Photo: Tori Hartman
While the beginning of the season did not start well for the Hershey Bears, the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate, the latter part of 2018-19 has been a positive one for the Chocolate and White. In addition to an 11-game winning streak and franchise-record point streak at the start of the New Year, individual performances have highlighted the Bears’ season to this point, including right wing Riley Barber’s.
A sixth-round draft pick of the Capitals in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Barber has spent his entire professional career, aside from three point-less games with the Caps in 2016-17, in Hershey and is one of the veteran leaders on a young Bears squad this season. After a 55-point season his rookie season (2015-16), Barber struggled with a combination of injuries and inconsistency over the last few seasons, failing to reach 40 points in either of the following two seasons.
The 2018-19 season, however, has seen the 25-year old, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native find a resurgence in his game in a season that has seen him miss just six games. Named the AHL Player of the Month for January, Barber is currently the American Hockey League’s leader in goals scored, having netted a career-high 31 goals, along with 27 assists for a career-high 58 points, which is tops among all Bears skaters, albeit one point ahead of Mike Sgarbossa, who has 57 points (27 goals, 30 assists).
Despite some promising showings in training camps and relatively productive time in the AHL, Barber has never been able to crack the Capitals’ roster, and with his strong performance this season, it raises the question of what next season holds for him.
While 25-years old, Barber is set to be a Group 6 Unrestricted Free Agent after the season as he does not meet the requirements to be considered a Restricted Free Agents. Per NHL rules, any player 25 or older who has played at 80 NHL games – 28 for goaltenders – (Barber has only three NHL games on his resume) will become a free agent at the end of his contract. Barber signed a one-year, $650,000 contract (with an AHL salary of $115,000) to remain with the Capitals organization on July 3, 2018 and given his career season in the AHL (and at 25 years of age), it will be interesting to see what the Capitals do in regards to a contract. Barber could opt to explore signing with a team with whom he could have a better shot at establishing himself at the NHL level.
With the Capitals’ having the majority of their current bottom-six forwards on expiring contracts (both Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents) following this season, the decisions on those players could very well affect what the Caps do in regards to Barber. Losing Barber would be a blow to the organization, as his offensive output and leadership has aided the Bears’ success this season. While it may not get as much attention as the team’s NHL players with expiring contracts, the decision on Barber will be one to watch once summertime rolls around.
By Michael Fleetwood