Even though it hasn’t happened yet this offseason, it seems inevitable that the Colorado Avalanche and Matt Duchene will part ways via trade.
Considering they are rumored to be seeking defensive help and the way the rest of their offseason has gone, it almost seems as if the Avalanche are counting on that trade to solidify their blue line. A couple of weeks ago, Duchene’s potential trade value was examined, along with the type of defenseman they might land if they can make a deal.
But here’s another hypothetical question: What if the Avalanche don’t trade Duchene before the start of the season or before the trade deadline?
Obviously, it makes their forward corps better. Duchene, even coming off a down year, is one of their best players, and is still in his prime years in the NHL. He is a legitimate top-line player and one who would improve any group of forwards.
But if the Avalanche do not address their defense in any meaningful way this offseason, that would be a problem. Not only because they have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL for years, but also because they need more defensemen and are running out of options to find some.
As of Thursday morning, this is the state of the Avalanche defense
- Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson and Mark Barbiero are under contract for this season, but only Barrie and Johnson are signed through the end of next season. Not one of them is considered a No. 1 defenseman on a Stanley Cup-contending team. Barrie might be a good No. 2, Johnson perhaps a good second-pairing player and Barbiero a third-pairing defender at best. These are the players under contract.
- Nikita Zadorov, one of the key players in what became the lopsided Ryan O’Reilly trade, is a restricted free agent. He reportedly has an agreement in place with a KHL team if he can not get a contract with the Avalanche before the end of December. So his status for 2017-18 is best described as questionable.
- They also have Russian national team member Andrei Mironov signed to an entry-level deal, but he is still very much an unknown quantity.
- Finally, they have a handful of young players with little NHL experience, such as Chris Bigras and Anton Lindholm.
And that is it.
That’s not too encouraging for the Avalanche, a bottom-10 team in goals against in each of the past three seasons that gave up a league-worst 278 goals in 2016-17 while continuing to post some of the worst shot and possession metrics in the league. If the trade doesn’t happen, they have to count on some of their veterans suddenly improving or one or two young players stepping up.
The free agent options aren’t great. It was always a weak group and after Kevin Shattenkirk, Trevor Daley and Karl Alzner signed on the first day of free agency (and the quality of those options were debateable), it’s slim pickings out there.
Andrei Markov is easily the best defenseman still available, but at his age and with apparent contract demands, he doesn’t seem like much of a match for Colorado. After that, a collection of aging veterans in their mid- to late-30s probably doesn’t have much to offer.
The one exception might be veteran Cody Franson. At 29, Franson again posted strong possession numbers on a weak team — the Buffalo Sabres — and can still move the puck. He is not a top-pairing defender or a cure-all for Colorado’s defensive woes but would at least be an upgrade (and perhaps one who could be flipped at the trade deadline) for a defense with very few options.
It’s a weird situation, for sure.
Keeping Duchene isn’t the worst thing that can happen to the Avalanche. He is an outstanding player signed to a market rate contract and is locked in for a couple of more years. Players like him are tough to find. But they obviously hoped to use him as a trade chip to help rebuild their defense. If they don’t find a way to make that trade happen, they might enter the season with another major mess on their blue line.
- Finding the real trade value of Matt Duchene
- Jonathan Bernier has reason to be confident in Colorado
- Nail Yakupov finally has chance to succeed with Avalanche