The Avalanche's defensive core was, without a doubt, a paramount contributor to last year's glorious success. As the year continued, Cale Makar fanned the flames of a scorching hot blue line and earned himself the Conn Smyth Trophy in his first finals appearance. The effectiveness of Colorado’s defenders jumping up into the play and contributing offensively was a clear competitive advantage for the Avalanche. How does this season's group stack up with last year's, and how will deadline additions work with a full season and camp together?
Cale Makar is the clear leader among this Avalanche d-core, but the rest of the crew is nothing to laugh at. Devon Toews has quickly earned himself a reputation for being a reliable and complimentary contributor to Makar’s success. Josh Manson signed a four-year deal with Colorado just months after making one of the most crucial defensive plays of the postseason against the St. Louis Blues.
Game changing save by Josh Manson— Drew Livingstone (@ProducerDrew_) May 28, 2022
Samuel Girard looks fresh after recovering from his sternum injury. He is likely hoping to hush the critics and improve on one of his least productive seasons as a top-four defender last season. Many believed that Erik Johnson would hang it up after seeing his solo lap following the Avalanche Stanley Cup victory. EJ is still singing, “Say it ain’t so, I will not go,” and is a full go on Colorado’s attempt to repeat.
Finally, who could forget Bowen Byram and his resurgence with the big club? Months before last year's playoffs, it was doubtful whether we’d see Byram in burgundy and blue again. Head injuries are no joke, and I think fans are collectively on board with Byram taking time to have healed. Heal he did, and now this Avalanche staff will have to figure out just where he fits into this elite group of six.
If I had to choose, this is how I’d lay out the defensive group:
Devon Toews - Cale Makar
Samuel Girard - Josh Manson
Erik Johnson - Bowen Byram
I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Avalanche prioritizes Kurtis MacDermid over Jacob MacDonald regarding the 7th defender role. MacDonald has a lot more ability and offers more than MacDermid, no matter how you look at it. Wyatt Aamodt has stuck around with the big club and has been a pleasant surprise throughout camp and the preseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if he earns himself some 7th D time as well.
I think it’s safe to say that Colorado is bound to have one of the NHL’s most proficient defensive units. Have teams around the league begun to make adjustments that could make Colorado pay for such an offensively active defense? I’d like to see them try.