Colorado Avalanche Defenseman Shortcomings and Options


Saying the Colorado Avalanche defensive core has left something to be desired is a fair statement so far this season. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get reactions ranging from, “burn it down, they’re terrible,” to “just give it some time, and we’ll be fine. Maybe make one move and this d-core is solid.”

I think it’s time to do something different. Twelve games is a pretty reasonable sample size, and the Avalanche are at risk of falling out of the playoff picture to an extent that is unrecoverable if they don’t start picking up wins in a hurry.

Before we go over those options, let’s take a look at last night’s game, and break down what went wrong for the Avs D on a couple of Anaheim’s goals.

Nate Guenin‘s Struggles

First, let’s examine the Ducks’ third goal of the game, scored on a nice play by defenseman Cam Fowler. Fowler receives the puck near the half boards, and makes a move toward the center of the ice. As he begins his move, watch Nate Guenin. Guenin is signalling for someone to step up on Fowler.

Roy called out Iginla after the game, saying he needed to be lower in the d-zone, so he could stop Fowler initially. So perhaps Guenin had some initial merit to his claim.

This still doesn’t excuse Guenin from being the main culprit on why this goal was scored. That area right in front of the net, you know, the one where guys crave to get with nobody on them, and almost always score when they do. Yeah, that area is yours Guenin. When watching this goal, notice how easily Fowler is able to walk straight to the front of the net. Come play some defense on him!! Instead Guenin just gives him a little olé flail of the stick, and it’s an easy finish for Fowler. I especially love how Guenin shrugs his shoulders, and puts his hands up, like what am I supposed to do or who had that guy… Ummmmm?

Guenin is in the lineup to be a big, nasty, physical presence in front of the net. His known shortcomings are his skating and passing ability, so when that presence in front of the net is letting players skate right into Varly’s kitchen, without even washing their hands first, his usefulness for this team disappears. In fact, he becomes a major liability.

Guenin was also a huge factor on the second goal the Ducks scored last night. Unfortunately, the clip of this goal starts after the incident I really wanted to discuss. Essentially what happened, is Guenin jumped way down low in the offensive zone, and then tried to force a pass back behind him. He got in over his head, was pinching in way too deep for a guy with his role in a time where it was completely unnecessary, and turned it over.

You can see him chasing Getzlaf as he exits the Avalanche zone with the puck. Basically his decision to pinch, and poor turnover directly led to an Anaheim rush, with Avalanche players immediately out of position and behind the eight-ball. They never recover, and Hampus Lindholm is able to walk into a shot from the top of the circles. Money zone for NHL defenseman to shoot from.

Roy talks about game-management all the time. This is a prime example of atrocious game management by Guenin. He is in the lineup to be a responsible defensive defenseman. What possessed him to jump down into the play so far, in a situation where your team is ahead by a goal, and there was zero opening or opportunity to be created by jumping down in the zone, is beyond me. The turnover wasn’t unexpected once the decision was made, because Guenin doesn’t have the puckhandling skills or passing ability to make plays from that area of the ice.

Look, I think it is awesome that Guenin persevered through several years in the minors, and got his shot last season with the Avalanche. It’s a great story, and extremely cool for him to have made it happen.

That being said, he has fairly obvious and well-documented shortcomings. When he plays like he did last night, and fails to do what he is in the lineup for (defend the net), and tries to do something that he should never try (become a forward in the offensive zone with the team ahead) he no longer belongs in the lineup. He is a fringe player at best anyway, even when he is on his game, due to his limitations in mobility and zone-exit passing and skating.

What are some of the other options the Avalanche could explore?

Trade for Keith Yandle

Yandle profiles as one of the best puck-moving defenseman in the NHL. He has decent size at 6’1″ and 190 lbs, and is currently in his prime at 28 years of age. Yandle is very likely a guy the Arizona Coyotes would be open to moving, considering he will be an unrestriced free-agent at the end of this season.

It would probably take a lot to get Yandle, and I have no idea what the Coyotes would be looking for. Maybe it would take Ryan O’Reilly straight up, who knows. I love the idea of having Yandle in an Avalanche sweater, and if the Avs can make it happen for a reasonable price, it’s a no-brianer — make the deal. I’m just afraid the cost might be too high.

Yandle is the profile of defenseman who fits in well with the Avalanche system, and his style of play would mesh outstandingly with the Avs’ forwards. He his mobile enough to handle the man-to-man scheme, and is a fantastic outlet passer. He is also a big weapon on the point, with an excellent shot and top-flight playmaking skills for a d-man. He has 10 points through 11 games on a Coyotes team with below average offensive firepower. Imagine what he could do with the Avalanche top-six.

This is a bit of a dream scenario, but my goodness, what a dream it would be to add Yandle to our blueline. Every Christmas I visit my family in Arizona, and watch a few Coyotes games, so trust me when I say Yandle is a stud. And hey, if you notice in the picture above, he already has the patented Brett Clark mouthpiece move down.

Play Zach Redmond

To me, Redmond is in a lot of ways a poor-man’s Keith Yandle. Don’t get me wrong, Yandle is elite in his puckmoving and offensive skillset. However, Redmond has that same exact skillset, and I say it again, I think mobile puck-moving defenseman are the way to go for the Avalanche.

Redmond costs the Avalanche nothing, they just have to decide to put him in the lineup. I’d say before we throw a ton of assets at Arizona, we give Redmond a shot at a dozen games to really show what he can do. I like his game, and think he has the potential to have a real positive impact for the Avalanche.

Release the Siemens

The final option I will propose, is calling up Duncan Siemens, and seeing what he can do in an NHL sweater. Siemens was drafted 11th overall by the Avalanche in 2011 (part of the Erik Johnson trade). He profiles as a physical and nasty defenseman, with surprising offensive skills at times.

From what I saw in training camp, he certainly can’t be worse than Guenin. He made some mistakes sure, but his upside is so much higher. He is a pretty good skater for a kid with his size, and his passing is much more crisp and confident that Guenin and even Brad Stuart.

If Roy is insistent on having that physical presence on the backend, I think you might as well play Siemens at this point, and start getting him NHL minutes and seeing what you have with him.

Siemens may make mistakes, and have a learning curve, but at least he has a ceiling and hopefully will be an impact defenseman for this team in the near future. With Guenin, you know exactly what you have. There is no upside to having him in the lineup.