Let’s be fair here: the Avs didn’t do too badly last offseason in acquiring defensemen.
I know that sounds stupid on the surface. After all, this is a team that traded a second and a sixth round pick to San Jose for Brad Stuart (which they reacquired during the draft last weekend using the pick they received in the Ryan O’Reilly trade). More damagingly, they signed depth defensemen to contracts that warranted playing them for at least a season. The result was exactly what you’d expect it to be.
But context is everything, and so it is in examining Colorado’s choices for piecing together a defensive corps for the 2014-15 season.
That same summer the Washington Capitals put up a five-year $27.5 million contract for Brooks Orpik, a 33-year old defenseman who is known as a below average skater and has seen a steady decline in his offensive production over his years in Pittsburgh prior to the signing.
With guys like that headlining the 2014 free agency class, I applaud Colorado’s front office for refusing to get into a bidding war over aging defensemen that we’d be wishing were gone before the ink on the contract was even dry. That’s what the old Avalanche would most certainly have done. It was moves of that ilk that got them into trouble after the start of the salary cap era. In context, the Stuart acquisition now looks like a steal, especially considering his play down the stretch in the absence of Erik Johnson and the fact that the Avs got the draft picks back in the end.
Still though, Stuart will turn 36 during the 2015-16 season and at this stage of his career is probably best suited to be a third pairing defenseman on a contending roster, and regardless of what you believe of Colorado’s prospects this season, you know that Patrick Roy is going about things as if they are contenders.
With that in mind, this summer the Avs cannot get shut out of the big names in free agency.
This year’s class is deeper than last year’s, with Paul Martin, Andrej Sekera, Christian Ehrhoff, Johnny Oduya, Cody Franson and Mike Green all heading up the cream of the crop. Colorado has particular interest in Sekera, Ehrhoff, Oduya, and Matt Irwin of the San Jose Sharks, because of their left-handed shots.
While there’s reason to be wary of all of the candidates – from age, to skating ability to grittiness (and even more wary of limiting themselves to left-handed shooters) – all the aforementioned defensemen would represent an enormous upgrade from the class of player that Colorado was dressing on the blueline last season.
Assuming that Colorado pairs incoming bruiser Nikita Zadorov with Johnson, the team needs a reliable two-way performer to pair with Tyson Barrie in some situations and likely Stuart in others. Could the team consider Franson, who shoots right-handed but would represent a big body and a decent offensive game? Or will the team’s interest in a lefty take them into a bidding war for Paul Martin or Andrej Sekera? Will it cause them to go the cheaper route and take a gamble on Irwin?
If Colorado can’t manage to sign a defenseman capable of logging 25 minutes a game, they’ll be stuck with a mismatched pair of Barrie and Stuart or rearranging the deck to accommodate players who don’t really fit their roles. Perhaps more concerning is the thought of who might end up seeing significant ice time for the Avs if the team goes with a more inconsistent option in free agency.
The Colorado Avalanche played their hand well when it came to waiting on defensemen in free agency. But after another lost season and another member of Colorado’s young offensive corps moving on, the time to make the Avs a more complete roster is now.
The Avalanche can earn themselves an “A” this offseason by snagging one of the top blueliners early in free agency. Otherwise, they’re taking a gamble on yet another lost season.