Colorado Avalanche: Stacking up the Defense Now

The Colorado Avalanche picked up a defenseman, waived a defenseman and could have one returning soon. This will impact the look of the blueline.

The Colorado Avalanche have a bad defensive corps.

This isn’t exactly news, and it’s not the only reason the team is 13-33-2 on the season. However, it’s a big factor.

Now, part of the reason has been that cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson sustained a broken fibula by blocking a Tyler Seguin slapshot on December 8. He’s been out since then, though he’s started skating again. According to Jared Bednar, though, there’s no timeline for his return.

Johnson’s absence has just highlighted the obvious — Colorado has no depth at defense. The Avs have little enough depth at offense, but defense is worse.

Now, the front offices have been trying to fiddle with the blueline since taking over 3 1/2 years ago. Mostly this has consisted of signing veterans while letting other veterans go, and signing journeymen while letting other journeymen go.

However, the truth is the Colorado Avalanche haven’t drafted a defenseman in the first round since an ill-advised Duncan Siemans pick in 2011. There’s a lot of prospect in Nikita Zadorov and fair prospect in Chris Bigras, and not much else besides Johnson and offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie.

Today, though, the Avalanche made two moves with defensemen. They picked up Mark Barberio on waiver from the Montreal Canadiens. And they put Eric Gelinas on waivers. (At the time of writing he hadn’t been claimed yet.)

I’ve already gone on record with what I think of Eric Gelinas:

However, that and $4 will get you Starbucks, so moving on.

The 26-year-old Barberio is more in line with how the Colorado Avalanche are moving with their defensive corps — smaller, decent puck mover, great in advanced stats. He’s scouted as a bottom pairing defenseman on most teams, and he was an eighth defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens.

He’s slated to be top-four with the Avs, and that tells you everything you need to know about their defense.

In any case, I, like most other Avs fans these days, spend my free time playing armchair GM.

Actually, it’s not just fans. Here’s what Avs insider Rick Sadowski thinks of the potential blueline for next year:

“[Nikita] Zadorov will certainly be re-signed to join Johnson, Barrie and I assume Barberio and [Francois] Beauchemin for next season, unless they can find a buyer for Beauchemin, who has a no-movement clause. That group won’t be good enough, not even close.”

Yes, that doesn’t exactly look inspiring, does it?

Ok, in a previous post I came up with a formula, based on the Columbus Blue Jackets (because, hey, they’re are sister hockey team these days), for what a decent defense could look like:

talented 2-way veteran – stud d-man

offensive defenseman – shut-down 2-way defenseman

poised young 2-way defenseman – puck-moving prospect

We’ve got aspects of that model:

  • Talented 2-way veteran: Erik Johnson
  • Offensive defenseman: Tyson Barrie
  • Poised, young 2-way defenseman: Nikita Zadorov (He’s getting there.)
  • Puck-moving prospect: Chris Bigras

Barbiero and, especially, Beauchemin don’t fit into this mold. The Avs need to unload Beauchemin. I don’t know why they picked up Barbiero. Maybe, maybe he could slot in as the shut-down defenseman, but I don’t love it.

In any case, the biggest piece of the puzzle is still missing — the stud defenseman. Those players are rare and expensive.

In a previous post I opined the Colorado Avalanche could go after Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency. They’d have to overpay him, though, and he really just seems like another version of Tyson Barrie.

I like a proposal I made in a more recent post better:

In that post I considered Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour and Jacob Larsson. Of the three, I think the Ducks might consider trading Larsson for a draft pick (remember, the Avs will have high picks this year) or two. I doubt they’d give up Theodore or Montour, though, for draft picks.

Larsson is a decent-sized (6-foot-2, 191 pounds) left-hand shot. He’s aggressive, but he also features the smooth skating typical of Europeans. (He’s from Sweden.)

He’s kind of like a Nikita Zadorov. He’d take some time to develop — he’s just 19, and he’s been playing in the Swedish Elit League.

If we could get Larsson, though, the Avalanche blueline could end up looking like this:

Johnson-Zadorov

Barrie-Bigras

Barbiero-Larsson

Beauchemin, prospect

That’s not exactly in the CBJ model, but it’s an improvement.

The Colorado Avalanche do have a couple defensive prospects in the system besides Bigras and Siemens, specifically Mason Geertson, Sergei Boikov and Anton Lindholm. Word is they’re also looking to sign 2015’s fourth-round pick, Andrei Mironov.

That’s not great depth, though. Hopefully Colorado has the good sense to pick up a decent defenseman in this year’s draft.

By Nadia Archuleta for Mile High Sticking

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