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Do the Colorado Avalanche have D-men to fill tougher minutes?

Someone is going to have to take the tough assignments

Columbus Blue Jackets v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The 2016-17 season was not a flattering one for the Avalanche defense corps, but new additions will be changing the lay of the land. Francois Beauchemin, Fedor Tyutin, Patrick Wiercioch, Cody Goloubef and Eric Gelinas have moved on, leaving behind space for new faces and a heavier load for the likes of Barrie, Johnson, and Zadorov. How should we expect individual utilization of the current group to change in 2017-18?

One of the biggest ways d-men are predisposed for success is via zone starts. Unsurprisingly, the team’s most offensively-gifted rearguard Tyson Barrie led the group in offensive zone starts last year, while stay-at-home veteran Tyutin received the least. Here is a list of TOI and zone start numbers from 2016-17, courtesy of hockey-reference.com:

There is some good news in this table: the replacement for the combined games played of Wiercioch and Gelinas (possibly Bigras, Lindholm, or Warsofsky) could slide straight into their spot where the team can shelter them with relatively more offensive zone starts. Lindholm was not an offensive producer even when given this advantage last year, but in Bigras’ case a full-time spot in the OZ would take advantage of his offensive skillset and help him produce some points.

In addition, there’s no reason not to expect more of the same from capable veteran Barrie and mid-season acquisition Barberio who was re-signed for similar money (for a presumably similar role). Throw in the 70+ extra man-games from the top-3 that (hopefully) aren’t lost to injury again, and there’s definitely room for optimism and improvement.

The bad news in the numbers is that the minutes former teammates Tyutin and Beauchemin took up (albeit poorly at times) were tough defensive-zone minutes for the most part. Johnson and Zadorov already receive more time in their own end than the other team’s, and this ratio might get even worse if new additions need to be sheltered. Based on this alone, it’s safe to assume that unless their powerplay time increases, both Johnson’s and Zadorov’s point-per-game totals should not increase this season.

An alternative approach to putting more pressure on EJ and Big Z would be to start Barrie less in the offensive zone, but I don’t think this kind of adjustment is likely for three reasons:

1. After a down-year of production, both he and the team will be eager to get his point totals back into the 50 range, which is best done by maintaining his high OZS%,

2. Zadorov could very well handle more tough minutes, as he improved greatly last year and is getting better all the time,

3. Chances are that Andrei Mironov, Duncan Siemens, or Jared Cowen (cringe) get a regular roster spot. Any of them would be destined for a defense-first role to the tune of < 50% OZS%, negating the need for Barrie to start more in his own end.

Its certainly good news that there might be suitable players for the Beauchemin & Tyutin’s 16-17 minutes per game each of tough starts. But unless one of these new names shines despite inexperience (or in Cowen’s case, a poor track record), it looks like the Avs defense will be in rough once again. Thankfully the team will have the likes of Cale Makar and Nicolas Meloche coming to help in upcoming seasons.