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Revisiting MHH's 2013-14 Avalanche Season Analysis: Part 7 - Defense

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Oh the blueline. Last preseason, it looked questionable. Based on what we saw during the season the concerns were very valid.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, we talked about goals, specifically goals being allowed. How bad is the defense really?

What Andi said then: Ugh. It's bad. We'll be okay if three things happen: A) Johnson has a breakout season, B) we bring in someone to serve as EJ's partner on the top pairing, and C) everyone stays relatively healthy. The chances of all three things happening are pretty slim though. I still believe Johnson has the ability to carry a blueline, but until "it's in there somewhere" turns into "see, I told you so!", we're sunk. Our D is also still rebuilding, so I doubt a long-term top pairing guy is brought in when guys like Siemens, Bigrass, and Elliott will be ready in a few years. And health? Yeah, we all know how that's gone. Let's also not forget that the only defensive guy on our staff is a part-time consultant whose coaching experience is limited to 12-year-olds. I'm not exactly optimistic about our D's chances this year.

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What Cheryl said then: Better than people think.

What Cheryl says now: Still better than people think.

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What Cole said then: Well, it’s pretty grim. I think Ryan Wilson is a really solid second pairing guy when healthy but he’ll be asked to do too much on the top line again this season. The thing with Wilson is that some nights he plays that top pair shutdown role so well that he can trick Avs management and coaching staff into waiting it out and seeing where the chips fall, but the fact is, Wilson is not a top pairing D and he always winds up over his head eventually.

While the Avalanche offense should generate plenty of scoring, there aren’t many playoff teams that don’t bring at least one offensive threat from the point. This is one of the Avs most glaring weaknesses on D and in particular on the power play. Can Erik Johnson regain his 30 point per season pace? One would hope so, but it seems doubtful if he continues to be trapped playing a safer defensive role while his partner treads water on the top pair. As much talent as Johnson has, we can’t forget that the Avs number one defenseman score 4 points. FOUR POINTS in 31 games last season. That is an absolute fucking travesty and if Johnson can’t turn it around in a really big way this season, then frankly the Avalanche need to start looking elsewhere. Lots of Avs fans are counting on Tyson Barrie to provide the missing offensive punch, but I think we’ve seen the best he has. Barrie was on a 33 point pace last season, which is a pretty respectable number, but I just don’t see him blowing up for the 40+ points we need from the blueline.

So that leaves us with Hejda, Elliott, Hunwick, Sarich and Benoit. A whole lot of meh. All 4 guys are capable NHL defenseman, but all 4 of them will be asked to do too much this season and will, at one time or another, be an enormous liability for this team. The best we can do on defense is hope for good years out of Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly so that whoever is shopped for a D brings back a good one.

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What Earl said then: What was bad about last year's defense? Well, Quinn was clueless, he's gone. O'Byrne was horrible, he left for Toronto on his way out of the league. Zanon was useless, he's gone. Hunwick was ineffective and is now looking at a greatly diminished role. Wilson was injured too much, but he's healthy for now.

The positive: A fresh start on the coaching front with Tourigny and Foote. Barrie was on pace for 30+ points, Hejda close to 20 and they'll be playing together. Wilson is over his head on the 1st pair, but he's light years ahead of whoever Johnson played with most of last year. Johnson doesn't need a perennial all-star as a partner to be good (it would be nice tho'), he just needs someone he can trust. If Wilson can buck the odds and stay healthy, he'll have that. All any team can ask from the 3rd pair is to play solid and don't lose the game. With the parts and pieces the Avs have lying around, they can put together something that will accomplish that.

Last year the GA/G was 3.12, two years ago it was 2.66. It's not a huge stretch to see getting back to the 2012 level. And no, that wasn't sarcastic.

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What Mike said then: On a scale between Oscar de la Renta and Hot Topic, they're solidly in the category of Spencers.

What Mike says now: The defense was underwhelming to an almost smothering degree of meh.  The explosive O and the stellar goaltending covered up a metric shit ton of mistakes, lack of skill, and come playoff time, lingering injuries.

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What AJ said then: I do think the defense won't be quite as bad as everyone else seems to think. We dealt with career-worst years out of guys like O'Byrne and O'Brien last year. Every positive contribution was met with an equal or greater negative contribution. We dealt with the famed Joe Sacco Defensemen Wheel of Fucknuttery, whose sole goal seemed to be to annihilate any and all chemistry between defensive partners. Also to keep EJ and Hejda from ever playing together again despite there being no better options simply because a couple weeks at the start of a season didn't go particularly well. But hey, that's why he's the coa...just kidding. Should the Tyson Barrie we saw for most of last year be the guy we get consistently, we'll be in great shape. Hopefully he and Elliott stop the weird body switching seasons they've exchanged the last couple years and both end up having great seasons. While I no longer count on it happening, if Ryan WIlson could stay healthy we could have the makings of a pretty okay defense. Nothing special would be a big leap over last year's extremely special defense.

What AJ says now: I dunno how close to right I was about this. We lacked the Wheel of Fucknuttery but our defense was still bad despite better than expected years from Sarich, Holden, and even Guenin until December. Barrie was great, Wilson was not, and Elliott was a no-show everywhere except in my hopes and dreams. I'm starting to think Stefan Elliott is an abusive girlfriend. Stop stringing me along, man. Roy made the decision to stick EJ and Hejda back together and it went swimmingly...for EJ. Hejda still very much isn't that guy, especially with two broken hands. /cue Granlund OT goal and me shrieking in horror.

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What Steve said then: sub-apocalyptically bad. Unless Johnson takes that huge step we've been waiting for since The Trade (or Elliott becomes an NHL defenseman), our top pairing consists of a #2 and a #2/3 who's aging (Hejda), or you're playing rookies over their head, or we have Top Pairing Matt Hunwick again, or...

Improvements: Hunwick should stop seeing penalty kill time. Pls? Pls. Zanon is gone. Barrie is older.

Worsenings: Sarich > O'Brien but his contract is shorter.

Sure it's a little better. But are you whelmed yet? I'm not.

What Steve says now: I still am not whelmed.

Semyon Varlamov bailed these guys out every single night to the tune of facing the 9th-most shots against (per 20 minutes), only behind a bunch of goalies from Edmonton, Toronto, and Ottawa. "Sure but when you're ahead you give up more shots because teams attack you harder and you tend to shell up." Colorado were 27th in possession when leading. Which is bad. They were miserable in their own zone, and when they got the puck, they couldn't get back out with it.

Of course a bunch of you are going to want to talk about shot quality but if that's something this team is legitimately affecting we won't reliably see it after one season. Check in with that idea next summer. It's an important one: if people saying the Avs kept shot quality low are correct, they should have no trouble securing a safe playoff spot again. If not.... well.