Avalanche Should Target These 3 Defensemen in Trade

The hysteria that comes with the NHL’s trade deadline is in full swing, with a number of significant moves already threatening to burst the figurative dam. The Colorado Avalanche have been busy, adding two new faces in Nico Sturm and Josh Manson ahead of Monday’s cutoff. Still, injuries to Bowen Byram and Samuel Girard have drudged up worry in the organizational camp, and it’s best that the team brings in capable reinforcements with the playoffs finally in sight. The high acquisition costs typically bandied about around the annual deadline are often extravagant, and Colorado should do well in avoiding the conversations surrounding the biggest names available. With that, here are three affordable yet competent blue line trade targets capable of stepping up into a top-four role in a pinch. Let’s dig in.

Justin Braun – Philadelphia Flyers

After the trades involving Manson and Ben Chiarot, Justin Braun is one of the most sought-after blue line options ahead of Monday’s deadline. The 35-year-old veteran combines extensive experience (883 combined regular-season and playoff games) with remarkable poise, making him an attractive depth piece for clubs looking to add some heft and assuredness on the back end. The Avalanche have rotated a number of bottom-pair options this season to varying effects, with Ryan Murray (missed 26 games), Kurtis MacDermid (minus-eight penalty differential), and Jack Johnson (historically suspect) most frequently utilized in that role. Adding Manson provides some insurance, but unexpected injuries and poor play remain potential pitfalls in Colorado’s quest for the Stanley Cup.

Related: Colorado Avalanche Trade Deadline History

Braun has formed one-half of the Philadelphia Flyers’ top pair alongside Ivan Provorov, but their results haven’t been the most encouraging. In almost 800 minutes together at 5-on-5, the due boasts an expected goals rate (xGF%) of 45 percent and accounts for only 47 percent of actual goals scored (GF%). It’s fair to say that Braun may be in over his head in operating in such a high-profile position, but he’d have the comfort of being insulated with the Avalanche and not facing top competition.

Apart from his high usage in even-strength situations, Braun is one of the Flyers’ most trusted penalty-kill options, playing the 31st most shorthanded minutes among all defensemen this season. His 145 minutes ranks behind only Erik Johnson among Avalanche blueliners this season, profiling him as an additional stopgap on the penalty kill in lower volume deployment.

Justin Braun Philadelphia Flyers
Justin Braun, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Notably, Braun also boasts 100 games of playoff experience, reaching the 2017 Stanley Cup Final and 2019 Western Conference Final with the San Jose Sharks. Although I’m not the biggest proponent of intangibles over actual on-ice impact, his mentorship counts for a lot on a roster chockful of burgeoning blue line talent. Given his age and expiring contract, acquiring the right-handed defenseman could be a low-cost, high-reward move for several Cup contenders. It shouldn’t take much more than a third-round draft pick, which the Avalanche own in both 2022 and 2023. Keep an eye out for Braun to move come Monday afternoon.

Jacob Middleton, San Jose Sharks

Entering the 2021-22 NHL season, few had defenseman Jacob Middleton on their radar. Now with the trade deadline firmly in sight, the blueliner has cropped up in trade talks around the league as contenders seek cheap reinforcements (only counts for $725K against the cap) ahead of the playoffs. The 26-year-old rearguard has settled into a top-four role alongside the rejuvenated Erik Karlsson, and the pairing owns team-leading rates of xGF% (54 percent) and GF% (56 percent) rate. Although the Sharks have since dropped to the depths of the Pacific Division, they would have sunk much earlier without this dependable tandem in tow.

Jacob Middleton San Jose Sharks
Jacob Middleton, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Middleton offers surprising mobility at his size (6-foot-3), beefing up an Avalanche blue line sometimes criticized for its lack of physical engagement, especially in last season’s playoff defeat at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights. Although he offers little going forward, he excels at stymying chances coming off of zone entries and represents a strong penalty-killing option for one of the NHL’s weaker shorthanded units. With an expected goals against rate of 5.2 per-60 (xGA/60) while shorthanded, the former seventh-round pick boasts the stingiest mark on the league’s second-best penalty kill.

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Middleton is a restricted free agent (RFA) after this season, although he must play in 15 more games to avoid Group 6 UFA territory, which leaves him free to hit the open market. Given Colorado’s injuries and the shakiness of depth pieces on defence, he should garner enough playing time to retain his RFA status. Due to his affordability and favourable contract status, the Sharks should be able to procure a third- or fourth-round pick for the unheralded defenseman’s services. At that price, they could do a lot worse.

Scott Mayfield, New York Islanders

Unlike the other two names on this list, Scott Mayfield is under contract through the 2022-23 season at an annual average value (AAV) of $1.45 million. With rental defenseman Manson ($2.05 million) and Murray ($2 million) coming off of the books next season, the Avalanche have both the cap space and roster room to accommodate the hulking 6-foot-5 blueliner. Given Colorado’s strength at the position, he could drop down and form a formidable two-way duo with one of Byram or Girard, giving the Avalanche unparalleled depth in defence.

Scott Mayfield New York Islanders
Scott Mayfield, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Mayfield offers a different dimension to the abundantly skilled and fleet-of-foot Avalanche defensive group and has acted as part of the New York Islanders’ shutdown tandem this season. Of the 81 defensive pairs with at least 300 minutes played at 5-on-5 this season, New York’s Adam Pelech-Mayfield combo is tied for 23rd in xGA/60, although many of those ahead of them on this list face much easier competition. His penalty-kill prowess (leads the sixth-best penalty-killing team in average ice-time while shorthanded) is sorely needed ahead of the postseason.

The Islanders have all but bid adieu to their playoff hopes as they sit well outside the confines of the wildcard race, giving the organization all the incentive to sell off their assets and start a much-needed retool. The Avalanche do not own a second-round pick until 2024, although they could package a third-rounder and a prospect to make up the difference. The 29-year-old Mayfield is more valuable to Colorado in the present than he does the Islanders, and they should leverage that fact ahead of his contract expiry next season.

Avalanche Have Many Potential Bottom-Pair Trade Targets

Luckily for general manager Joe Sakic and company, there appears to be a surplus of defensive reinforcements for his dicey bottom pair. As is the nature of the playoffs, an extended group of depth options is required to advance through the grueling four-round journey, and it’s best to be prepared for the inevitable injury when it arises. Colorado’s enviable collection of top-four blueliners means that in the best-case scenario, these potential additions would be free to tackle easier minutes and competition as a result. If the franchise is to capture a third Stanley Cup and their first since 2001, they must capitalize on this wide-open championship opportunity.

Data courtesy of All Three Zones, Evolving-Hockey, and Hockey Reference.


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