Avalanche Bolster Defensive Depth with Murray

They lost their Vezina Trophy finalist from last season, but the Colorado Avalanche are boosting their depth in front of the next for the next campaign.

The Avalanche have added veteran defenseman Ryan Murray on a one-year contract. This comes after Colorado extended Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar already this offseason. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer was lost in free agency to the expansion Seattle Kraken but traded for Darcy Kuemper to replace him. (from ‘Avalanche free agent tracker: Colorado trades for Darcy Kuemper after losing Philipp Grubauer to expansion Seattle,’ Denver Post, 07/31/2021)

The deal was for one season and is reportedly worth $2 million. Murray played 48 games for the New Jersey Devils last season, racking up 14 assists. It was his lone season in New Jersey. His previous seven seasons were with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Murray was the second overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Injuries Thinned Avalanche Last Season

The move for Murray is a good one for Colorado, as defensive depth was a struggle for much of the last campaign. Despite another fantastic year from Makar, a breakout season from Samuel Girard, and a solid campaign from Devon Toews, the Avalanche found themselves scrambling to fill out consistent top-six defensemen.

Ryan Murray Blue Jackets
Ryan Murray, former Columbus Blue Jacket (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Injuries stung the Avalanche all season. Long-time contributor Erik Johnson played just four games, and high-profile rookie Bowen Byram suited up for just 19 contests. Sprinkle in missed time for Makar, and coach Jared Bednar was scrambling for the bulk of the second half of the season.

President’s Trophy or not, rolling with a rotating door of defensemen stung Colorado for much of the campaign. The Avalanche dressed a whopping 15 different blueliners last year, and only three of them played more than 45 games in Ryan Graves (54), Toews (53), and Girard (48). Graves was traded to New Jersey earlier this summer.

Makar played 44 games and racked up 44 points on the way to taking second in the Norris Trophy voting behind the New York Rangers’ Adam Fox. Murray isn’t a guy that’s going to put up gaudy offensive numbers like Makar, as he has never hit 30 points in any of his eight NHL seasons. But that’s not what Colorado needs from Murray. He’ll likely be in their top six, and the Avs just need consistent, reliable minutes for the group they have entering next season.

How Things Look Now

Makar, Toews and Girard are the three main pieces, as all three averaged more than 23 minutes of ice time per game last season. However, there will be plenty of new faces on the back end for Colorado next season – including Kuemper between the pipes.

Graves gobbled up big chunks of minutes during his entire time in Colorado but is gone to Murray’s last team. (from ‘Avalanche trades expansion-draft target Ryan Graves to New Jersey for a Russian forward and draft pick,’ Denver Post, 07/15/2021) Conor Timmins played in 31 games but was sent to the Arizona Coyotes in the Kuemper trade. Late-season acquisition Patrik Nemeth was also lost to free agency.

Ryan Murray New Jersey Devils
Ryan Murray with the New Jersey Devils in 2020-21. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Johnson is the most experienced defenseman on the roster, but his recent injury history leaves him with more question marks than the Riddler’s wardrobe. Jacob MacDonald was a solid contributor over 33 games, but this was his first time playing anything close to a remotely full season in his career – and he’s 27. Those aren’t exactly solid foundations for a team to build the rest of their defense on.

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Enter Murray, who will likely be looked at to take on Graves’ role, especially with uncertainty about the rest of the group. It also helps to have a veteran presence on the bench, should more injuries befall the Avalanche next season. Getting Byram back will feel like the Avalanche are getting another rookie. He didn’t play a minute after March 25 and managed just two assists in the 19 games he played, but he was only 19-years-old. In games he played, Colorado was 13-5-1, and he was negative in plus-minus just four times.

Not all moves will be the big splashes for Gabriel Landeskog’s major extension, but depth signings like Murray can sometimes be just as important. Colorado’s trying to kick the stigma of being a team that can’t get out of the second round. Murray brings experience and skill to a defensive group that desperately needs it, and he comes in not having to worry about being the main guy. This is a quality signing for the Avalanche.

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