Colorado Avalanche: Grading the 2011-2012 Team Defense and Goalies

Kevin Goff@@BrgBrigadeKevinContributor IMay 2, 2012

Colorado Avalanche: Grading the 2011-2012 Team Defense and Goalies

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    Welcome back for the second installment of grading the 2011-2012 Colorado Avalanche.

    In the first installment, we took a look at the forwards that took the ice for the Avalanche during this course of this past season.

    For our second installment, we'll look at the much improved defense of the Colorado Avalanche and their performance during an improved season.

    At the end of the previous season, the Avalanche had given up more goals than anybody in the NHL and were below 80 percent on the penalty kill with goalies that couldn't save a beach ball half the time as well.

    After much revamping, the Avalanche blue line saw some immediate improvement.

Tyson Barrie

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    Tyson Barrie won't be given a true grade due to the fact that he only played in 10 games this season for the Avalanche.

    He had some bad luck as he went through his stretch of games, having his first NHL point taken away on three separate occasions.

    Barrie is an offensive-minded defenseman that the Avalanche hope will be able to fill the void left by John-Michael Liles and tally 40 points a year.

    In the 10 games Barrie played, he did not score a point and was a minus-two.

    He wasn't exactly a game-breaker but wasn't terrible.  

    Grade: Pass

    Barrie gets the benefit of the doubt here. He has some developing to do but does show promise.

Stefan Elliott

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    Stefan Elliott showed a great amount of confidence when he was first called up to play with the big squad and made an immediate impact.

    He did taper off a bit during the middle portion of the season and found himself back in Lake Erie for a few games before being called up. He left as a healthy scratch for much of the late portion of the year.

    Elliott does show more immediate potential in his game than Barrie does, but he also has some developing to do.

    Elliott tallied 13 points in his 39 games but did look like a rookie a few times out there.

    It will be interesting to see what he looks like in camp next year.

    Grade: B/B-

    Inconsistent at times, but shows flashes of what he might turn into, which should make Avalanche fans very excited.

Jan Hejda

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    As a defensive defenseman, Jan Hejda had a year to forget with the Colorado Avalanche.

    Hejda ended the year as a team-worst minus-17. The positive to look at is that he did find much more consistency in the second half of the season when he was paired with Ryan O'Byrne.

    During much of November, Hejda struggled when paired with Erik Johnson and was frequently seen on his belly making a futile diving attempt at an opposing player that had already scored.

    That changed during the second half of the season, and he was a big part of the much improved Avalanche penalty kill.

    He also matched his career high in goals scored with five tallies on the year.

    Grade: C+

    This may be a bit nice to Hejda, but he was much better in the second half of the year. His inconsistency in the first half of the season is the biggest reason for the C+.

    I predict that Hejda will have a bounce-back year next season and his numbers, especially the plus/minus, will improve greatly.

Matt Hunwick

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    Anybody that has followed me on Twitter the past couple of seasons knows my general feelings towards Matt Hunwick, but even I have to give him his credit because it is due to him this year.

    Matt Hunwick might have been the biggest waste of space on the 2010-2011 Avalanche team, but oh what a difference an offseason and a decent amount of time as a healthy scratch seems to have made.

    Hunwick found out that it was allowed for him to make contact with people, and he really upped his physical play. 

    Consequently, his defense got better, and he wasn't nearly as much of a liability.

    Hunwick also finally got his first goals as a member of the Avalanche.

    Due to the healthy scratches, Hunwick played in only 33 games this year, but he made a huge difference in his game.

    Grade: B+

    Even with his improvement, I can't bring myself to give Hunwick an A. 

Erik Johnson

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    Erik Johnson had a rough start to the season when he was paired with Jan Hejda, as I mentioned, but something happened for EJ just before the All-Star break.

    Johnson suddenly found a new level of confidence and turned into a dominant defender in his own zone and a catalyst for offense on the other end of the ice.

    The Avalanche are finally beginning to see him develop into the top-level defender they wanted him to be when they traded for him.

    Johnson did struggle early and ended the season as a minus-seven. Still, this was a huge positive step from where he was during much of the first part of the season.

    Grade: B/B+

    Slow start drags his grade down a bit, but a strong finish definitely helped EJ out.

Shane O'Brien

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    Shane O'Brien brought leadership to this blue line and was a stabilizing force all season long.

    When the Avalanche brought up Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott, they often saw time with O'Brien.

    O'Brien also is a fantastic teammate, dropping the gloves to stick up for his teammates and to send a message to opponents not to mess with his guys.

    This was a presence that the Avalanche didn't have a season ago. O'Brien helped give the blue line the attitude needed to push back rather than allow opponents to just push through them.

    Grade: A-

    O'Brien showed some pretty decent offensive abilities throughout the course of the season as well and became a fan favorite.

    O'Brien was a great help for Colorado this year and earned his A.

Ryan O'Byrne

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    Ryan O'Byrne is one of those tough guys to judge how he plays because the less you hear his name, the better he is playing.

    O'Byrne had some inconsistency early in the season, like many of the Avalanche players, but really got into a groove once he was paired with Jan Hejda.

    Suddenly O'Byrne was one of the best shutdown players on the team and ended up leading the Avalanche in blocked shots.

    Grade: B

    O'Byrne had a pretty darn good season. Now if we could just keep him in the plus category, that would be fantastic.

Ryan Wilson

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    Ryan Wilson was another guy that saw a lot of ups and downs throughout the year.

    Wilson had to deal with some injuries during this season and had a tough time getting back into the lineup.

    There were a few moments later in the year when Wilson started showing his ability to lay the big hit on some unsuspecting opponents, but he seemed to lose that at some point during the year.

    He did end up with 20 assists on the year, which is a career best, and did it in only 59 games. If he could put a full season together, perhaps Wilson could get 30 points.

    Grade: B-

    Trouble staying in the lineup is never good, but his offensive numbers really helped push up his final grade. Hoping for more consistency from Wilson next year.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere

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    J.S. Giguere did everything for the Avalanche this season.

    He accepted his backup role from the beginning and knew that the other part of his job was to mentor Semyon Varlamov, which he did brilliantly.

    When the Avalanche looked like they were going to have another terrible season, Giguere was there to solidify the team with solid goaltending and veteran leadership.

    Then, when Varlamov really got hot and re-established himself as the starter, Giguere did not make a stink about anything—he just continued to support his teammates.

    Grade: A+

    Giguere was everything the Avalanche could hope for and more. What a fantastic signing by the Avalanche, and he's still got some good hockey left in him.

Semyon Varlamov

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    Semyon Varlamov had an up-and-down season but ended on an incredible hot streak.

    It seemed like Varlamov was losing some confidence in the middle of the year, but he really took the time to reap the benefits of having Jean-Sebastien Giguere as a teammate and worked incredibly hard to get his form back.

    Varlamov was instrumental in the late-season success of the Avalanche and looks like he may be that solid starting goaltender the Avalanche have lacked since the retirement of Patrick Roy.

    Grade: B

    Strong finish pushes the grade up, but the inconsistency of the year brought him down a bit. Varlamov looks to bring his strong finish into the start of next season.