Brad Stuart (Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Colorado’s blueline won’t be getting Brad Stuart back anytime soon. The 36-year-old, who has played just six games this season, underwent back surgery and could be out the rest of the campaign. Stuart’s two-year, $7.2-million extension kicked in this season.
Given Colorado’s defensive depth, Avalanche GM Joe Sakic was already likely looking at potential options on the blueline, but his team’s need for defensive help may be more desperate than he thought as it appears Colorado will be without Brad Stuart for the foreseeable future.
The Avalanche announced Stuart has undergone back surgery and will be out of the lineup long-term. What exactly “long-term” means is up for debate, but coach Patrick Roy wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Stuart misses the remainder of the season. Already, the Avalanche have been without the 36-year-old defenseman since Nov. 10, and he has missed all but six games this season with back injures.
Stuart was acquired by the Avalanche from the San Jose Sharks prior to the 2014-15 season for second- and sixth-round draft picks in the 2015 draft. He was a steady second-pairing blueliner for Colorado last season, but had been largely unavailable to the Avalanche this season. He averaged more than 20 minutes per game in his 65 outings in 2014-15, but has logged just 14 minutes per game in his six games this season. He signed a two-year, $7.2-million extension in September 2014 that kicked in before the current campaign began.
With Stuart out of the lineup, Nick Holden has taken on much more responsibility this season. His average ice time is up more than two minutes per game, and he’s played primarily alongside Tyson Barrie. However, Holden’s jump to the top-pairing has thinned out the bottom unit. Colorado’s fifth and sixth defensemen spots have been a revolving door, with Nate Guenin, Zach Redmond, Nikita Zadorov, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Chris Bigras and Brandon Gormley all seeing time with the Avalanche.
The market for defensemen isn’t going to be easy, but it’s going to be especially tough to land a big name blueliner considering Central Division rival Dallas is also likely looking to snag help on the backend and Winnipeg is unlikely to move Dustin Byfuglien within the division. The best bet is that Colorado would, if anything, look at bottom-pairing blueliners that can potentially be cost-effective, meaning Sakic can acquire help without mortgaging his club’s future.
If Sakic is looking to make a move, though, he’ll have to do it sooner rather than later. Colorado does currently own the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference, but every team chasing the Avalanche has at least two games in hand.