Whenever people talk about the Avalanche, invariably the lack of defensive is brought up. Most of the conversation was of the “they have no defenseman” variety, but that was simply not the case. Erik Johnson is a legitimate number one defenseman, and at 26-years-old, Johnson will continue to get better. Tyson Barrie started the season bouncing around between the minors and the NHL, but when coach Patrick Roy gave him the confidence boost he needed, the Avalanche had two great defenseman.
Now, beyond that, critics were right. There was not much depth, and during the regular season the Avs were able to mask those deficiencies with an offensive juggernaut that teams could not keep up with. In the playoffs, the lack of defensive depth was exposed, and the young Avalanche team was upset in the first round. Though a disappointing end to the season, the Avs future is bright. The defensive talent in the system is great, and the offense is already one of the best in the NHL. The Avalanche just need a few more pieces to push it over the hump, and into a perennial contender. Luckily for you, I know just how the Avs should do it.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, will be one of the most coveted unrestricted free agents available, because of his offensive talent, and his ability to play the body. During the regular season Niskanen led Penguins defenseman in shots with 162 – which would have also led Avalanche defensemen – and his 124 hits were third defensively for Pittsburgh. Niskanen is due a raise after this season, and has elevated his game immensely in the playoffs. He won’t be cheap, but the Avs have the cap room to afford him. If the Avs were to sign Niskanen and play him on the first line with Johnson, it would give the Avalanche a 1-2 combo of large men (both more than 200 pounds), who can fire the puck and lay the lumber.
The Avalanche should also pursue defenseman Andrej Meszaros (6’2, 223 pounds) who would bring grit
and Stanley Cup finals experience. Meszaros blocks shots, fights and can lay out a big hit as well as contribute on the offense. Meszaros would also bring the Avs a physical presence on the point, and with a bevy of fleet-footed defenseman on the roster, the defense could be as lethal as the offense.