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Will Colorado’s super-sized defense help turn things around?

Sep 30, 2011, 11:10 PM EST

Colorado Avalanche v San Jose Sharks Getty Images

While Boston Red Sox fans with “What have you done for me lately?” attitudes will dispute this point, few teams fall apart more dramatically than the Colorado Avalanche did in 2010-11. It seemed like the speedy, attacking team had a shot at maintaining the momentum from a Cinderella 09-10 through the first chunk of 10-11, but their meltdown escalated quickly.

As a result, the team’s makeup changed in significant ways. The Avalanche traded power forward Chris Stewart and offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis for disappointing (but intriguing) 2006 No. 1 pick Erik Johnson. They shipped Craig Anderson to Ottawa for peanuts (OK, Brian Elliott). During the off-season, they also cut ties with their offensive catalyst from the blueline, John-Michael Liles.

While the most obvious question is whether or not Johnson will justify that risky trade, the bigger issue is: can the Avalanche turn around their atrocious defense from last season? That certainly remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: they’ll be different.

To be more specific, NHL.com points out that they’ll be big, with four defensemen tilting the scales at at least 230 pounds. There’s no guarantee that they’ll be better, mind you, but their group won’t be quite as easy to push around in 2011-12.

Quincey was recovering from season-ending shoulder surgery on Feb. 18 when the Avalanche acquired 6-4, 232-pound Erik Johnson from St. Louis in a blockbuster trade that included four players and two draft picks. Exactly one month before Quincey was injured in a game against Washington, the Avalanche brought in Ryan O’Byrne (6-5, 234) from Montreal in exchange for prospect Michael Bournival.

Colorado bulked up the blue line even more this summer by signing unrestricted free agents Jan Hejda (6-4, 237) and Shane O’Brien (6-3, 230) after trading John-Michael Liles to Toronto for a second-round pick in 2012.

Polarizing defenseman O’Brien thinks that the Avalanche’s size-centric shift could pay big dividends, even echoing the beefy strategy employed by the Boston Bruins.

“If you look at a team like the Boston Bruins, they were Stanley Cup champs last year, and they had a lot of size and grit on the back end,” O’Brien said. “If you can have size and still have guys who can skate and move the puck and get it to the forwards, I think it’s a good recipe for success.”

(snip)

“This team has never had any trouble scoring goals,” O’Brien said. “With the additions they made on defense and with the guys they already had, our D corps is big and strong. If we can keep it to the outside, do our jobs in our end, I think we’ll have a good chance at success.”

Much like the jersey sizes in the locker room, the Avalanche’s defense can only go up compared to last year – unless an even bigger disaster takes place. The odds might be against them to make enough of an improvement to crack the West’s top eight this season, but playing against them shouldn’t be a walk in the park like last season.

  1. polegojim - Sep 30, 2011 at 11:52 PM

    I like the Avs direction, esp on D… but too much change at once??? Guess we’ll see.

    I have my doubts about the coaching staff and don’t buy it was all player issues. Last season you had speed but not size to work with… and collapsed. This season you’ll have size with decent speed to work with. It’s fish or cut-bait time boys. No more excuses.

    All that said, I also have my hopes for this proud and once highly successful organization.

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