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Key Additions: Brad Stuart, Zach Redmond

Key Subtractions: Andre Benoit, Corey Sarich

The defense is actually a place where I think the Avs improved over a season ago, the problem is, it's a slight improvement and not nearly enough for a team with a defense that is, legitimately, thought of as one of the weakest in the league.

Let's throw some Zone Exit data out there, curtesy of Corey Sznajder (whose doing some AMAZING work over at his Hurricanes blog this summer, and has now been hired by an NHL team). Here's the Avs through the first half (give or take) of last season.

 

# Player Pos. Touches Success% Turnover% Icing%
2 Nick Holden D 328 26.2% 5.8% 2.4%
4 Tyson Barrie D 482 25.1% 7.5% 0.6%
5 Nate Guenin D 509 20.4% 8.1% 3.3%
6 Erik Johnson D 1127 26.4% 8.1% 2.7%
8 Jan Hejda D 841 16.3% 6.8% 3.0%
16 Cory Sarich D 713 19.1% 8.1% 4.8%
44 Ryan Wilson D 257 22.2% 10.5% 3.1%
61 Andre Benoit D 857 22.8% 7.5% 2.9%

(note: Success% is successful attempts to exit the zone)

First, Let's talk about Erik Johnson: He faced some of the toughest competition in the NHL last season, and ended with a pretty successful CorsiRel of 2.4, and a point line of 9-30-39. That's tremendous. He may not ever be in the same class as Doughty, Keith, Subban, Chara or Weber, but I think he's one of the best 30 defenders in the game, and is a legitimate #1D. He's got a very good Exit Success % (See Above: at least from my limited sample of what I've seen).  He's very good. 

The problem is: he needs a partner. Jan Hejda is not it. That exit data is brutal (The Sharks data, below, gives his more context).  Brad Stuart is not the answer either.

In fact Brad Stuart isn't a very good defenseman anymore. He faced the equivalent of lower 2nd line competition and wasn't used super defensively, slightly more than average, and got buried at ES relatively.  The nice part about Brad Stuart is that he pushes other inferior defensemen out of the lineup. The Avs probably won't see 68 gp for Nate Guenin, so that makes them a better team instantly. But Brad Stuart wasn't a top-pairing defenseman in his peak, and he's well past that now. Here’s his Corsi w and w/o last season (Zone start adjusted):

 Here's a text link, for blowing it up

And Stuart's data for the two years prior:

  (text link)

And, here's the exit zone data for the Sharks (again, this covers the first 1/2 a season, give or take a game)

# Player Pos. Touches Success% Turnover% Icing%
5 Jason Demers D 861 23.8% 7.3% 2.0%
7 Brad Stuart D 595 18.7% 8.6% 1.8%
22 Dan Boyle D 707 27.2% 5.0% 2.7%
27 Scott Hannan D 477 16.1% 6.3% 4.2%
44 Marc-Eduoard Vlasic D 931 21.9% 4.6% 2.5%
52 Matt Irwin D 566 27.6% 7.6% 3.0%
61 Justin Braun D 983 26.6% 7.0% 3.1%

 

Hejda and Stuart are not very good at getting the puck out, marginally better than Scott Hannan. I'm not sure when Hejda broke his hand, and obviously that would affect his ability to get the puck out of the zone, so maybe he gets some slack here. Stuart has no such excuse, though. Stuart is prone to turnovers (more than any Av or Shark not named Ryan Wilson). He doesn't get the puck out well. His one positive is he doesn't ice it. It appears that when Stuart was with the Red Wings 3 seasons ago, he was a pretty decent defender. He wasn't that player for the Avs. Most likely; he got old. 

I don't think I've given Nick Holden enough credit. He played decent competition and held his weight, and has terrific underlying numbers. I'm ok giving Holden-Barrie the second pair (and dropping Hejda to 3rd pair). That said, Holden did play in 54 games last season. He should be getting more ice time, and play in 20 more games, so that should improve the Avs defense, some. 

I <3 Barrie

If the Avs had a real solid top-pairing guy, I'd probably like their D ok, but as it is there's just a giant hole next to EJ that no one on the Avalanche roster can adequately fill. And Guenin being projected on the 3rd pair is still a disaster. He's not an NHL defenseman. 

That said, I think the D is a small improvement. A full season of Nick Holden will help, Brad Stuart isn't very good, but he's a lot better than Guenin, and probably slightly better than Hejda. I don't know what to expect from Redmond (My draft of this had the wrong first name and mispelled last name) and he only played 10 games for Winnipeg last season. He's kind of a Benoit replacement who can PK I guess. Hejda starts the season without a nagging injury. I don't like Hejda-Stuart 1st PK at all. 

So, small improvement in the D over last season, but still a not very good one.