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Predicting the Avalanche defensive pairings for the 2020-21 season

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Will we see similar pairings to last season? Or are some new faces bound to switch things up?

2020 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series - Los Angeles Kings v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Over the past few seasons, the Avalanche have been slowly, but surely, stacking their defense corps, and last season it finally reached top five in the NHL. Due in large part to the sudden emergence of Ryan Graves, and the arrival of Cale Makar, The Avs blueline was one to be feared last season. The usual pairings were as follows:

Graves - Makar

Girard - Johnson

Cole - Zadorov

Barberio

It’s worth noting that this team traded away Tyson Barrie in the 2019 offseason, and this blueline only improved with the move, as did the whole team. Also worth noting is that this defense had prospects Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins on the way, only brightening the future of the defense. What no Avs fan could’ve imagined is that it would get even better than that, but Joe Sakic filled the hole left after the Nikita Zadorov trade, with Devon Toews. This move leaves a lot to be pondered, as the Avs now have so many options when it comes to building the defense, and I think it would be a fun idea to make some combinations, and see what’s possible. Remember that this is my opinion, and none of these pairings are to be considered official.


These are the building blocks that’ll be considered:

Cale Makar*

Ryan Graves*

Samuel Girard*

Erik Johnson*

Devon Toews*

Ian Cole

Bowen Byram

Conor Timmins

* = Guarantee’s for the roster


Starting off with the top pair, there’s no doubt Cale Makar will be the top option on the right side, so there’s nothing to ponder there, but who might he play with? For me it comes down to two options, you keep Ryan Graves on the left where he found so much success last season, or you try out your shiny new toy in Devon Toews on the left side. I feel you can’t go wrong with either one, as both have very pleasant advantages in their own right. I personally think a Toews - Makar pairing would be outstanding, and the Avs would dominate in puck control time with those two on the ice. I don’t see Toews or Girard playing on the third pair, so I think Toews will definitely be tried on the top pair.


Toews - Makar

? - ?

? - ?

?


For the second pair, I don’t see there being any change to the Girard - Johnson pairing. Girard is a great puck moving defenseman, who always makes the smart play when the puck is on his stick, and Johnson is the perfect guy to pair him up with. This could be the last year of this pairing, as we have yet to see how the Avs will manage Erik Johnson come the Seattle expansion draft.


Toews - Makar

Girard - Johnson

? - ?

?


For the third pairing, there are plenty of question marks. I don’t see Graves as a guy who isn’t on the main roster after this past season, but out of Ian Cole, Conor Timmins, and Bowen Byram, who should get that spot?

Ian Cole, 31, is a veteran shutdown defenseman, on the last year of his deal with a $4.25 million cap hit, and he gives flexibility to the lineup, being able to play both sides of the blueline.

Conor Timmins, 22, has been in the Avs system for three full seasons now after being drafted 32nd overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. A nasty concussion in May, 2018 kept him away from hockey for 18 months, bringing his development to a screeching halt. He would play in the first two games of the Avs 2019-20 campaign, but be sent to the AHL for the rest of the season, and also managed to get into some playoff games for the Avs, before exiting with injury. Timmins is a bittersweet player within the organization at this time, as while the upside to be a great NHL defenseman is there, his health after that concussion has been a major question mark.

Bowen Byram, 19, is the top defensive prospect in the Avs prospect pool. It’s anticipated that him and Makar will become perhaps the best defensive pairing in the NHL for many years to come once Byram gets his feet wet in the NHL. An elite all-around defenseman, Byram will look to make the team out of training camp this season.

Out of those three names, they all have solid arguments for an NHL roster spot, but personally, I think it’s best if Ian Cole takes the last spot. His experience is valuable to such a young defense corps, with everyone mentioned except for Johnson and himself are 26 or younger, and his flexibility makes the roster more feasible. I see Timmins being the 7th defenseman this season, while Byram either goes overseas, or back to the Vancouver Giants for one more year. This is all speculation however, as Byram could easily make the team with an outstanding training camp, and the same goes with Timmins.


Toews - Makar

Girard - Johnson

Graves - Cole

Timmins


What do your ideal defense pairings look like going into the 2020-21 season? Does Byram or Timmins make the 18-man roster? If so, who gets left out?