Friday, December 3, 2010

Casual Friday: The Best Defense Edition

Welcome to my first Casual Friday blog post, a post specifically not about Israel/Palestine. I'm hoping to begin to delve a little deeper into other things that interest me in weekly Friday posts, including U.S. domestic politics, DC life, ice hockey, or anything that tickles my fancy come Friday morning. Today's topic: my favorite National Hockey League club the Colorado Avalanche and their recent trades.

Colby Cohen during his days at Boston University (Creative Commons)
The Avs have been facing some pretty serious injury woes this season, with  four men out due to concussions at one point and their two of their three-man top line out (T.J. Galiardi with a broken wrist and Chris Stewart with a broken hand). However, they have been surprisingly successful calling up young minor league players from their American Hockey League affiliate the Lake Erie Monsters. The most impressive call ups have been defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (who has seemingly earned a permanent spot on the Avs' lineup) and forwards Greg Mauldin and Kevin Porter.

To fill some gaps in the offense and to apparently confuse the heck out of Denver hockey fans, Colorado made two trades in the past week. The first sent Colorado prospect defenseman Colby Cohen to the Boston Bruins for fifth-year defenseman Matt Hunwick. The following day Colorado sent veteran defenseman Scott Hannan to the Washington Capitals for speedy winger Tomas Fleischmann.

I actually quite like the Fleischmann-Hannan trade. Injury-plagued, Colorado does need a solid NHL winger with a decent number of games under his belt. His scoring totals have been rather on the low end this year (only 4 goals and 6 assists in 23 games), but a change of locale might just prove to be the swift kick in the pants Fleischmann needs. The Czech winger also fits in nicely with Colorado's fast transition playing style, so it should be interesting to see if he ups his scoring totals or turns out to be a dud. The Denver Post reported this morning that Fleischmann will play tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes and will skate on the Avs' second line with Matt Duchene and David Jones, two quick, explosive players that Fleischmann should be able to work well with.

Now for a bit of criticism: I flat out do not understand the Hunwick-Cohen trade, especially now that Hannan has been sent to Washington. Early on in the season Colorado traded a young prospect forward to Montreal for a big, bad defenseman in Ryan O'Byrne, and it made a great deal of sense because one of the Avs' biggest weaknesses is their size and  toughness, especially their defensemen. Colorado relies, just as they do with forwards, on quick, relatively small offensive-minded defensemen like John-Michael Liles, Kyle Cumiskey, and Kevin Shattenkirk. This is all well and good, but NHL teams need size and muscle on the back end to clear opposing players out from in front of the net, protect their star players, and intimidate the opposition. O'Byrne has been that guy, Foote was (sort-of) before going down with an injury, and Scott Hannan was (sort-of too). I don't have a problem trading Scott Hannan, even though he's a big, tough defenseman. He was originally brought to Colorado (and payed $4 million a year) to be a big, tough, in-your-face and under-your-skin defenseman. He only really satisfied the "big" part with the Avs and I have no problem sending him and his bloated contract to Washington. The problem with the Hunwick-Cohen trade is that Colby Cohen, in the few games he played with Colorado this year before being sent back down to Lake Erie, showed serious potential in becoming the caliber of defenseman Hannan was supposed to be. Matt Hunwick is a quick defenseman, but Colorado is already full to the rafters with quick, smaller d-men. He's frantic with the puck (not in a good way) and despite the fact he's played far more NHL games than Cohen I have a hard time believing he's a better all-around option to have as a defenseman. Cohen is a big, tough guy at 6'3'' and 220 pounds. Hunwick is scrappy, but he's 30 pounds lighter and 3 inches shorter than Cohen. He's kind of a mixture of O'Byrne and Liles, but Colorado already has those guys so their mutant offspring Hunwick is hardly needed in an Avs uniform.

I'm almost concerned that Cohen's trade means that the movers and shakers in Colorado think they've got a tough enough team and if true, I think they're making a huge mistake. The Avs do keep tough guys Cody McCormick and David Koci around, but they're not nearly enough. I have no faith in David Koci's ability to do anything except lose fights and the man was out with a jaw injury for nearly the first two months of the season. What Colorado needs to stay competitive (and avoid injuries) is another tough defenseman like Colby Cohen. They did right by me with bringing O'Byrne to town, but I'm still baffled by their decision to send Cohen to Boston in place of another mediocre defenseman in Matt Hunwick.

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