It was the summer of 2009 when, barely one year into the iron-fisted reign of tyrant and cuddle bunny GM Mike Gillis, he went out in search of a back-up to the team's MVP and captain Roberto Luongo and ended his global search with the signing of one Andrew Raycroft. A goalie who, at the time, was about as trustworthy to perform well as Charles Manson on a weekend furlough.
The move prompted a range of reactions, from the expected head scratching to the more laborious brickwall punching. As your faithful blogger monkeys, we felt it only appropriate to explore the depths of Raycroft's hate from his previous employers and fans as to better understand what sort of train wreck lay ahead of us. And voila.
Now I can hear you asking "That's all fine and good Mike, but what the fuck (count it!) does that have to do with the Vancouver Canucks right now?" Well I'm glad you asked good citizen. Also please ignore why I can hear you talking to yourself.
As you know the Canucks have seen it in their best interests to make one Cameron Barker an employee. Of course it's possible that Cameron will never see one second of TOI with this squad. Indeed we can only hope. So sayeth Cameron:
I don't know if I'd say I'm surprised, but I'm thankful for the opportunity and I'm ready to go," Barker told reporters after undergoing his physical at Rogers Arena. "Obviously, I know where I want to be and what I'm capable of, and I've got to go out and prove (critics) wrong and play well from the get-go.
Similar to Raycroft, he's a player who entered the NHL with varying degrees of success (Raycroft with his Calder, Barker with his high draft ranking) who quickly nose dived into hockey hell, falling out out of favor with every team that took a chance on him. Honestly when you can't crack the top six on the Oilers - who last season barely had a defenseman worth laughing at - that's not a ringing endorsement. But the Vancouver players have faith in him, management is clearly convinced (they admitted they wanted him last year) and so we blogger monkeys are once again left to - between the requisite head scratching and fixed structure punching - explore the depths of Baker's hate from his previous employers.
Enter Canucks superfan Bryan Reynolds of our SBN's Hockey Wilderness which is where you go if you think Ryan Suter is worth 100 million dollars. Mr. Reynolds is in the ideal position to slam his divisional rival's acquisition since, if nothing else, he isn't shy about detailing Barker's putrid seasons with the Wild (see exhibit A). Naturally there is no better person to help us understand exactly who Cam Barker is.
Nucks Misconduct (NM): The party line is that Vancouver is stock piling depth and Baker is a $700,000 gamble in that puzzle, a gamble that was laughed off the Wild, couldn't crack the top six on the second worst team in the league last season and was told by an AHL team just last month "thanks but no thanks." Sigh. What's your biggest take away from Barker's time on Minnesota, besides losing Nick Leddy?
Bryan Reynolds (BR): In his time here, Barker earned the nickname Kobe Bryant. This was not due so much to his solid fade away jumper, but the fact that we've never seen both guys in the same place at the same time, and neither one of them can skate. The biggest take away is that he is a great human being, and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, but that he is a terrible hockey player who has ridden his draft selection to a lifetime of comfort.
The trade for Barker robbed the Wild of a top prospect at a time when the Wild could not afford to do so, AND gave the Blackhawks the cap relief they needed. Barker will forever be remembered as the worst trade the Wild have ever made. Keep in mind that the Wild once traded for Chris Simon.
Think about it this way. The bulk of us, no matter how good we are at what we do, would be lucky to make, in a lifetime, what Barker made in a single year to absolutely suck at what he does. If that doesn't make you want to stab yourself in the eye with a spoon, nothing will.
NM: We've become accustomed to Keith Ballard being the lightning rod for criticism as an offensive-minded guy who gives back too many chances the other way. All reports indicate Barker's much worse: offering nothing offensively while remaining a horrific liability in his own zone. How much do you think that has as much to do with being (no offense) on some poor teams and how much is solely on his decision-making?
BR: Barker is a master of the "shoot the puck into a defending forward's shin pads, then trip over his own feet while there is a three on none break the other way." Not only does he not offer anything offensively, he scored fewer points in his time with the Wild than noted point producer Nick Schultz scored in one season.
How much is due to being on bad teams? It can't be discounted, but once you watch him play for a good three or four minutes, you will realize quickly that the fact the team was bad likely had more to do with Barker's presence, than the bad team accounts for Barker's performance.
Put this on full screen and you'll know what I mean.
NM: Was he used on your special teams and did that fail spectacularly as well?
BR: He was used sparingly on the power play, getting roughly 71 minutes or so on the man advantage in his full season here. In that time, he had two assists. To compare, Jared Spurgeon had 78 minutes of PP time, and had 10 points (4G, 6A) in his rookie season. Spurgeon is 5' 9" standing on a stack of phone books, and looks like a 12 year old, by the way.
Barker was trusted with just under 44 minutes of PK time, which I can only imagine was due to the other five defensemen being the ones serving the penalties. To compare, Marek Zidlicky was given 100 minutes of PK time, and he was considered a defensive liability.
NM: Was there a specific mistake you saw Barker commit most frequently? Failing that is there one big goof that comes to mind (bonus points if you lost the game as a result)?
BR: Other than putting on ice skates? The biggest one is the aforementioned inability to shoot the puck around a defending forward from the point. He also seemed to fall down more than others. I mean, I know that ice is slippery, and sometimes skates aren't sharpened quite right, but it was a disproportionate amount for a professional hockey player. I remember thinking at one point that my two year old skates better than he does. Everything the guy does costs his team games. Listing out the instances would fill far too much cyber space.
NM: He's (generously) listed as 6'3'' and 223 lbs, which makes him at the moment the biggest guy on our roster. I'm afraid to ask but here goes: how is his physical game?
BR: Short answer? Terrible. Long answer? Fucking terrible.
There was a stretch in the 2010-11 season where Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding were just coming off of injuries. To the point that Anton Khudobin was the Wild's starter. First game back, Harding gets run, and gets run hard. Barker skated away as though Kate Upton was at the bench waiting for him. If there were a checking contest between Barker and a ten year old girl, my money is on the girl knocking Barker head over heels.
NM: Do you think Barker could be a beneficial addition to any team that aggressively shelters his role and asks little more of him than the very basics of a third pairing defenseman?
BR: There are a couple of youth hockey teams in my hometown that might benefit, sure. Though, they probably fall down less than he does. The problem here is that the basics are what Barker struggles with. He can't skate, he can't shoot, he can't handle the puck, he doesn't check, he doesn't clear the net, and he shows about as much emotion as a sea snail.
I honestly cannot fathom why the Oilers signed Barker, let alone why the Canucks, one of the best teams in the league, would consider this a good move. I often defer to NHL GMs having more and / or better information than I do, but with Barker, every GM who has trusted this kid to do anything but steal top defensive prospects from Chuck Fletcher has been proven an idiot.
But hey... he's a third overall pick, so he must have some upside, right?
And here we are. I want to thank Bryan for his time and input. I also don't want to continue kicking a guy when he's down, especially when he's trying to get his career back on track in our backyard. Of course we all hope he succeeds - his track record be damned - which makes him an ideal parallel once again for Raycroft since he, despite all his failings coming into the 2009-10 season, actually played remarkably well. Not to compare back-up goalies with bottom tier defensemen, but it at least satisfies the narrative of buying low on a guy and letting him regain his confidence and poise on our watch.
We can only hope. It worked once before.