The Colorado Avalanche have one final bit of housekeeping to complete before training camp starts in September. Defenseman Tyson Barrie is in need of a new contract. The length and value of that contract are to be determined, but the Avalanche would be prudent to give Barrie a long term deal.
Giving a long term deal to a player as unproven as Barrie can be risky, but in my opinion it is a risk worth taking. Logic would say, give him a shorter 2-year deal in the $2-2.5M range, see what type of player he develops into, and then sign him to a longer term. The Avs have employed this bridge contract strategy with core players before. Hello Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. Here is the problem with this strategy. In two years, the Avs will see the contracts of Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O’Reilly, and Erik Johnson expire. Adding Tyson Barrie to that mix could get very expensive, very fast.
Barrie busted on to the scene last year with 13 goals and 25 assists in 64 games after struggling to find his footing in parts of two prior NHL seasons. His 38 points were good enough to place him second in scoring among Avs d-men behind Erik Johnson. Avs fans also appreciated the clutch nature of many of Barrie’s goals, as he netted 5 game winners, including 3 in OT.
Barrie excels at transitioning the puck from his own zone to the offensive end. This makes him a potent weapon for the high octane Avs. Especially when he is on the ice with the speedy Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, or Matt Duchene. The best offenses in the NHL today do not rely exclusively on forwards, but have defenseman who are adept at joining the offense on the rush. Barrie fits this bill perfectly. The Avs realized this in the worst way during the playoffs, after an errant knee from Matt Cooke sidelined Tyson for the final 4 games of their series against Minnesota.
If I were in charge of negotiating Barrie’s new contract, I would look toward what the team did with Gabe Landeskog. Sign him to a longer term in order to massage his cap hit during the meaty years of the deal. How about a 6-year contract worth a total of $22M dollars? This will lock in Barrie’s cap hit at $3.67M for the next 6 seasons, and also eats up 2 years of UFA. Structure the deal so Barrie gets $2.5M during the first 2 years of the deal (this is essentially his bridge), then scale up to $3M, $4M, $5M, $5M for the subsequent four seasons.
This seems like a reasonable contract. Would Barrie go for it? I think so. Let’s take a look at some comparable offensive defenseman in the Western Conference. Kevin Shattenkirk signed a 4-year $17M deal prior to the 2013-2014 season with a cap hit of $4.25M. At the time Shattenkirk’s resume already included 2 seasons of 40+ points, and he was on a 40 point pace during the lockout shortened season. The salary payout in the final 4 years of Barrie’s contract is extremely similar to that of Shattenkirk’s deal, and will kick in when Barrie is at a similar point in his career. Slava Voynov, of the Stanley Cup champion Kings, signed a 6-year $25M contract prior to the 2013-2014 season as well. Voynov probably has less offensive upside than Barrie, but is still a quality puck mover on an elite NHL roster. Voynov’s cap hit is $4.17M, with scaling similar to the proposed Barrie deal.
What taking a risk, and signing Barrie to a longer deal does for the Avalanche is gives them a bit more cap flexibility once the MacKinnon, O’Reilly, and Johnson deals expire. If the Avs decide to give Barrie a bridge deal, and he has good production over those years, he may end up commanding a cap hit of at least $5M. Attaching a few smaller salaried years to a longer contract will lower that cap hit, and give the Avs more money to re-sign their key guys when the time comes. For those concerned that a $3.67M cap hit will put the Avs over the salary cap for the upcoming season, there is no need to worry. After Barrie signs they will have 10 d-men under contract. 2 of those players won’t make the team out of camp, which will keep the Avalanche cap compliant.
This contract may also be the difference between the Avs being able to aggressively pursue a key free agent or not next offseason. Expiring contracts and the buyout of Greg Zanon and his beard coming off the books will free up over $15M in cap space after this year. If the Avs are worried about saving enough cash to pay their own guys the following season, they may curl up in a fetal position, and not be able to go after a quality d-man in free agency.
Tyson Barrie has proven himself to be a valuable member of the young Avalanche core. He deserves to be paid as such, and I’m very confident that showing him the money now will be well worth it. Taking advantage of this opportunity to structure his deal similarly to what I proposed, will improve the Avalanche’s financial position in the long term, thus helping the team’s ability to keep the current core united. What do you say, Avs Nation?