Colorado Avalanche: Failed Chris Bigras Experiment

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 13: Chris Bigras
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 13: Chris Bigras /

Defenseman Chris Bigras failed to ever permanently crack the Colorado Avalanche roster even after a promising beginning.

The Colorado Avalanche did not succeed with defenseman Chris Bigras. I know that’s backward from the way it’s usually put, but prospects really are a two-way street.

The Avalanche picked Bigras in the same draft as Nathan MacKinnon, 2013. He was their second-rounder, going 32nd overall. Though not big for a defenseman — 6-foot-1 and around 190 pounds — Bigras was a well-touted prospect.

At the time, Bigras was scouted as a defenseman who plays smart with the puck. Though not offensively flashy, he was expected to put up a few points while being sound in the defensive zone — a quintessential two-way defenseman with speed.

Chris Bigras followed a pretty traditional path for a defenseman. He stayed with his major juniors team after getting drafted. When their season ended, he signed his first professional contract and got in seven games with the Lake Erie Monsters, then Colorado’s AHL-affiliate.

The next year looked like Bigras’ breakout year. He played half a season in Lake Erie before getting promoted to the NHL team on January 14, 2016. His game impressed the Avalanche enough to keep him up the rest of the season — he even played in the Stadium Series Game.

colorado avalanche
DENVER, CO – FEBRUARY 27: Chris Bigras /

Unfortunately, Bigras’ change in fortune started out with the change in coaching. Coach Patrick Roy liked Chris’s game. Coach Jared Bednar did not like Bigras’ fitness when he reported to training camp in 2016. He looked impressive in training camp, but he got sent down to the AHL (by then the Rampage).

His fortunes took a further turn for the worse in November, when he suffered a concussion. The injury kept him out for two months — until January. That means that when Erik Johnson went down with his injury, a broken leg, Bigras wasn’t available to fill in.

Even after Chris returned to the San Antonio lineup, he apparently failed to impress enough to get a callup, even as the Colorado Avalanche’s season deteriorated to the point that they were just checking out their prospects.

It was never said outright, but I’m guessing Bednar didn’t like that Bigras’ fitness wasn’t up to his standard in camp and didn’t felt the need to give him another chance.

Chris Bigras came to this year’s camp looking ready to prove everyone wrong. He looked poised and polished as a then-21-year-old. Apparently his fitness was up to snuff. And, indeed, he made the roster out of camp. He was assured enough of his spot in the NHL that he got an apartment with three of the Avs’ rookies — Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher.

Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche /

Colorado Avalanche

Unfortunately, after earning an assist on opening night against the New York Rangers, Bigras failed to impress. In 15 games with Colorado, he recorded only that single point. His CorsiFor was at 41.9% and he had a Relative Corsi of -8.5. This was on a team that was playing pretty decently.

His partner changed almost every night. He started out with Andrei Mironov, changed to Anton Lindholm for a couple games, and skated for three games with Mark Barberio. And then he started getting scratched here and there. Even when the Avs were running seven defensemen, Bigras wasn’t regularly cracking the lineup.

The Chris Bigras Experiment was coming to a close. His time on the ice got depleted for a couple games. And then he got sent down to the Rampage after the November 22, 2017 game. That was it for Bigras and the Colorado Avalanche.

He had a goal and five assists in 20 games with San Antonio, but apparently that wasn’t enough to catch the NHL team’s eye. Even after defensemen started dropping like flies (Barberio, then Lindholm and Johnson in the same game), Colorado didn’t call him up.

Then, yesterday, on Trade Deadline Day, the Avalanche traded Bigras to the Rangers for defenseman Ryan Graves. Even at the same age, Graves has fewer NHL games to his name than Bigras — none, in fact. In their eyes, the Avs traded one AHLer for another.

During a presser, GM Joe Sakic said of the trade:

"“I think both teams felt it was a lateral deal [to] give both players a change of scenery.”"

Hopefully Chris Bigras can get a fresh start with the Rangers, who have just commenced a rebuild. He has NHL-level skills — he just needs fresh eyes on his game, perhaps.

Next: Analyzing Ryan Graves Acquisition

Side note: Recently I caught flak for stating that the prospects and picks the Colorado Avalanche got in return for Matt Duchene were lottery tickets. AS OF NOW we’ve had no real return for one of our leading scorers. I know the return is for the future, and I have high hopes that Samuel Girard in particular will be adequate compensation for Duchene, making everything else just gravy.

As we see with the Chris Bigras experiment, though, picks and prospects are lottery tickets until they’ve proven themselves useful at the NHL level. Sometimes, unfortunately, they are unable to do so.