Sami Vatanen vs. Tyson Barrie

by Rick Roos on November 5, 2014
Sami Vatanen


Step in the cage Sami Vatanen and Tyson Barrie. Okay. Round One… Fight!

This week the focus is again on young defensemen, with the combatants being Tyson Barrie and Sami Vatanen. Both have followed promising 2013-14 campaigns with nice starts to this season. But who’s likelier to end 2014-15 with more points, and which one might be the better keeper?


Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications


Both players share several similarities, from their age (23) and draft year (2009) to not being top selections (Barrie went 64th overall, Vatanen 106th). This is also the first full season each will spend with his team, and their AHL experience (93 games for Barrie, 70 for Vatanen) is comparable. In fact, their only major difference beyond total NHL games played (Barrie holds a 50 game edge) is where they cut their teeth as youngsters (WHL for Barrie, SM-liiga -Finland’s top professional league – for Vatanen).

Both produced well in 2013-14, although Barrie made a bigger impact with 38 points. Not only was that good enough for 27th in defenseman scoring, but those 38 points coming in just 64 games translated to a 0.59 points per game pace, which was 12th best among 40+ game defensemen. What’s more, Barrie tallied only three of those 38 points in his first 17 games, which means he posted 35 in his final 47, for a remarkable 0.74 points per game pace that would’ve been 3rd best among d-men last year.

Vatanen had a respectable 21 points in 48 games last season; and although that was below 0.5 points per game, it was still impressive for a rookie. Making it even more laudable was the fact that, unlike Barrie, he found himself in and out of the lineup all season due to healthy scratches and AHL stints.


Both players are on year one of two season RFA deals, with Barrie earning more than twice as much ($2.6M yearly AAV/Cap Hit) as Vatanen ($1.262M yearly AAV/Cap Hit).


Ice Time


Barrie played only ten NHL games in 2011-12 and Vatanen only eight in 2012-13, so we won’t chart their respective data from those seasons. And we need to keep in mind that, for both players, 2014-15 data reflects only 13 games (i.e., 16% of the season) through November 2nd.


Picture 3


Never would I have guessed Barrie’s 2013-14 total Ice Time was so low, let alone that it was down by 3:02 from 2012-13. And given how well he produced despite 18:32 Ice Time, it definitely raises my radar for unsustainable good luck. But his lower 2013-14 Ice Time doesn’t completely defy explanation, as Colorado was much improved, which meant young d-men like Barrie no longer needed to be thrown to the wolves. What’s more, the decrease wasn’t as much of a negative as it would appear, since it led to 1:06 less SH Ice Time, making it a reduction of not even two minutes in productive Ice Time.


Meanwhile, Vatanen’s 2013-14 Ice Time was much less surprising, what with him being in and out of the line-up and sheltered at least somewhat during the games where he dressed (more on that below). And his net of 17:16 of productive Ice Time actually ranked him fifth among Ducks blueliners.


In terms of 2014-15, both players are trending nicely upward. For Vatanen, although he’s now part of the SH equation, his productive Ice Time is still up by more than two minutes. But before we get too excited about his huge increase in PP Ice Time, keep in mind that Anaheim has received the most PP opportunities in the NHL through November 2nd, so that will shrink, although when the dust settles there’s a good chance it stays above 3:00, which would’ve in the top 30 among NHL d-men last season.

Barrie’s total Ice Time has nicely – and expectedly – climbed back upward, while his SH Ice Time is once again virtually non-existent and his PP Ice Time has crept above 3:00 per game. And although there’s every reason to believe he’ll continue not to be saddled with SH Ice Time, like Vatanen his PP Ice Time also could go down, as Colorado sits third among teams in PP opportunities. But still – Barrie’s 20:36 of productive Ice Time is a nice situation that’s very conductive to point scoring.


Overall there’s nothing suggesting either player will have Ice Time limitations standing in the way of a highly productive season.


Secondary Categories


Picture 4


Vatanen’s Hits and Blocked Shots numbers surprised me, both in terms of how good they were last season and the fact that they’ve either held steady (Hits) or increased (Blocked Shots) this season so far. Meanwhile, Barrie’s Hits are trending down for the second straight year, which bears watching, although his Blocked Shots are increasing at a similar pace, for a net wash if your league counts both categories. Their PIM numbers are up nicely for this season so far, although that could be short term variance.


Their Shots averages from 2013-14 weren’t terrible; however, as I noted in a recent Cage Match it’s very rare for a defenseman to produce well unless he’s averaging above 1.4 Shots per game. And normally the most productive d-men are closer to, if not above, two per game. For 2014-15 thus far, Barrie’s Shots average is up, while Vatanen’s is down slightly. If both maintain their respective Shots pace (and Ice Times), Barrie would be a good bet to outscore Vatanen when the dust settles on 2014-15.

In terms of other early 2014-15 numbers, Vatanen’s PP Points average is unsustainably high, whereas Barrie’s is up, although more reasonably so. But as Vatanen’s average drops – and certainly it will – his even strength scoring should climb.


Luck-Based Metrics


Picture 5


If you think Barrie’s past numbers were REALLY high, you’d be correct. His 2012-13 5×4 IPP (11th highest in the NHL among defensemen who skated 100+ minutes at 5×4) and 5×5 IPP (6th highest among rearguards who had 500+ minutes at 5x) were astronomical, and that continued into 2013-14, with his offensive zone starting % (12th among all blueliners who played 60+ games) and 5×5 IPP (16th among all defensemen who logged 750+ minutes at 5×5). As for Vatanen, only his 2013-14 5×4 IPP registered in that stratosphere, landing him 11th among all d-men who played 100+ minutes at 5×4 that season.


But both had 2013-14 PDO rankings that – while on the high end of the 970-1030 “normal” range – were still reasonable. And that’s particularly meaningful for Barrie, considering a player’s PDO is influenced by his own shooting percentage, and Barrie’s (12.9%) was the second highest among all 60+ game d-men last season.

In fact, seeing that Barrie’s 2013-14 PDO wasn’t through the roof suggests that perhaps he’s the type of player who can sustain high IPP numbers year after year. And since he’s managed to come out of the gate pretty well for 2014-15 despite his PDO being down by nearly 90, his offensive zone starting % having dropped (ranking him only 68th among d-men who’ve played five or more games thus far) and Colorado’s early offensive struggles (they sit 23rd in goals scored through November 2nd games) is another good sign pointing toward him producing well in 2014-15 and beyond.


The 2014-15 IPP numbers for Vatanen aren’t misprints, as all seven of his points have come at 5×4. But as noted above, things will balance out over time, also bringing up his PDO in the process. Even still, the fact that he has no ES points in 13 games despite a nearly comparable Offensive Zone Starting % is at least a bit concerning, especially for the long term, as he could well see a further drop from 53.1%. Note that Barrie’s 5×4 IPP isn’t charted, since he hasn’t yet played the required 50+ minutes.


Actual vs. Perceived Value and Standing on Team


Barrie entered this season with far more perceived value than Vatanen, as reflected in him being selected, on average, 26th among d-men in Yahoo drafts, versus 56th for Vatanen, and in Barrie being grabbed with the first pick in round 13 of the DobberHockey Experts Draft, versus the seventh pick in round 21 for Vatanen. And even after they’ve had comparable starts to the season, Barrie remains more widely owned in Yahoo leagues (83%, versus 64% for Vatanen).


And although Vatanen received increased attention due to his nice start (seven points – all on the PP -in his first eight games), Barrie still retains a much higher perceived value due to his high profile scoring output to end last season being fresh on the minds of fantasy GMs. Thus, the value edge would go to Vatanen, whose perceived value would be closer to his actual value.


That being said, it’s also worth noting that while no Colorado defensemen ranks among the top 35 prospects at that position according to DobberHockey, Anaheim’s Shea Theodore is #24. Plus, although the consensus is that Hampus Lindholm will be less offensively focused, he could nevertheless command minutes that stand in the way of Vatanen being a true top guy, as will Cam Fowler, who’s still only 22.


Who Wins?


Before I declare a winner, I want to emphasize that if you have either player you should be in for a nice ride in one-year leagues, but an even better journey in keepers. In other words, there’s no “loser” in this match among either the combatants or their owners.


But every Cage Match has a winner, and this time the numbers and team situation favor Barrie. Although Barrie’s 2013-14 breakout arrived amid what would appear to be very lucky circumstances, he actually showed in 2012-13 and has demonstrated in 2014-15 so far that he seems to be a player who could sustain high IPP, at least while he’s still getting a decent offensive zone starting percentage. That gives him the edge over Vatanen, whose smallish Shots per game average remains a concern and who’s part of a more crowded Anaheim blueline picture now and down the road.


This all having being said, Vatanen is a better Cap bargain and multi-cat producer; and those factors plus the perceived value issue for Barrie might be enough to make things almost even in either of those types of leagues, if not to give Vatanen a slight edge. Moreover, Vatanen’s recent cool down (no points in his last five games) could have some of his owners – especially in one year leagues – a bit antsy. But that might provide just the opening for you to swoop in and pry Vatanen away for a lower price than you might ever get again. Definitely some food for fantasy thought.