Will We Get Action From the Back Section?

For my first real "Numbers Nerd" post, I thought I'd take a look at the Avs blueliners and their performance on the powerplay. Because someone still has to fire those pucks for Ryan Smyth to deflect into the net.

In 2006-2007, the Avalanche powerplay from a defenseman standpoint pretty much started and stopped with John-Michael Liles and Brett Clark. Jordan Leopold was injured (just 15 GP). Ken Klee was ineffective (0, yes zero, PP points). And Patrice Brisebois was both (5 PP points in 33 games). None of the other defensemen played enough to score even a single point. And now you know why Joe Sakic pulled so many double shifts on the powerplay.

Clark and Liles accounted for 632 of the 908 powerplay minutes logged by Avalanche defensemen. That's a whopping 70% of the workload. Not surprisingly, the pair scored 42 of the 48 PP points scored by our D.

Liles led the way with 28 points - 8 goals, 20 assists. While it still seems like he could/should be contributing more, that number is nothing to sneeze at. It matches his PP point total of 05-06 (in 11 fewer games). Even more impressive: the last Colorado defenseman to top 28 points? Ray Bourque in 2001. At 5:02 of PP ice time per game, Liles was our clear #1 QB - a role he'll likely resume this fall.

Clark started off slowly. With the departure of Rob Blake, Clark was thrust into a more prominent PP role, and seemed to struggle with it a bit. He didn't look comfortable in the early going and had difficulty receiving crossing passes as well as keeping the puck in the zone. His 4 PP points in the first 41 games seemed to be an accurate barometer of his comfort level. As the season wore on, though, he appeared to gain confidence. In the 11 games Liles missed due to injury, Clark scored 4 times and then added 5 more points over the final 30 games. Not exactly Paul Coffey-like numbers, but 14 PP points is acceptable for the 2nd PP defenseman.

Jordan Leopold should take some of Clark's PP minutes next year. Obviously, he didn't spend much time on the ice doing anything last season, but he has played on the powerplay before. In 2005-06, Leopold average 3:14 of PP TOI per game with Calgary, and scored a respectable 13 points (2g,11a). In 2003-2004 - before Dion Phaneuf and Roman Hamrlik joined the Flames - Leopold had 6 PP goals. TSN's scouting report lists Leopold as having "untapped offensive potential". If there was ever a team to help a guy find his offensive game, this seems to be the one.

New arrival Scott Hannan didn't get much PP ice last year with the Sharks - just 1:30 per game - and his production (5 PP points) reflects that. In 2005-06, though, Hannan averaged 3:03 of PP TOI, and scored 10 points (2g, 8a). Barring injury, I don't think he'll get 3 minutes of PP ice a game here - he's going to be used more at even strength and on the kill.

I imagine Liles and Leopold will get the biggest chunk of powerplay time starting out, with Clark and Hannan used more sparingly to save them for the PK and EV situations. After those four, only Kyle Cumiskey - a long shot to make the roster - would seem to be viable powerplay options.

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