share actually happening in Toronto (16.5%). Worth noting too that when he took on more powerplay responsibility after the coaching change, he actually only took 12.3% of the shot attempts he was on the ice for. That’s a pretty good sign that he was deferring more to his forwards up front to take shots from higher-probability scoring areas.

Season Team GP TOI/GP % of on-ice shot attempts
2011/12 COL 6 1.94 14.3%
2012/13 COL 32 2.64 28.0%
2013/14 COL 62 2.88 20.9%
2014/15 COL 80 2.99 24.6%
2015/16 COL 76 3.22 24.5%
2016/17 COL 71 3.21 29.3%
2017/18 COL 68 3.72 23.6%
2018/19 COL 78 4.04 19.3%
2019/20 TOR 68 2.80 16.5%

It remains to be seen how quickly Barrie can adapt to his new teammates and if the coaching staff will have patience if the powerplay doesn’t click right away. But it is encouraging to know that Barrie is accustomed to heavier powerplay workloads and has adapted to modern powerplay tactics as a puck distributor. Having Klefbom out is a major loss for the team, but with their high-end talent up front healthy the Oilers powerplay should remain as one of the best in the league.

Data: Natural Stat Trick