The Colorado Avalanche are the best team in the NHL. They still sit high atop the Central Division by 16 points ahead of the St. Louis Blues. They also lead the Presidents Trophy race by four points over the Carolina Hurricanes. The next best team in the West is the Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division with 75 points. The Avs are far and beyond going to be competitive when the playoffs begin in less than two months.
Each team has their weaknesses though, no doubt about that. For the Avs, there’s been one glaring issue: the defense. Outside of Devon Toews and Cale Makar, the defense is not living up to expectations. The Avs have used a rotation of 10 defensemen this season with the current six defensemen along with Kurtis MacDermid, Jacob MacDonald, Bowen Byram and Justin Barron.
While Byram has been skating individually on his own, his absence has been felt throughout the squad. He would usually be in the second pairing with Sam Girard. The two had brought out the best of one another when they were together on the ice despite their small stature.
Bowen Byram is getting some work in with skills coach Shawn Allard ahead of morning skate pic.twitter.com/dMyYdJ3zbc— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) March 1, 2022
While Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson’s veteran status is important to this team, they are past their better days. They can be liabilities on the ice along with MacDermid. Ryan Murray hasn’t panned out to what the Avs had hoped he’d be when acquiring him this past summer. The four defensemen listed here are clunky in this bottom four along with the free-fall of Girard.
Girard’s hit he received from Steven Stamkos way back in the beginning of the season away to the Tampa Bay Lightning hasn’t helped. After returning from this injury, he has not looked like himself at all, partnering his downfall in production. His pairing with almost anyone outside of Byram has not worked out.
Here's the hit by Stamkos on Girard in OT that sent the latter to the dressing room. Stamkos is beat and as Girard stops by boards, hits him from behind. https://t.co/kngzc8CCNh pic.twitter.com/5gGSwdeITM— NHL Review (@nhl_review) October 24, 2021
MacDonald is still recovering from his scary injury against the Florida Panthers down in the AHL with the Colorado Eagles. Barron is with him down there still working on his development and certainly isn’t consistently-NHL ready.
Jacob MacDonald stretchered off the ice after this hit pic.twitter.com/sE7ieaLfDm— Spittin' Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) December 13, 2021
So, what do the Avs do from here to improve their defense before the trade deadline heading into the postseason?
The decision circulates around the condition of Byram and whether or not he will be healthy for the rest of the season. If Byram comes back into the lineup, it will create a huge boost to the defense and moves may not need to be made. If he doesn’t, Joe Sakic should make some moves at the deadline for a new defensemen.
With the clunkiness of the bottom-four, they would be exposed in the postseason. With the speed, agility and fight from the opposition it would not work. We saw that last season in the second round against the Vegas Golden Knights, particularly in that Game 5 OT loss.
While this was the fault of Ryan Graves back then with his blocked shot from the point, we’ve seen mistakes similar to that this season. Turnovers have been a massive problem stemming from the defense.
It’s lead to collapses last season in the playoffs and this season too. This has left Darcy Kuemper or Pavel Francouz out to dry despite their best efforts. They are not usually at fault for in-game collapses but rather are not getting any support in front of them. Goaltending is not the pertinent issue this season for the Avalanche.
So, what will actually be done? Here’s the couple of options the Avs have to their advantage to improve the defense: either trade for 1-2 new defenders or fast-track development from the Eagles if they need it. One seems more likely than the other though.
The Avs will be looking to make moves but have little cap space to work with to get new additions into the team. Calvin de-Haan’s name has been floated out there as a possible option from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Avs would need to move things around financially with a cap hit of $4.5M according to CapFriendly.
Jakob Chychrun could also be available from the Arizona Coyotes but he hasn’t been linked to the Avs. Again, financial support would be needed with a cap hit of $4.6M according to CapFriendly.
As an armchair GM, the Avs should use what they have now in their farm system to shake things up in defense. We’ve seen flashes of what MacDonald is capable of, and he could very well enter the bottom four. He’s got three goals and six assists in 17 games in Loveland.
Barron is still very young and only has played two games in an Avs sweater thanks to injuries earlier this season. With the Eagles, he has five goals and 14 assists in 39 games. While it’s nothing special, the 20 year-old could make a push for a third-string position later in the season based on consistency and stand-out performances at the Budweiser Events Center.
The Avs using the farm system seems more likely thanks to the lack of cap space available. Sakic also always wants veterans in the side when it comes to playoff time. He will probably not be hopping off that train anytime soon, but rather bring in young guys when needed. It wouldn’t be a surprise either if he rolls with the unit he has now and doesn’t make any changes in the back either.
There’s several different possible combinations that we could see at season’s end dependent on several factors (Byram’s health, trades, injuries, etc). So, what do you think the bottom four will look like when May rolls around? Will Byram return to the lineup? Let us know in the comments below!
Does Byram return this season?
This poll is closed
Yes, with the Avs
Yes, with another team
No, but he stays with the Avs
No, but he’s traded to another team