EDMONTON — Tyson Barrie has checked enough of the boxes.
His first trade, check, to Toronto in a deal that sent Nazem Kadri to Colorado. His first stint playing under the hot lights of a Canadian market — check. And now his first free-agent deal, a one-year “prove yourself” deal with an Edmonton Oilers team that will end one of two ways:
Either he’ll settle in on a longer-term deal in Edmonton, or seven months from now Barrie will be joining his fourth team in two years, answering all the same questions over again.
“You’re right on some of that stuff,” Barrie allows, smiling at the other end of the phone. “At this point in my career, I haven’t come close to winning (a Stanley Cup) yet. I think they’re poised to win here, and I’d like to be a part of that.
“If there is an opportunity for me to stay here long-term in Edmonton, it could be a great fit.
At age 29 and with more than 550 games under his belt, theoretically this is where preparation meets opportunity.
“I sure hope so,” Barrie said after Wednesday’s workout. “That was the thought process in taking the deal here, and I’m super excited to see it come to fruition. I’ll try to make the most of it.”
So, who is Tyson Barrie, the new right-shot, power-play quarterback in Edmonton?
Well he is the son of Len Barrie, drafted in the sixth round by these same Oilers back in 1988, and grandson to Len Barrie Sr., whose hockey school in B.C.’s interior the grandson has volunteered at for many summers.
His arrival in Edmonton comes on the heels of a season in Toronto that has, strangely, forced this veteran player into a position where he has been forced to re-prove himself. To stake a claim once again, well past the midway point in his NHL career, to what kind of player he really is.
“The year in Toronto may have changed things a bit, and then you throw a pandemic into the mix…” Barrie begins. “It was just kind of a bizarre circumstance. I’d like to get back to the player I was when I left Colorado. It’s tougher than you think, moving teams, having a new coach and all that.
“I think I have the hang of it now. I’ve wrapped my head around it. It’s not like I’m looking to prove people wrong, but just kind of re-establish myself.”
Barrie found himself on the wrong side of then-Leafs coach Mike Babcock, due perhaps in part to the fact he was an acquisition made by general manager Kyle Dubas. A pawn in the deteriorating relationship between coach and GM, when Barrie’s opening to the 2019-20 season was even worse than the Leafs’ tepid start, life behind the blue Maple Leaf began to heat up.
He was harder on himself than anyone else, issuing some very honest assessments on the state of his game.
“I’d never been off to a start like that: no goals, seven assists in 25 games. Our team was floating around .500, and it just felt like a lot of pressure. You know, more pressure than I’d dealt with in Colorado,” he said. “I was just trying to be honest with myself, and let people know that I expected more from myself.
“It was a good experience,” he stressed of Toronto. “It was just tough because I was trying to play catch-up with the fans, and my game. Then we quarantined, went back into the bubble… It was a bizarre year.
“Toronto is a tough city to play in if you’re not performing to the standard you’re used to, or the fans think you should be. But I’ll tell ya, it would be an unbelievable place to win.”
Today, Barrie finds himself in another Canadian market teeming with impatience over a hockey team whose lineup is star-laden, yet the playoff mantle remains bare. Edmonton and Toronto are not much different, and you wonder: Is Barrie still the same guy?
“Signing here was a no-brainer,” Barrie said. “I hope I can come in, be a part of the offence and get the puck moving, work the powerplay, join the rush… And hopefully bring a little bit of leadership. You know, I’ve been through a bit in my career. Gone through some playoff rounds and such. I think it will be a good fit.”
It can’t all be about the other team’s net, however, and this is where Barrie will carve a direction for the rest of his career. An “offenceman” is not what the Oilers need.
What they require is a D-man to work the top of the power play, a guy who can snap an accurate outlet pass, but also a player who helps the stated team goal of being better at five-on-five play. At both ends of the ice.
They did not speak well of Barrie’s defensive game in Toronto, though whether that was a team issue or a player issue is up for some debate. He knows that the narrative sticks, and he’ll have to create a new one with his play this season.
“The way that my style of game is, and the size that I am, I’m always going to fight that stereotype,” Barrie said. “But I’ve line-matched against top lines for large periods pf a season, in playoffs… I know I can do it. I’ve got to stay focused on it and commit to that part of the game.”
It’s that, or keep on moving on.
His Dad was property of six NHL organizations. Edmonton is Tyson’s third.
He’d like to make it his last.