Free Agency Targets - Blue Liners

As we all know, the Avalanche are in SERIOUS need of some defensive help.  They need some guys that are willing to stand-up at the blue line, dish out some punishing hip checks (damn I miss Rob Blake), and sacrifice the body by blocking shots out above the circles.  The 2010-11 season proved to be pretty rough on the Avs.  They finished in the lower third of almost every defensive category, including shots against and shots for/against differential.  In fact, they finished DEAD LAST in goals against per game, allowing a dismal 3.50.  Of course, the GAA cannot be blamed solely on the defense (ah-hem, atrocious goaltending), but if you read my last piece on masked men, well then that little problem could be solved…

Anyway, when we chat about D-Men, there are generally two schools of thought.  Either you have the offensive minded, shoot from all angles, jump up in the play style, or you have the shut-down, punish em in the corners, crease clearing style.  I’m of the opinion the Avalanche need the latter.  John Michael Liles has proven to be the quintessential offensive minded defenseman, but he needs to paired up with a bruiser.  They do have Eric Johnson, but to be completely honest, I’m just not sure what this kid will turn into!  Some games he makes his presence felt offensively, some games he’s throwing his weight around, and yet some games he’s completely invisible!

So, let’s take a look at two potential free agent blue liners that I believe would make a difference patrolling the Avalanche zone.

Joni Pitkanen vs. Kevin Bieksa

Originally drafted 4th overall in 2002 by Philadelphia, 27 year old Pitkanen has been a mainstay for the Carolina Hurricanes defensive corps for the last 3 seasons.  The Finn is pretty big at 6’3” and 210lbs. and isn’t afraid to get down and dirty when needed.  This season, he dished out a meager 66 hits, but blocked a respectable 130 shots.  That’s 130 less shots the netminder has to deal with!  He isn’t a scoring machine, although he chips in a few here and there (5 G and 30 A in 72 games this year).  He can serve as a great point man on the PP (had 11 PP assists this year) and he chews up major ice time – 25:01 minutes per game.  The Canes are going to have a difficult time keeping a guy like this when it comes time to crunch numbers…

If you’ve been watching the playoffs (and who hasn’t?),  you’ve heard Kevin Bieksa’s name mentioned quite a bit.  The 29 year old native of Grimsby, Ontario, Canada is a great blue liner and has been playing some outstanding hockey for Vancouver.   Did you see his Gordie Howe Hat-Trick in game 2 versus the Sharks?  Awesome…  He is regularly matched up against the opposition’s number one line and has not disappointed.  His regular season stats break down like this:  6 G, 16 A, 73 PIM, 104 Hits, 93 Blocked Shots.  But, the most telling stat of all is his +/- rating of +32.  Simply outstanding!  This guy does not allow goals against when he is on the ice.  He averages 22:28 minutes per game and has the ability to suffocate the oppositions best.  If Vancouver cannot re-sign him, he will command big $$ wherever he goes…

Either of these D-Men would be a definite upgrade to what the Avalanche currently have.  They would instantly boost the defensive skill of the team and make things much more difficult on the enemy.

My next installment of “Free Agency Targets” will be the muckers and grinders – those guys that every club needs to work like mad dogs in front of the net and in the corners (damn I miss Mike Ricci…).

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Tags: Avalanche Avs Carolina Hurricanes Colorado Avalanche Free Agents Joni Pitkanen Kevin Bieks UFA Vancouver Canucks

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