As we all know, the season is winding down to the end, and the playoffs are right around the corner. The Avalanche look almost dead set to face the Blackhawks in the first round. Whether or not they have home ice advantage is still up in the air. Nonetheless, it should make for a great series. Despite what happens after this season, there just seems to be a few pieces missing from the puzzle, so Free Agent Frenzy could be a chance to grab a more physical defenseman. Let’s first address the problem we have at the blue line. I’ll give you the positive and the negative about every player and situation I discuss.
One could look at the numbers our defensemen have put up so far, and argue that they are performing great. Yeah, sure! They’re scoring goals, and making plays, but the effort they display in the offensive zone needs to reflect what they display in front of our goaltenders. That effort seems to be lacking at times. Take the game against Winnipeg for example. I felt as if Reto Berra played a decent game, but a lot of the Jets’ chances came on mistakes by our d-men down low. (I’m looking at you Hejda.) Now, I am completely aware that something like this doesn’t happen very often, but it shouldn’t happen at all. Blake Wheeler made everyone in a white jersey look like a fool. He just danced around the entire team and helped the Jets steal the extra point in overtime on March, 19th.
Erik Johnson has been one of my favorite guys this season. He is smart on the backcheck, and I have been most impressed with the way him and Jan Hejda are taking chances by jumping up into the offensive flow. Players like Nick Holden and Tyson Barrie have really stepped up, but there are small things they seem to struggle with at times. Things such as accepting a hard pass, or posting up an opponent along the boards. They are obviously not strong enough quite yet for bigger players, but they can, and have been able to use their speed to their advantage. Offensively both of these guys are great, but the Avalanche need help from at least one or more key players on defense.
Last year’s free agency list of defensemen was full of talent. This year it isn’t as noticeable, but there are still a few guys I see that could definitely help the Avalanche out a little. One of the names that stands out the most to me is Brooks Orpik. He is 33 years young, and really talented. Orpik doesn’t put up big numbers, but he is a big factor in the physical game. Let’s face it, that can sometimes be something that the Avs lack when playing a physical team. They need someone to hit back. I see Orpik being used more as a shutdown player rather than a scorer. Level out the type of skill we currently possess. Unfortunately he would cost more than others, but his physical play and veteran leadership could be vital for the team. It’s only coincidence that both unrestricted free agents that catch my attention are from the Penguins. Matt Niskanen seems to be a little inconsistent at times, but he is a very good skater. I think he would be very useful in any situation, but would need to really work on his positioning a little more. I’m sure Adam Foote could help him in that department.
No doubt the group the Avalanche have on the ice right now are very talented. The ability to score is there. In fact, Boston was the first team to keep the Avs off the score sheet. That alone is impressive enough. The weakness around their own net must be addressed, and I’m sure it will be. Let’s just hope that whoever Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy do bring in can help raise the team to that next level.