If you needed any more evidence of how thin this year’s class is of free agent defenseman, we present the contract Ian Cole signed with the Colorado Avalanche – three years with a cap hit of $4.25 million. That’s for a 29-year-old third pairing defenseman who received a 100 percent raise on his salary from last year.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Cole, quite to the contrary, actually. He was a reliable soldier on back-to-back Stanley Cup winning teams in Pittsburgh and was a very solid addition to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline, meshing well with David Savard and doing well in a shutdown role.
That’s what happens when there are multiple teams involved on a player. The Blue Jackets would have loved to have him back, but not at that price. The Avalanche looked at their situation and obviously felt they needed a shutdown defenseman and were willing to pay a premium on the salary to keep the term more reasonable. And in the short term, the have the cap space to be able to accommodate a contract like that.
And while it’s sexy to find defensemen who can move the puck quickly, skate and create offense, the position is still known as ‘defense’ and the stay-at-home guy is still a necessity. Cole is a classic shutdown defenseman who plays big minutes on the penalty kill, blocks shots, provides a defensive conscience for his partner and is often on the ice for defensive zone faceoffs. Cole was actually very good for the Blue Jackets last season, particularly on the penalty kill. He does his best work in front of the net, clearing the slot and winning puck battles.
On the other side of the coin, the Avalanche can expect next to no offense from Cole and that often extends to his defensive partner. He is credited with helping Savard when he came over to Columbus, but the analytics suggest that in the very limited time that Savard was not playing with Cole, his numbers were much better.
The Avalanche are one season removed from being the worst defensive team in the league and finishing with a goal deficit of minus-112 before making a huge leap to the middle of the pack last season and a goal differential of plus-20, but much of that came because they scored 100 more goals. With 41 goals from their defensemen last season, there are no real concerns about producing offense from the back end. The Avalanche figure to move the needle even a little more defensively and they’ve done that with Cole, even if they were willing to pay a premium for that to happen.