Colorado Avalanche: Defensive Analysis, Cole Vs Graves

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 20: Ryan Graves #27 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Winnipeg Jets at the Pepsi Center on February 20, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Jets 7-1. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 20: Ryan Graves #27 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Winnipeg Jets at the Pepsi Center on February 20, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Jets 7-1. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

For the Colorado Avalanche, getting the right defensive matchup against their opponents is crucial.

Working out which Colorado Avalanche players to put on the ice on a nightly basis appears to be causing Head Coach Jared Bednar a few headaches.

There have been a lot of rumblings on the internet of late about Ian Cole and why he should be benched. Right now, I would say that more Avalanche fans are telling Coach Bednar to bench Cole than even the season-long calls to bench the oft-maligned Patrik Nemeth.

Seeing that Nemeth hasn’t really become that much better of a player, that raises a mighty red flag – someone is worse than him, or at least earning the fans’ ire more than he is.

So I have decided to give a head-to-head matchup of two players vying for contention – one a veteran of some 9 NHL seasons, the other a rookie seeking to supplant him.

The basic argument here is that Ian Cole should be sat for at least a game or two and give the minutes to Ryan Graves. As Nadia pointed out in previous posts, there are various great snippets from Bednar about how good Graves is – how great a training camp he had, how well he responded when he was first called up and how he plugged a hole when Ian Cole’s face got in the way of Tom Wilson’s fists.

I did a little digging and looked into both player’s stats. Let’s see if we can make a case for dressing Graves instead of Cole:

Games Played, 2019:  Cole 56; Graves 20. NHL Totals: Cole 461; Graves 20. This is Coach’s biggest argument here – Cole has been here and done that. He is an experienced NHL level defensemen and can handle himself accordingly. The problem with this is that he is supposed to set an example. Sadly, because of his Coach’s and the “Department of Player Endangerment’s” failure to discipline him, he isn’t even getting a terrible warning.

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The guys are at different points in their careers, Cole being a “grizzled veteran” and Graves being a 23 year old rookie. If only there was a team who gave their rookies a chance. Wait a second, didn’t that happen last season with these selfsame Colorado Avalanche? Yes it did and they made the playoffs. Let’s face it, one of those rookies was on the second D pairing last season and now he’s routinely on the top pairing.

Points production: Cole 1G-10A (11 points); Graves 3G-2A (5 points). So from this statistic, Graves is a more potent offensive threat. I know that the Avs want to get younger and faster. They also want secondary scoring, which can also be provided from the blueline. Tyson Barrie is currently 4th on the team for scoring behind all three members of the “9296 line”. Getting scoring up and down the lineup is rarely a bad thing, though pushing for it when your primary job is defense can lead to issues, if you leave larger gaps at the back end.

Ice time: Ian Cole: 20 minutes per game; Graves 12 minutes per game. With the demise of Cole against Washington, Graves even saw an additional minute of ice time per game, thus some recognition of his abilities and his work ethic. Good news, right? Not here in Denver, because he’s a healthy scratch once again.

Penalties in Minutes: Cole 111; Graves 2. Would you like me to go further? Ok, Ian Cole averages 2 PIMs per game played. That’s just giving your opponents a free 2 minute crack at the goal, which we just can’t afford. Graves on the other hand has only 2 PIMs against him in 20 games, equivalent to one minor penalty every 242 minutes played. Ian Cole’s is 12 times worse, so this is not just a minor victory for Graves.

Ian Cole is having the worst season of his career for PIMs, with a 35% increase on the 76 minutes in the box during last season between Pittsburgh & Columbus. Maybe he’s getting angry as he gets older?

Blocked shots: Cole 144; Graves 46. This equates to 2.5 per game for Cole and 2.3 for Graves. Back to the minutes played and Graves would be averaging 3.8 blocks per game if he played the minutes that Cole was getting. Heck, even if he played 3rd pairing minutes more often, I’d say he would get more blocks in. Cole was brought in as a shot blocker that could play on the second pairing. I guess they were looking for a partner for Tyson Barrie on the second pair.

Hits: Cole 88; Graves 25. Graves is slightly behind on this trend, but minutes mean more opportunities to throw your body at the opponent or lean a knee dangerously at an opposing player. I still like what I see from the younger man.

Takeaways / Giveaways: Cole 20/39; Graves 5/12. Not really much to say here except Graves is still learning to play with the big boys. He is learning fast, which is a great sign.

The stats don’t lie, Coach. Graves deserves his chance to shine and Ian Cole needs to be taught the error of his ways. In addition to that, how much is Ryan Graves going to learn from watching the games from the press box?

This argument may appear immaterial for the moment as Nikita Zadorov did not play for the Colorado Avalanche Thursday against Dallas.

Avs Fan Venting Some Frustrations. dark. Next

Regardless of the fact that both played last night in Dallas, eventually you’re going to have to make a decision to play one or the other.

I feel the stats speak for themselves —  this young man deserves his chance to shine for the Colorado Avalanche.