EDMONTON — There is gossip, and there is the inevitable.
For Tyson Barrie and the Edmonton Oilers — a player and a team that have been linked by the National Hockey League’s rumour mill for years now — this marriage between a skilled, power-play defenceman and the team that drafted his daddy was, as it turns out, inescapable.
“I’ve kind of had Edmonton on the radar for a long time, just looking forward in my career and my future,” Barrie admitted Saturday after signing a one-year, $3.75-million free-agent deal with the Oilers. “I feel grateful that an opportunity presented itself and I get the chance to be an Oiler and play with some of the best in the world.”
After a disappointing season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Oilers are hoping for a Larry Murphy-like bounce back for Barrie, whose father Len was Edmonton’s sixth-round pick back in 1988. Len never played a game in Edmonton, and likely never got a call from Wayne Gretzky on draft day, the way Barrie spoke with Connor McDavid in the days leading up to the free-agent deadline.
“He actually reached out to me two days ago just to kind of let me know he’d be excited to have me. We talked a little bit about some longer-term stuff with Kenny (Oilers general manager Ken Holland), but first and foremost, we don’t even know what the year’s going to look like yet,” said Barrie, who was a swing-and-a-miss in Toronto last season with just 5-34-39 in 70 games.
He thinks he can get back to being a 50-point defenceman in Edmonton. It would be Barrie’s fourth 50-points NHL campaign, but the first one by an Oilers defenceman since Sheldon Souray in 2008-09.
“Fifty would be low,” the 29-year-old Barrie said. “Coming off a year that I had, to be able to have a chance to go into Edmonton and play with this team on a one-year deal, for me, it wasn’t about money this year, just coming in to re-establish myself and show the league that I’m still a pretty good player. They’ve got a lot of pieces in Edmonton. I love what they did with (Kyle) Turris and getting (Tyler Ennis) signed up, too, so I think we’ve got a pretty great team and I’m looking forward to getting involved.”
Holland has had a sneaky good deadline, inking Turris as a third-line centre for just $3.3 million over two years, bringing project Jesse Puljujarvi back for two years at $1.175 million per and grabbing Ennis for a million bucks. Then, with the goaltending market shrinking daily, he dipped back into the well to re-sign Mike Smith on Saturday for one year at $2 million.
“At my age (38) and my experience, you’ve just got to be patient. Everything works out for the better if you’re patient,” Smith said Saturday. “I’m not really worried about what’s happened up to this point. I’m super excited to be back with Edmonton and in the great organization they have and, to be honest, I couldn’t care less about what’s transpired up to this point. I’m just thrilled to be back.”
The fact that Holland couldn’t land $6-million goalie Jacob Markstrom allowed him the cap space to improve his team at two other acutely important positions. Turris seems a lovely fit at 3C, a highly skilled player who steps in behind the two highest-scoring centremen in the NHL, and a defenceman in Barrie that the Oilers haven’t had in years.
Every potent offensive team has that trailing D-man who quarterbacks a power play and follows up the rush. Now we’ll see if Barrie’s ineffectiveness last season was a Toronto thing, or a player thing.
“Coming out of Toronto is tough. The media is tough and the fans can be hard on you,” he admitted.
“I love the way Edmonton plays. They play fast. They drive teams back. They’ve got guys who pull up and find the late guy and that’s kind of where my bread and butter is, following the rush up, beating the forechecker up the ice and becoming that fourth man. I think with the speed that Edmonton has, it kind of fits right in. Hopefully, I can put some in the back of the net coming late.”