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Season in Review: Defenders

The blue-line saw changes, ups and downs, and the usual forces of dominance.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Seattle Kraken at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back after a longer break than expected with our season in review, now over a month after its completion in the Colorado Avalanche’s game-seven loss to the Seattle Kraken in the first round. Today, it’s time to go over the blue line. Because there were so many different players used, we won’t go over every player in-depth as we did for the goaltender's review.

In total, the Avs used 11 different defenders across the season. Four of them played less than half the games, mostly due to the fact they were traded either to or from the Avs through the season. These four included Jacob MacDonald (although he was mostly used as a forward), Andreas Englund, Jack Johnson, and Josh Manson. Neither MacDonald nor Englund scored, but they got two and three assists respectively.

Manson and Johnson are the two names which stick out the most when it comes to those four. Combined, they earned four goals and 10 assists in 52 games. Manson battled injury all season long, while JJ joined halfway through the year in a decent return from the Chicago Blackhawks to provide a veteran presence in the back end and provide some stability at the trade deadline as well.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the pack of those 11 names, include Brad Hunt, Sam Girard, and Erik Johnson. Hunt, initially meant to be the captain of the Colorado Eagles for the majority of the season, spent 47 games with the Avs. His powerful shot and dicing from the blue line earned him four goals and six assists. His speed usually let him down in the season from the bottom pairings, however as a seventh-choice defenseman in the organization.

The same goes for Erik Johnson, who recorded one playoff goal and eight assists in what is presumably the final year he’s in an Avalanche jersey. He lost his touch this year, and his downfall was noticeable in his loss of tracking players and being beaten to pucks. It’s certainly not the way he’d want to end, but he will always be a Stanley Cup champion.

Finally, the ‘trade Sam Girard’ had some more ammunition to add to their argument as he recorded six goals but a solid 31 assists and 116 blocks in 76 games. He was on the higher end of games played on the entire roster but perhaps underperformed in the eyes of some. His name will continue to come up as trade bait until next year’s trade deadline at least if he’s not gone by then, but truth be told he is still very serviceable on the back end.

Lastly, the big three defensemen of the Avs are the ones who get all the attention once again: Bowen Byram, Devon Toews, and Cale Makar. While Byram had to step away for some time dealing with an injury not concussion-related, he elapsed a career-high 10 goals and 14 assists in 42 games. Once Byram did return to action, he looked phenomenal on both offense and defense, providing 54 blocks and 82 hits. He could pair well with just about anybody and is looking to get a good payday from the Avs before the start of next season.

Toews was the defenseman who played the most games this season for the Avs, with seven goals and 43 assists in 80 games. He had to flip between pairings a lot with all the injuries, and never had the same chemistry with others as he had with Makar. He did always lay his body on the line regardless of who he was with, with a team-leading 138 blocks. With Toews entering the final year of his contract on the verge of earning a large raise Colorado may not be able to afford, he will look to be an excellent player to increase his value, or perhaps be moved and not be lost as a free agent by the Avs’s front office.

Last, and certainly not least, comes the great No. 8. Makar only managed 60 games this season with his battles through injury. Even then, he collected the third most points in the team with 17 goals and 49 assists. He put the most shots on net as a defenseman with 176, along with 78 blocks and 65 hits in an average of 26:23 of ice time a night. He just did Cale Makar things, which included recording career point No. 200 with a goal against the Dallas Stars early in the year. Even in a “down year,” Makar earned himself a nomination for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. While he will most certainly lose out to the career-year San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson had, it is certainly understandable to let the mind wonder what Makar’s season would have looked like if he was healthy.