Avalanche's biggest need
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As part of a Hockeybuzz-wide series, I’ve been asked to ponder: “What do the Colorado Avalanche need to be complete?
I would say the quick answer is, not much.
General manager Joe Sakic addressed a couple of issues in October when he acquired forward Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks and defenseman Devon Toews from the New York Islanders.
But in order to obtain Saad, who has scored 20 or more goals in five of the past six seasons and is expected to play on the second line, the Avalanche parted with 6-foot-6, 235-pound defenseman Nikita Zadorov, by far their most physical player.
Toews, an excellent all-around player, was a restricted free agent who eventually was signed to a four-year, $16.4 million contract. He replaces Zadorov and is expected to play on the first or second pairing.
Yet while his inconsistent play landed him in coach Jared Bednar’s doghouse at times, Zadorov gave the Avalanche a physical presence no other player on the roster provides.
This team plays with plenty of finesse but not with a whole lot of grit, something they lacked even with ‘Big Z’ on the ice against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference semifinals this past season.
Zadorov led the Avalanche in hits for the fourth consecutive season with 175 in 64 regular-season games. Defenseman Ryan Graves, who is 6-5 and 220-pounds, was second on the team with 112 hits while playing in five more games.
No, hits aren’t the be-all and the end-all when it comes to playing with an edge, and players like Nathan MacKinnon (despite winning the Lady Byng Trophy for “gentlemanly” play), Gabriel Landeskog and Nazem Kadri are more than willing to play a bit nasty; Kadri in particular has had a habit of going over the line in that area.
But the Avalanche could have used a little more of it against Dallas.
“We feel (Graves), he's a big guy, we feel with him, Erik (Johnson), Ian (Cole), they give us a physical presence (on the blue line),” Sakic said after trading Zadorov.
“Cale (Makar) can play a physical style too. You don't want him banging out there, but he's a strong kid, he won't shy away.”
Johnson's a big guy too at 6-4, 225, but he's also injury prone and can't be counted on to play an entire season.
You can argue the Avalanche are more in need of a proven No. 1 goalie to be a true Stanley Cup contender, but Sakic has said he’s “very comfortable” with Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz, who were both injured against Dallas and have played quite well when healthy.
So, for now, I’d say the Avalanche could use a little more true grit, especially when it comes to Stanley Cup playoff time.