Penguins’ Free Agent Issue Could Result in a Trade for Oilers’ Barrie

The Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins could find themselves talking trade soon as the Penguins have a number of key free agents set to hit the open market including Kris Letang. The Oilers should be, if they already aren’t, shopping Tyson Barrie as they don’t have the room and have a ton of free agents of their own that they need to sign.

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A deal could be beneficial for both parties and both Ron Hextall and Ken Holland have work to do internally before a trade may occur.

Penguins Will Have Trouble Bringing Back All of Their Key Free Agents

The Penguins already have four defencemen with a $4 million-plus cap hit on the books for next season with Michael Matheson ($4.875), John Marino ($4.4 million), Brian Dumoulin ($4.1 million), and Markus Pettersson ($4 million). That would be fine if they didn’t also plan on re-signing Letang. He was earning $7.25 million last season and expects a raise for finishing sixth among defencemen in scoring.

Kris Letang Pittsburgh Penguins
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The raise is warranted for a few seasons even though he is age 35. He has consistently shown that he can put up points and be effective at even strength and on the power play. The problem remains that the Penguins are not willing to trade Marino who is young, talented, and has gotten trade interest all the way back to the trade deadline. They are more keen on trading Pettersson, but no team seems to be willing. Matheson would be the same as Pettersson, as the Penguins wouldn’t be hard pressed to part ways with him. The issue remains that he too earns too much.

That’s only the problem the Penguins have on the back end. They also have a number of forwards set to hit free agency, and they won’t be able to bring all of them back, even if they don’t bring Letang back as well. Evgeni Malkin, Evan Rodrigues, Rickard Rakell, Danton Heinen, and Kasperi Kapanen lead the charge. Malkin and Letang have made it clear how many more seasons they plan on playing for. Malkin’s timeline is about three seasons and Letang’s is at least four. It may make more sense to commit to the shorter of the two if it comes down to it as the Penguins may have an inevitable rebuild on their hands.

Oilers’ Need to Trade Barrie This Offseason

Barrie was the first name on the Oilers to appear on Frank Seravalli’s Daily Faceoff’s trade target board as the Oilers should see him as expendable. Barrie is by no means a bad defenceman, and he only got better last season as he did a better job rounding out his game. But the Oilers got an unexpected surprise in Evan Bouchard a couple of seasons ahead of schedule.

Related: 3 Oilers Who are Top Trade Targets Highlight Offseason Moves Needed

Holland re-signed Barrie for three seasons to fill a need on the power play while Bouchard got his footing in the NHL. Barrie has done that and helped the Oilers have the best power-play percentage over the two seasons he’s been a part of the team (26.7 percent). At times in 2021-22, Bouchard got his shot on the top unit and did well (“The major power play shake-up the Edmonton Oilers don’t want, but evidently need”, Edmonton Journal, Feb. 23, 2022). It was only his first full season in the NHL, but he passed Barrie in the depth charts and consistently played in the top-four while Barrie was stuck on the third pairing.

Tyson Barrie Edmonton Oilers
Tyson Barrie, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Oilers are awaiting the decision of Mike Smith and Duncan Keith on retirement as they both have one year remaining on their deals. The Oilers have shown interest in re-signing Evander Kane and Brett Kulak while also needing to give new contracts to restricted free agents Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Ryan McLeod. They don’t have a ton of money to work with and Holland will have to work some more of his magic. He has done very well since arriving on the scene, and an opportunity with the Penguins may present itself.

Barrie Would Fit Great With Pittsburgh

If the Penguins can’t or aren’t willing to bring Letang back at the price he is asking for, Barrie is someone who checks most of the boxes as the best cheaper replacement. If the Penguins can’t afford to pay a power-play specialist over $7 million, how about $4.5 million? Barrie has proven year after year he is a very strong power-play performer and can pass it around with the best of them on the top units in the league. He has been the quarterback for the Oilers since signing with them two seasons ago, but his role is being taken over by a younger and very skilled defenceman in Bouchard.

Not only is Barrie’s money a much cheaper option for the Penguins, he will be under contract for just two more seasons, which will line-up well with the perceived final window of playoff contention for them. As far as partners go, Letang and Dumoulin played together for over 1,000 minutes this past season. Barrie also needed a strong defensive player beside him to make him better. Once Kulak joined the Oilers and lined up beside Barrie for the remainder of the season, they were very good in their role. Of course, a third-pairing role and a first-pairing role would be much different, but Barrie still spent time on the first pairing alongside Darnell Nurse last season and can play at a high level. Dumoulin would act very similar to Kulak beside Barrie, only better.

It shouldn’t be a question of if Barrie is being traded, but when and to which team. It could come as soon as the 2022 NHL Entry Draft or after free agency opens. Either way, the Oilers must be looking into every possibility as they try to move money and bring back a competitive team.

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