It really is the million-dollar question in Colorado right now — what is the current health of Bowen Byram? Unfortunately, even a crystal ball may not give you the right answer to that, and sadly, there is going to be a lot of guess work between now and the trade deadline regarding Byram’s short-term future for the remainder of this season.
It is no secret that the Avalanche are going all in this season; this is as close as they have been to winning a Stanley Cup for many years, but which direction they go in remains to be seen. The expectation is that a couple of players will join the Avalanche between now and the deadline, but how they approach both is likely to be determined by Byram, and how he feels about his concussion problems.
If they have a fully fit Byram for the playoffs — even if he misses the regular season — a smaller defensive pickup and larger offensive piece is likely. However, if there is any chance of him missing the rest of the season, the Avalanche will have to work out how they are going to replace him, and that may push them towards a bigger defensive piece and depth forward.
Plans for the Avalanche if Byram is Healthy
Much of the talk around the Avalanche and potential trade targets has centered around Byram being healthy. This means they are going to go out and get a forward that can play in their middle six, potentially even their top six, and then add a depth defenseman to their roster too.
This is fine if Byram is back, but if he isn’t, that forces Erik Johnson to play bigger minutes and it means Jack Johnson or Ryan Murray will have to be a regular. It also puts the Avalanche in a position where Kurtis McDermid and Jacob MacDonald are a couple of injuries away from being involved deep in the playoffs.
Of course, the big upside here is the offensive talent this team can add. Talks of Claude Giroux being added to the roster, being the perfect fit for Tomas Hertl, the form of Joe Pavelski, J.T. Miller and others have all got fans very excited. This team is loaded with talent, but adding one of these names would give the Avalanche a little more insurance over injuries, and instantly make their top nine much better.
A Plan for No Byram Return This Season
While talk about all of those offensive players is exciting and fun for fans, there has to be a serious discussion about what happens if Byram is unable to play for the remainder of the season. Since his injury, the Avalanche will have no doubt been looking at Byram replacement trade targets, in case they are unsure of his availability when the deadline comes.
Regardless of offensive talent, can the Avalanche win a Cup with Erik Johnson as their No. 4 defenseman? What happens if one of the top four is injured, and you suddenly have Jack Johnson playing big minutes? The team can’t let this happen.
This is when you flip the spend and put more focus on the defense, bringing in a player who is a No. 4 defenseman on the team. If Byram doesn’t return, the new acquisition slots in at the side of Samuel Girard and allowed both Johnson’s to play in the bottom pairing, where they are far more comfortable.
If Byram does return, the new addition can go alongside Erik Johnson to provide one of the best bottom pairings in the league, with free agent signing Jack Johnson and Murray as cover before the team even begins a conversation about McDermid playing on defense.
The flip side to this is the help going forward will be a far smaller piece. It could be someone like former Avalanche player Paul Stastny, Arizona winger Lawson Crouse or another player from the Coyotes, Phil Kessel. These would all do a solid job in the bottom six, but would leave the Avalanche just one injury away from having to play Alex Newhook or one of their new arrivals on the second line, potentially pushing them a little too high on the roster.
How Will Byram Impact the Avalanche’s Approach at the Trade Deadline?
The biggest impact this all has is potentially with time. The Avalanche will want to give Bryam as much time as possible in order to get the best prognosis on his timeline as they possibly can. For this reason, making an early move is unlikely to be something we see, unless they really can’t afford to hold off as that could mean losing their No. 1 target.
The trade deadline is five weeks away, so there is plenty of time for things to change. However, given the current position that the club and Byram are in, a wait and see approach may be the best way to go. There will be a moment in the near future when someone needs to make a big decision, something that will shape the entire trade deadline and a Stanley Cup push in Colorado.
General manager Joe Sakic has an incredible record with the big decisions — he is the man to trust — and ultimately, Byram’s long term health is vital in all of this. The team is set to go all in, and bring in at least two pieces at the deadline, but right now, until Byram’s picture becomes clear, it is impossible to say how the Avalanche will approach this.
Craig Jones is a freelance NHL writer from the UK, covering the Colorado Avalanche. Watching the NHL from afar, Craig has followed the Avs for more than two decades, and wrote about them for almost one. To get the UK perspective of the NHL and everything Colorado, follow Craig on Twitter @craigjones29.