In defense of Mark Barberio

Going into Lightning training camp, many have Mark Barberio slotting into the 7th defenseman position in the depth chart, but they might be doing him a disservice with that.

Let's talk about the Tampa Bay Lightning defense, shall we?

Admittedly, I haven't been online very much. I've barely stopped by Raw Charge at all, as you might've noticed. That's primarily because where I live doesn't have internet. I know; I'm living in the 1990s again - and it sucks as much as you'd think it would.

Anywho, I have been keeping track of things sporadically on Twitter via my phone, and I know that the defense is something Lightning fans have been angsty about. Last season's team wasn't exactly tight defensively, and Tampa Bay didn't appear to be making any strides towards fixing that during the offseason. Obviously, there was a call from fans to draft Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones, but that didn't happen.

And some weren't very happy about it. But GM Steve Yzerman told us why he chose to do that. He was quoted as saying that they didn't pick up Jones because they already had Mark Barberio.

When Barberio was re-signed to a one-year deal this summer, many people slotted him in as the seventh defenseman for Tampa Bay. The thought was that he was perfect to fill that offensive-defenseman / power play specialist spot that was vacated by Marc-Andre Bergeron. And since Bergeron was the seventh defenseman who was in and out of the lineup, that's where they put Barberio.

However, Barberio has been far better defensively than Bergeron was, and is a lot more than a power play specialist. So putting him in that seventh spot might be doing him a disservice. Particularly when Yzerman thought that Barberio was good enough to by-pass the hottest defensive prospect in the 2013 NHL Draft.

Mark Barberio isn't talked about much, in the grand scheme of the team and its prospects. Part of that is due to the fact that he's a defenseman, and players in that position are often overlooked. Much of the hockey talk revolves around scoring and goaltending, not defense. The other part of that is that he doesn't have much of a reputation, as prospects go.

But, he won the AHL Defenseman of the Year in 2012, and was a finalist for that same award in 2013 - during an NHL lockout season, where many young NHLers were playing in the AHL, I might add. He was also in the top 10 scoring defenseman last year, and was the top scoring defenseman the season before that in the AHL, and was the top defensive pairing for Syracuse during that time as well. He led rookie scoring in Norfolk during his first AHL season as well. He usually played with J.P. Cote in most situations for the past two years, but was occasionally paired with Radko Gudas as well.

(As a side note, Barberio and Gudas together in the AHL have always reminded me of Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens on a couple of those Stanley Cup winning New Jersey Devils teams. Barberio reminding me of Niedermayer, and Gudas of Stevens, of course. Niedermayer and Stevens also didn't play together as a tandem all the time, either, incidentally.)

As for the rest of the Lightning's defensemen, well, a couple of them didn't really have that great a showing last season. Keith Aulie was sort of lost in the shuffle, Eric Brewer didn't exactly cover himself with glory, and Matt Taormina's Tampa Bay debut was cut short in favor of management wanting to see Barberio play in the NHL. While Sami Salo had a solid season, he does have that lengthy injury history to consider, and he is at the tail end of his career.

Barberio's NHL debut last season was all of two games, and it wasn't exactly noteworthy. He had a hard time keeping up with the speed of the game for the first half of his first game, and he was a bit lost during even strength play for the rest. But when he had the opportunity, he ran the power play well - almost as well as he did in Syracuse. All in all, it was a good first taste for him to figure out what he needed to work on this summer. And it was also good enough for Yzerman to put him before Jones at the draft.

I'm not saying that head coach Jon Cooper ought to put Barberio with Victor Hedman on the top pairing right out of training camp. He needs to get used to the NHL first, and then that maybe could happen. Barberio may not be a future Hall of Famer, but he's at least a good, solid defenseman with a serious offensive upside to him. He's a lot better than what many give him credit for.

But if he has a good camp, as I would expect him to, then I can see Barberio being as high as a #4 or #5 defenseman for the team. A lot will depend upon how everyone else does, of course. But if Barberio takes care of his own end of things (no pun intended), then he should be better than simply the seventh defenseman who splits time between the ice and the press box this season that most have pegged him to be.