Ivan Barbashev is ninth on Daily Faceoff’s latest trade list (TSN’s too). My eye ran right past him, but then I started writing up some generalist thoughts on shooting percentage and finishing skill and discovered something interesting about him. More on that later. Back to Daily Faceoff.
They say that St. Louis is definitely not re-signing him, a pending UFA at age 27. They describe him as a player in need of “rehabilitation” and question his compete level. TSN has a story on him from late January that repeats Chris Johnston’s report about several teams having interest. His points pace is again discussed, and at that time Johnston wasn’t ready to call him definitely on the market. Since then, per Daily Faceoff, St. Louis has been playing him more minutes in what they describe as a showcase.
So what’s all this talk of compete and down years? Points of course. The very first thing you have to look at when a player has their work ethic questioned is shot rate and shooting percentage, so let’s do that.
On his career — all spent in St. Louis — he has played over 4,700 minutes at five-on-five and has a shot rate (iCF/60) of 8.45 and a traditional Shooting % of 16.3. The Fenwick version of his Sh% is 11.26 (this is the percentage of all unblocked shots that are goals), and his Expected Sh% of that type is 9.
This season only, he has a shot rate of 8.79 and a traditional Sh% of 15.25. His Fenwick versions are 11.54 over an expected of 8.32.
This is not an obvious down year on his career, but there is a second part to this “it’s always sh%” analysis, what was last year like? If you guessed red-hot career numbers, you would be correct. His Goals per 60 last year was .93, matching his rookie year level, and this year it’s only .78. He also had really high assists last season, which likely means a teammate was on a heater.
But like most NHLers, his shot rate is consistent, and he is who he is in that regard, and while his career shooting percentages wander up and down from below eight to above 20, he is, on his career, a guy who scores more goals than expected. That’s the thing I noticed about him. In fact, since 2016, he is top ten in the NHL for shooting % for players with at least 3,000 minutes at five-on-five.
Now, let’s back up a minute and get away from percentages and rates which hide something kind of important: shot volume. Auston Matthews, also in the top 10 in the NHL, shoots at a rate of 18-something, more than double what Barbashev does per minute, and he plays a lot more minutes shooting at that rate. Barbashev scored 17 goals at five-on-five last year, a career high. He’s got nine so far this year, which is upsetting everyone. Why won’t he just try? If he cared, he’d try more.
Of course the other reason someone’s compete is questioned is because they’re Russian. Oh, and one other thing, Barbashev has a delightful habit of drawing a lot of penalties, and taking very few, and in the bizarro world of eye-testing for “compete” that adds up to “this guy just doesn’t care, and isn’t trying”.
I wandered around his history on Hockey Viz to get an idea of how the Blues have used him, and this is what I came away with: they don’t like him. He is their least played power play forward — I mean, his only real skill is scoring, so that tracks, right? He has never played above third-line minutes. He’s got a good, but not exceptional positive impact on offensive rates, particularly shots in the “inner slot” that Sport Logic is always talking about. He’s not making any team better defensively as a winger, but St. Louis is struggling in that area in the last few years which is not a forward problem. The last time he showed up good defensively he was playing skewed minutes away from top lines, and you only get that treatment when you’re young, and you scored a lot the year before as a rookie.
St. Louis has had the line blender set on frappé for years, and Barbashev is the guy who never knows from game to game who he’s playing with or where, at least since 2018-2019 where he was kept on the fourth line almost all the time.
Now here’s the strange part. He’s used defensively a lot. The last two years specifically, he’s played when a goal against is a very bad thing. This seems not ideal.
Barbashev was drafted 33rd overall, and had this hot rookie season, and then... then I think his team got really disappointed when he didn’t build on that and become a top-line winger. Everything about his usage says they don’t like how he plays, he doesn’t fit, and they wish he were a defensive forward like David Kämpf.
He’s not enigmatic! He just has one skill, the hardest one to find in the NHL, he consistently scores more than average.
If you look at career shooting percentage and scoring over expected, you will always find a few players like Barbashev. They don’t shoot a lot, they do shoot from decently smart locations, and they get more goals than you have a right to expect from a guy you can pay $2.25 million.
I think the Blues both know who Barbashev is, and haven’t wanted to admit it. He gets played with Brayden Schenn and Jordan Kyrou and he scores, but their defending is bad, so they move Barbashev to a line with Noel Acciari and his defending looks okay (because Acciari is doing it) and they never score. He’s not the solution to their problems, and he’s not good enough at what he does well to be worth building a line around.
You know who doesn’t score more than average?
- David Kämpf
- Alex Kerfoot (he actually does a little, just not this season)
- Pierre Engvall
- Zach Aston-Reese/
Calle Järnkrok does a little more than Kerfoot overall, and on the Leafs he’s way over his career norms. But if there’s a team that could use a guy whose job is not to defend in the bottom six and who can score some goals as long as you aren’t asking for him to machine gun the shots like Matthews does, it’s Ivan Barbashev. He’s not the top-six winger of my dreams, but he’s put in a lot of time with the Blues’ best forwards, and he’s could fill in better than Aston-Reese or Engvall can because he actually does produce good offence overall — Engvall can score at about the same rate, but he’s not helping anyone else do it. Barbashev would need to be a bottom six player with second unit power play time to bring value, in exactly the same way you can’t really prosper if Engvall is in your top six.
St. Louis has always played like they think the first order of business if disrupting the other team’s offence. They are a reactive, not proactive team. For a winger raised in the Russian system who thinks hockey is about scoring goals, I’m not shocked they’ve failed at getting along.
Maybe he just needs a change of scenery.