Today, the New Jersey Devils made their first offseason signing of a player outside of the organization. Unfortunately, that player was Krys Barch, the former fourth line bruiser from the Florida Panthers. Andrew Gross has confirmed the signing on Fire & Ice as a two year deal. The structure of the salary is unknown as of this writing. Here's what his agent, Scott Norton, had to say about his client from Gross' post:
"I’ve probably done more contracts with Lou than any other team and I can honestly say they don’t go by who’s a first-round pick," Norton said. "Krys is old-school, blue-collar, lunch-pail as it is and that’s all he can ask for. He just wants to go in and have a chance with a team that can appreciate what he can bring to the table."
If he wanted to have a chance, then he could have settled for a tryout deal. Because based on his career, I'm pretty confident in saying that Krys Barch will not bring anything good to the table. Please continue on after the jump for evidence that Barch may be a slightly better player than Eric Boulton and/or Cam Janssen and an explanation why this signing shows that the Devils failed to learn an important lesson from this past season.
Look at Barch's career stats at NHL.com and you can figure out his role in the NHL real quickly. You'll see that he's played 304 games in the NHL, scored a whopping 12 goals, put up 19 assists, took 131 shots on net, and earned 669 penalty minutes. He's a 31-year old left-shooting right winger who stands at 6'1", 237 pounds, and he's only appeared in three playoff games four years ago. Last season, he scored two goals (Note: one was against the Devils while their fourths were out there - here's the video) and three assists in 51 games while fighting twelve times and racking up 114 PIM. That's right, the Devils signed a goon. Again.
Let's head over to his player page at SBNation next. They list a general description of the player in addition to injury history and other posts about the player. The very first sentence among "assets" is that he's an excellent teammate. Whenever that's the first thing listed for a positive among players, you can be sure the rest isn't going to praise his actual hockey playing ability. It's like reading a car description that begins "It still has all of it's windows." Yes, I'm sure having a guy who's good in the room has it's ancillary benefits - in the room. On the ice, it means nothing. Over at flaws, there's this fun sentence: "His skill level for the NHL isn't good enough to log regular ice time." That's definitely true since he has had average ice times around 7 minutes or less in his career.
Let's go to the advanced stats at Behind the Net to further the highlight how little Barch brings to the table. Surprising to me, Barch wasn't dead last in possession on Florida at evens. His on-ice Corsi ranked 22nd out of 25 players who played at least 20 games last season. Of course, Barch did play against weakest competition on the team at evens in limited minutes and his rate was still terrible. That wasn't so surprising. He was dead last on Dallas in on-ice Corsi 2010-11 and 2009-10, and third from the bottom in 2008-09 among players who played at least 20 games. Barch is still an anchor when it comes to possession in addition to getting nothing but tissue-paper soft competition. Throw in the fact that he's got a career average of .43 shots per game and his relative lack of production, and it's quite clear that Krys Barch isn't going to help his team win hockey games. At least these numbers may suggest he may not be as awful as Eric Boulton, but that's like saying a car with one working wheel is better than a car with no wheels. It's still a bad ride.
To put it another way, the Devils signed another, slightly better Cam Janssen - another stupid signing. I will say that this signing and the Janssen signing aren't going to break the Devils. They're not going to cause this team to miss the playoffs or anything like that. They're not going to take up a lot of cap space and we know they're not going to play in any important games. I know and understand that a fourth line isn't going to make or break the team. Yet, I'm livid at both signings because it demonstrates that Lou and the organization didn't learn one of the big lessons of the playoffs: the fourth line doesn't have to suck. While Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter, and Stephen Gionta were picked on in possession for the most part, they did get hot in production and managed to have a few good shifts on most nights. They generated actual energy. They were vastly better than the fourth lines we've witnessed during the regular season. And they were all re-signed, too. The Devils didn't need to sign Janssen or Barch from a performance standpoint or a roster standpoint. Yet, here they are with new contracts and they'll likely get games in place of actual hockey players on the fourth line because Janssen or Barch can't be anywhere else in the lineup.
This is a pointed criticism I have with Lou. He has this tendency to add and play enforcers. We saw it with Boulton and Janssen last summer. We saw it with Adam Mair, Andrew Peters, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, and Aaron Asham among others. From his perspective, there's value in getting a "gritty, character" guy who can fight regardless of whether he can "play hockey." They get to play during the regular season, we see that they don't do much on the ice for the most part, they get benched in the playoffs, and then we wonder why they're on the roster to begin with. They either walk or get bought out and then the cycle repeats. I thought that would break this summer since the Devils found a fourth line just a few months ago in the postseason. Yet, Janssen got a new deal and Barch replaces the bought-out Boulton. Foolish me.
Interestingly, Gross' post about the signing notes that Lou may be looking at Bernier, Gionta, and Carter to battle for a third line spot. I'm guessing Lou forgot about the first half of last season when guys like Tim Sestito (who's also apparently re-signed for some reason) and Steve Zalewski couldn't hold it down anymore than Ryan Carter or Mattias Tedenby. Maybe Bernier can go to the off wing, but I think it's a smarter move to keep him on a fourth line that actually functioned in meaningful games. Even if that works out, I'd rather see guys like Sestito, Zalewski, etc. get moved to the fourth line instead of a PIM-machine who doesn't shoot the puck, doesn't push the play forward, doesn't perform well against very weak competition, doesn't play more than limited minutes, and doesn't put up anymore than the rare point.
And to make this signing even worse: Barch got two years! Really! You can't tell me he wouldn't have accepted a one-year deal. It's not like goons are rare players to find. It's not like he has any kind of leverage. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me that he gets bought out next summer just like Boulton - who also got a two year deal somehow last summer - since Barch is only a little bit better than him. What a stupid signing.
I'm sure Barch may be good in the room, and I get why that is a positive to those who would be around him. For all I know, Barch may be a good dude in general. But I don't care about that. At the risk of objectification, I should not, I do not, and I can not place the personal over the practical. I can only judge a player on what he has done and can do on the ice. And Barch hasn't done much that's positive. This is a league with a salary cap and roster limits. Every roster spot matters; each player needs to be able to do something to help their team win games. It's no surprise that the better teams have players on every line who can do so. And ultimately, performance trumps personality. I'd rather have fourth liners at least be able to do something beyond hit guys, take penalties, and punch people. We saw the benefits of that for two months. Unfortunately, Lou didn't learn that lesson.
How did you react when he was signed? Is this a worse signing than re-signing Janssen? How much are you expecting out of Barch, if anything? Will he be bought out next summer? Anyway, please sound off on the Krys Barch signing in the comments. Thank you for reading.