Let me open this piece by stating that Samuel Girard is an extremely talented defender, uniquely designed for the modern NHL landscape, and a blueliner that every team should be happy to sign. Unfortunately, the NHL’s callous reality in the era of the wage cap is that franchisees are sometimes forced to make heavy sacrifices in order to use their finite financial resources more efficiently. Roster creation is an eternally frustrating juggling act with team leaders constantly looking for the highest return on investment, and the Colorado Avalanche are no exception. The welcome appearance of esteemed prospect Bowen Byram, coupled with her fidgeting offensive exploits, makes Girard a prime trading item for much-needed reinforcement.
Girard stands for high order value
In making a rough estimate of Girard’s worth compared to the rest of the NHL defenders, it is useful to compare his performance with his peers in the position. In the 2021-22 season, 54 defenders hold a cap hit topping Girard’s $ 5 million, and it compares favorably to most of his contemporaries. Notably, Girard is about to enter the final season of his contract (2026-27) despite being only 28 years old, promising that the Avalanche or any teams that act for him will pay him by what his productive life should be peak. Since its NHL debut in 2017-18, the smooth skating blueliner has accumulated 119 points in 281 NHL games, accentuated by an additional 17 points in 37 playoff games. Girard then achieved a career high of 32 points in 48 games in 2020-21, partly supported by the increased use of power play after Cale Makar’s repeated injury-related absences.
Samuel Girard of Colorado Avalanche (AP Photo / Chris Seward, file)
In line with his recently increased importance in team strategy, Girard has scored 0.55 points per game since 2019-20, placing him 27th among all defenders. His clairvoyant style of play is an obvious talent that feeds on the skill and evasive maneuvers of Colorado’s strikers, as evidenced by his 0.48 assists per game (ranked 17th among qualified defenders since 2019). Despite his rapidly growing offensive skills, his place on the blue avalanche line is threatened by the development of other talented Colorado defenders.
Byram’s creation makes Girard dispensable
The driving factor in this piece is the welcome – but not unexpected – appearance of Bowen Byram, Colorado’s cherished defensive perspective. Byram has admirably followed in Makar’s footsteps, providing a steady outlet for offense in both steady strength and power play, while playing the most of all avalanche defenders in 10 games. Girard has dwarfed Byram’s power play usage (19 and 18 minutes respectively) but has been much less productive in his allotted minutes, scoring only three points in eight games so far. It’s still early days but the fourth overall win of 2019 outperformed its senior in the team’s pecking order.
|G / 60||0.85||0|
|A / 60||1.42||1.07|
|A1 / 60||0.57||0.36|
|PTS / 60||2.28||1.07|
Byram vs. Girard in single production per 60 minutes in all situations during the 2021-22 season
After a turbulent 2020-21 season with Byram missing out on time due to COVID and ongoing concussion-related issues, he’s captured the cloak of Colorado’s number one defender for the time being. The team’s early fights can hardly be attributed to the 20-year-old as he has thoroughly overtaken, overtaken and outdone his opponents in five-on-five. By comparison, Girard has missed the chance presented by Makar and Devon Toews’ double absence, barely stepping on the water in terms of ownership. It’s only fair to note that with a full line-up, Girard doesn’t have as much responsibility as he’s currently mandated, but it’s worrying that a rookie has overtaken him on the depths table.
Byram vs. Girard in on-ice metrics at 5v5 in the 2021-22 season
Well, 10 games is a minimal sample, and it is perfectly reasonable that I could suggest a trade based on results skewed by a chaotic environment. Still, Girard could easily imagine sliding further down the totem pole in a short time. Not only has Byram surpassed him in terms of goals and defensive impact, but Girard’s specialty – zone exits and transition play – is surpassed by the burgeoning gem of the blue line. According to Corey Sznajder’s tracking data, Byram made 59% of his exit attempts with possession last season, compared to Girard’s 47% success rate. Colorado now has a surplus of identical skills in hand, an increasingly tense position for Girard as he struggles to find a place in a crowded Avalanche backend.
Avalanches have to strengthen the group
The Avalanche cruised to claim the 2020-21 presidential trophy, fueled by an embarrassment of wealth in their group of strikers. Their loaded attack battalion scored the league-leading 197 goals, with crucial contributions from deep scorers that increased the usual performance of their superstars. However, the cap restrictions and the Seattle Kraken’s draft expansion plan left Colorado’s front tiers empty. The off-season departures of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Joonas Donskoi and Brandon Saad together represented a fifth of Colorado’s goals for the 2020/21 season. In 10 games, the team fired at a much slower rate (2.9 goals per game) than last season’s downright deadly pace of 3.4 per game. Another top six striker is needed if they are to get any closer to their previous level.
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The key to all trade talks is that there are two willing parties who want to find a mutually beneficial arrangement. Which teams need a supportive puck mover on the blue line, can provide a proven striker, and have the leeway to put Girard’s $ 5 million in return? It’s a tricky balancing act and Colorado may be forced to turn Girard around for picks and the resulting cap space, but to my untrained eye, the Winnipeg Jets could make an interesting trading partner.
Despite their respectable score, Winnipeg defenders (Neal Pionk, Nate Schmidt and Josh Morrissey) are struggling to finish leaving the clean zone with possession and scoring chances despite the Jets having an above-average carry-in rate. It might reflect head coach Paul Maurice’s deliberate strategy, but Girard immediately becomes the Jets’ most efficient puck transporter and could help create more dangerous chances for their seasoned strikers.
Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by David Kirouac / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
On the face of it, Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp are the most intriguing options, with the pair being the Jets’ fifth and sixth most common strikers. Copp is a more versatile player (leading Winnipeg forward on penalties in the average Ice Age), but Ehlers solves Colorado’s score (60-point pace throughout his career) and transition issues further down the lineup. Ehlers’ tenure in Winnipeg has been plagued by trade rumors on occasion, but it’s unclear whether the Jets are currently considering his exit. Either way, Winnipeg is a division rival and hates the idea of fixing a direct competitor. I could be far from the base, but the cap hits go well together and suit any organization’s on-ice needs. What kind of trading package would you consider fair value to Girard?
Is Girard’s future avalanche in danger?
A key factor in any discussion of Girard’s future within the Avalanche organization is his contract status and any associated transaction restrictions. The last three seasons of his contract (beginning 2024-25) contain a modified no-trade clause (NTC) that restricts Colorado’s flexibility in finding the best possible return. Nathan MacKinnon’s future contract renewal is above the Avalanche roster, and the option to replace Girard’s feat with a cheaper replacement suggests his days on Colorado’s books are numbered. Aside from an unforeseen jump in the salary cap, regrettably Girard’s final season in Denver in 2021-22 could be a truly tragic consequence of the cap.
Data courtesy of Corey Sznajder, Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick.
Marko is an aspiring sports writer with a passion for creating stories while using a combination of eye testing and (shake) analysis, complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When he’s not reporting on the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can spend countless hours in various sports video game franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and doing long laps of the neighborhood.
Marko can be reached through his personal blog at unexpectedegoals.ca, and you can yell at him by following him on Twitter and other social media which can be seen under articles like this one.
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