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Leafs' Tyson Barrie frustrated by lack of production, not diminished role

Tyson Barrie followed fairly simple protocol last season on the Colorado Avalanche power play.

Go where Nathan MacKinnon goes.

“He would yell at me if I got off the ice too early,” Barrie laughed.

If for no other reason than MacKinnon’s demands, Washington’s lethal combination of Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson were the only duo to log more man advantage minutes last season than the former Avalanche teammates. And a profitable strategy it turned out to be, as Barrie and MacKinnon combined for 14 goals and 62 points for the league’s seventh-most effective total power play.

How things have changed.

Barrie was brought to Toronto in an off-season trade involving beloved former centre Nazem Kadri, with the idea being that he would further boost a Maple Leafs power play that already oozed with superstar talent. But with the Maple Leafs toiling now with two goals in their last 27 attempts on the man advantage, the team’s failures in that regard represent one of the primary reasons it has underperformed through the first month of the season.

While Barrie is included in that vast talent pool that head coach Mike Babcock has the luxury of choosing from, he wouldn’t be the first person to blame for Toronto’s failures with the man advantage.

Because he simply hasn’t had the opportunity.

Barrie's power-play minutes have dipped in his first season in Toronto. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

With Morgan Rielly chosen to quarterback the top power-play unit — which when at full strength includes something similar to what the Avalanche were running out there with Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner — Barrie is now being used almost sparingly under the condition that he’s thrived in most throughout his career.

Through 16 games, there have been 182 players across the league that have seen more power-play ice than Barrie, who has essentially seen his opportunity slashed in half with the move to Toronto.

It’s for this reason that his acquisition, and the required money manipulation, doesn’t seem quite as ingenious as maybe initially thought.

Still, Barrie has just a single assist with the man up in over 25 minutes under the power-play condition (which is hardly insignificant), and so far he’s produced 1.65 points per hour compared to the 4.76 he finished with on average last year, and the seven-plus point-per-hour rate he authored one year before.

He has to be more productive, and he’s not hiding from that fact.

“I gotta start finding a way to help this back end,” he said.

To blame the lack of production on Barrie only, though, would be a mistake.

As Toronto has been forced to adjust for injuries and required roster manipulation, the talent surrounding Barrie has suffered. He’s seen a rotation of teammates cycle through on his second unit, and for a three-week stretch he lost the closest thing to an elite offensive talent as William Nylander took Tavares’ spot on the No. 1 group while the captain was out with a broken finger.

The irregularity with which the second unit has been deployed has made the challenge of making use of the leftover seconds from the top unit that much more difficult.

“It seems like we’re going to get it back together, here,” Barrie said optimistically after acknowledging that change. “We’re going to be a big part of helping our power play get going. If we can chip in a couple goals here and there, it will be a big boost to us.”

Providing that boost could help Barrie secure more selection with the man advantage, as Babcock explained Thursday that he will prioritize the unit that is actually converting its opportunities. (Even if it makes much more sense for the Maple Leafs to mirror the strategy Barrie and MacKinnon shared, and allow the most talented players as long as they need, but that’s another conversation altogether.)

But as long as Rielly is the designated QB1 in Toronto, the Maple Leafs won’t have Barrie is a position to best use his talent, and he will remain a bit part — at least on special teams.

That’s a significant departure from having one of the very best players in the world demanding that you don’t leave the ice.

Watching the team struggle for a prolonged stretch — in a contract year, no less — Barrie has reason to be frustrated by his usage through the first month of the season.

And while he admitted that the struggles are beginning to weigh on him, it’s for reasons beyond his own self interest.

“There’s frustration that will creep in,” Barrie said, “but that’s just with me being a competitive guy, and wanting to produce and help this team.”

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