Last season, Colorado Avalanche defensemen combined to score five goals. Yes, it was a 48-game campaign, but that NHL-low total was a glaring weakness for a team that finished 29th among 30 teams in the standings.
What a difference a year makes.
This season, through 76 games, the Avalanche are the only NHL team with five defensemen who have six or more goals apiece. Bounce-back offensive seasons from Erik Johnson (eight goals) and Jan Hejda (six) as well as the additions of Nick Holden (nine) and Andre Benoit (seven) have made a huge difference, but the unit's improvement can be traced to the emergence of Tyson Barrie.
The 22-year-old scored his 11th goal of the season (tied for 10th among defensemen) Thursday in the final minute of regulation against the New York Rangers. He has more goals this season than top-flight names P.K. Subban, Drew Doughty and Kevin Shattenkirk. And believe it or not, Barrie (36 percent owned) is still out there on the waiver wire in many fantasy leagues.
It's getting down to the wire in head-to-head formats, as standard-league Yahoo Fantasy playoffs conclude after games on Sunday, April 6. Rotisserie and other head-to-head leagues venture one week further, so we're talking about the final stretch of what has been a marathon of a season.
The Avalanche have six games remaining (tying them for most in the NHL), including dates this weekend against the St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins. While these are not cakewalk opponents, the Avalanche still have a lot to play for as they look to hold off the Chicago Blackhawks, their likely first-round opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in the standings to earn home ice in that series.
If you have a slumping defenseman on your roster and remaining waiver-wire pickup to use in shallow leagues, there's no reason not to consider Barrie. He might be the final piece to your fantasy championship puzzle.
Thursday was his latest clutch performance of the season, as more than half of his goals (six) have come in the third period or overtime. He's been especially dangerous in overtime, as his three goals have him tied for the NHL lead with forwards Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and James Neal of the Penguins.
His assist total (23) is more than double his goal total, and he has also contributed nine points on the power play (second on the team behind Johnson) as well as a plus-15 rating. Colorado's improved depth on the blue line has allowed him to be used more effectively in all situations, which is how he's managed to see such an offensive spike despite less ice time per game under new coach Patrick Roy (21:34 per game in 2012-13 vs. 18:36 in 2013-14).
Speaking of last season, Barrie was on the ice for 24 team goals and 31 against over his 32 games played. In 59 games this season, Barrie has been on the ice for 72 goals and 39 goals against, making him one of two defensemen NHL-wide with 70-plus for and fewer than 40 against (Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug is the other).
If Barrie, who has points in five of his past seven games, has already been scooped up, his teammates could also be of assistance depending on your league's category criteria. Johnson (42 percent) is likely off the board, but Hejda (5 percent owned; covers blocks, hits), Benoit (2 percent; covers points, shots, blocks, power-play points) and Holden (2 percent; covers points, hits, rating, power-play points) also see significant ice time per game and are readily available.
All in all, it's been a remarkable turnaround for the line of defense in the Mile High City. Don't miss out on their services, especially Barrie's, as you reach the point of no return in your fantasy season.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
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