Welcome to the Burgundy Debate Club! We’ve again tasked a pair of our staff writers to present why, and then why won’t, a certain Avalanche player might find success this coming season. In this episode, AceODale makes the case for and The Voice of Vlad makes the case against Mr Mark Barberio. Take it away, Ace
Oh, with that sick flow/60, how are you not the Jaromir Jagr of defensemen?
Mark “Vinnie” Barberio’s career, to this point, has resembled a yo-yo. Drafted by the Bolts in the 2008, signed as an FA to the Habs in 2015, he’s bounced back and forth between the major clubs and their AHL affiliates. A look at a news feed filtered on his name for the last couple of years indicates a move up or down every two or three months. Frankly, that’s not unexpected for a sixth-round pick, especially on teams that were fairly well-set defensively.
After clearing waivers half-a-dozen times, the Avalanche claimed him in February of 2017. Mark jumped into the lineup immediately to help shore up the defense in the wake of Eric Johnson’s injury. As a result, he played 34 straight games, more consecutive tilts than for either Tampa or Montreal. Colorado was desperate for a stable D and Barberio was desperate for a stable position – the waiver claim may have been serendipitous for both needy parties.
Barberio performed for the Avs better than he had for his other two clubs. He improved in several statistical categories, especially assists (.08/gp to .21/gp), penalty minutes (.38/gp to .12/gp), take aways (.25/gp to .32/gp), and shots on goal (1.06/gp to 1.53/gp). Coach Bednar showed his faith in Barberio by giving an average of 20 minutes of ice-time per game. And Mark responded by helping bring defensive stability to his shifts.
He’s not an offensive dynamo, and never was expected to be. His career +/- of -1 and 52 CF% suggests a solid stay-at-home defenseman capable of driving play. Jared Brock from the Habs fan-site, Eyes on the Prize places Barberio as a solid third pairing available for the second pair if necessary. But he always seemed to have someone ahead of him in the pecking order that relegated his usage in Montreal to top-pair in the AHL and first injury call-up.
At 27 years of age, Mark Barberio is in his prime as a defender. And at last, he has the opportunity to establish his position securely on a team. The 30+ games he played on the worst team in the NHL demonstrated he’s able to hold his own. At the beginning of training camp, he cropped his hair symbolic of his new start. As with several other players on this year’s team, this season represents Mark’s best chance to shine.
And now for the contra position, Mr Vlad you have the floor
Words that the Colorado Avalanche community heard Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic proclaim as the bedrock upon which he will remake his roster. By and large, Sakic has made good on his word: veteran leadership will comes from the likes of captain Gabriel Landeskog and cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson. With the defense having been such a liability over several seasons, one may think that having one more voice of leadership on the back end may be a good thing for the less inexperienced blueliners on the roster.
If you’re expecting that voice of leadership to come from Mark Barberio, you may be disappointed.
Barberio was one of several waiver wire claims that Sakic has made over the years, and while he does play a steady game, he may be another casualty of the shift towards a younger lineup. At twenty-seven years old, he is one of the oldest players on the roster (Carl Soderberg is the oldest at thirty-one). Age alone won’t doom Barberio, but it won’t do him any favors should as players such as Chris Bigras and Anton Lindholm–who will likely start out with limited minutes–begin to hone their craft at the NHL level. Should they and other young defensemen such as Nicolas Meloche and Andrei Mironov make strides in their development, Barberio may find his playing time diminished, even to the point of being a healthy scratch if they make better than expected progress.
While it’s unfair to label any player, the term, “journeyman” can have a very negative connotation. Barberio had a promising start to his career, receiving accolades for his play in the AHL (including being awarded that league’s equivalent of the Norris Trophy) and embarking on a solid rookie campaign for the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring five goals and five assists for ten points (5G/5A/10PTS) in fifty-two games during the 2013-2014 season. Barberio has equaled this point total one other time (during the 2015-2016 season as a member of the Montreal Canadiens). While there’s more to a defenseman than point totals, lower numbers will almost guarantee that if someone else can be capable of generating points while still providing sound defensive coverage, they will definitely earn that ice time over Barberio.
When Barberio arrived, the state of the blueline was such that he was a better option than players such as Patrick Wiercioch, Fedor Tyutin, or Cody Goloubef, and Nikita Zadorov’s injury practically guaranteed him ice time as the season progressed. Zadorov is now back in the lineup, while Wiercioch, Tyutin, and Goloubef did not return. Bigras turned in a solid performance during this year’s camp, and Lindholm played well enough during his call-up last season to merit a second look this season. Meloche and Mironov, members of the Avalanche 2015 draft class, are also waiting in the wings and have likewise had solid outings during training camp this year. With the influx of young talent waiting to stake their claim on the blue line, Barberio’s days in an Avalanche sweater may be numbered.
Thank you gentlemen. What say you, dear reader? Does Barberio finally have a situation where he can flourish or will the Avalanche youth overtake him before he can establish himself as a proper NHL defenseman?
All stats courtesy of NHL.com and Hockey-reference.com.