Opinion: Why the Avalanche Shouldn’t Trade Samuel Girard

Samuel Girard taking a shot, while a San Jose Shark's skater attempts to check him with his stick
Photo: The DNVR

May 21st, 2022: In game three of the 2nd round, Samuel Girard is injured for the rest of the playoffs.

June 26th, 2022: The Colorado Avalanche beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 and are crowned Stanley Cup champions.

The Avalanche went 10-3 after Girard’s injury, a truly remarkable run, and shows how incredible a team they were with their success while missing a high-end defenceman, which has led a seemingly large portion of the Avalanche fan base to believe that Samuel Girard is going to, or needs to be traded.

Around six months ago, rumors had spread about the Avalanche being open to moving Girard when the Sabers were looking to move Jack Eichel, but after Eichel was traded, Pierre LeBrun of the Athletic revealed that the Avalanche were never interested in trading Girard,

“One of the stranger things we’ve seen as of late is Samuel Girard’s name floating out there on the rumor mill.”

“Because the fact is, it shouldn’t be.”

“The Colorado Avalanche are not shopping the 23-year-old blueliner, full stop. They’re not interested in moving him.”

Girard

Samuel Girard gets heavily criticized due to his size, but in reality, he is a near-perfect fit on the Avalanche. Most would consider Girard an offensive defenceman, but that is not a good representation of Girard’s value. Looking at Girard’s microstat data tracked by Corey Sznajder for the 2021-22 season, which looks at six categories, zone entries, entry defense, zone exits, forechecking, offense, and special teams. In the 32 games tracked, Girard ranked 21st of all defencemen in microstat game score per game, primarily led by his zone exits score, which is 9th best per game of defencemen with over one game tracked. Girard still had a solid offensive score, 30th among defencemen per game, but when he struggles offensively, his transition ability is what makes him valuable. Getting the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone is an extremely valuable asset, especially for an Avalanche team that thrives in transition and forechecking.

This was a sizeable down year for Girard after an elite 2020-21 season and two great seasons prior. This is evident in the drop in his GAR (Goals Above Replacement), a metric from Evolving-Hockey that attempts to give players a number value above a replacement-level player. In the 2020-21 season, Girard was on pace for GAR of 17.1 over 82 games, the 11th highest of the 178 defencemen with over 500 minutes played, which includes a strong defensive season, ranked 47th in terms of even-strength defense at 4.8. This season Girard was on pace for a GAR of 4.0, 13.1 lower than the previous season, and less than the value he provided with his even-strength defense alone. The massive drop was evident in all areas, but most notable was his even-strength defense, down from 4.8 to -1.6, which ranked 163rd of the 224 defencemen who played over 500 minutes in the 2021-22 season.

The big questions following this season for Girard are what caused the drop-off, and can he rebound? 

The first question is likely due to playing injured. Girard, who has been very healthy over his career, missed some time last season and 15 games this season and was rumored to have been playing through injury this season. He played his strongest hockey of the year in the playoffs before being injured for the remainder. Another reason is likely his partner. Girard spent the majority of his time next to Jack Johnson, and the pair was not good; however, when Girard was next to either Toews or Makar, the pairing was dominant, and while that has a lot to do with his partner, it shows how effective he can be with a good partner. 

The answer to the second question of will Girard rebound is that he already has. Girard received a lot of criticism for the loss to Vegas in the 2021 playoffs, the main criticism being he got pushed around. While he had struggles, his statistical performance falls in line with the Avalanche team’s performance; games one, five, and six out chance the opponent, while 2, 3, and 4 get out-chanced, but they only ended up winning two of the six games.

The problem comes in games five and six, where Girard was positive in terms of expected goals but was on the ice for five goals against. Only one of the three out-chanced their opponent. The goals come from a three-on-two, Grubauer losing track of the puck, a goal where Makar and Landeskog cover one man and leave Karlsson open backdoor, a Nemeth turnover that leads to a lucky bounce, and the one goal that can be blamed on him where the puck deflects on the stick of his man Carrier and he doesn’t tie him up well enough. The last goal is an apparent weakness in Girard’s game, but when you give up on a player because of one series, where a significant portion of the struggle can be attributed to the players around him, it’s not smart.

After Girard’s regular-season struggles, he went into the playoffs healthy and with a vital partner in Josh Manson, and the pairing was excellent. Even though Girard only played in 7 of the Avalanche’s 20 postseason games, he was Manson’s most common partner playing 81:31 together, just ahead of Jack Johnson at 81:01 together, but the results were significantly different. Girard – Manson controlled 51.0% of the expected goals, while Johnson – Manson controlled 43.2%, and while comparing Girard to Johnson doesn’t provide all that compelling of an argument, look at Manson’s time on ice (TOI).

In games Girard played, Manson’s average TOI was 19:14, with 17:26 at even strength, which is 30.9% of the team’s ice time, and 33.3% of the team’s even-strength ice time. But after Girard’s injury, his TOI fell to 16:05, with 14:09 at even strength, and over a three-minute drop in ice time, leading to him playing 4.8% less of the team’s ice, 5.3% less of the team even-strength time. After Girard’s injury, Manson went from a clear 2nd pairing role to a 4th/5th defenceman role, splitting the part with Erik Johnson, which shows the team values Girard, as without him, while Manson was still strong, he was not as valuable. The Avalanche value Girard, understand that his regular season was just a down year, and they should not sell low.

Evolving-Hockey projects Girard to have the 31st highest GAR next season out of all defensemen and have him tied for the second-lowest uncertainty (Meaning he’s most likely not going to be much better or worse), and at only 24 years old and five years left on a reasonable cap hit of $5 million, Girard should be sticking around for a long time.

The Defensive Core

The main reason cited by Avalanche fans on why Girard should be traded is that Bowen Byram has taken his place. However, keeping both defencemen is the best option as it gives the Avalanche one of the league’s strongest top-four. In the regular season of Avalanche defense pairings with over 100 minutes, their best two in terms of expected goals are Byram – Makar at 65.5% and Toews – Girard at 65.4%, with Byram – Makar scoring 75.9% of the goals, and Toews – Girard scoring 69.2% of them (They also ranked 6th and 7th in the league for defense pairs with over 140 minutes, and 3 of the ones above were different 3rd pairings in Toronto, and the other two were Grzelcyk/Rielly – McAvoy).

This top-four would allow the Avalanche to spend more than 75% of the game with an elite defender alongside a high-end one, and they can always change the pairs for different situations. The flexibility of this defense is incredible, and next season costs them under 20 million against the cap.

Trade Options

If, for some reason, Girard needed to be dealt with, what could the Avalanche get back that would make it worthwhile? The two most prominent positions the Avalanche will require answers to this offseason are in goal and at 2nd line center. In goal, there are no available young goalies worth it. Gibson is the closest thing at 28 but is a significant risk, as he went from arguably the best goalie from 2016-2019, posting the highest goals saved above expected, nearly 20 above the following best, to one of the worst in the three years since, allowing about 20 more than expected. The other option at the center is not easy either. Are you going to trade Girard for Mark Scheiefele, who is five years older, with only two years remaining, at more money than Girard? Yanni Gourde would be an excellent fit, but is six years older, and who knows if the Kraken would move him.

The best option would be Dylan Larkin, who is only one year older than Girard but is expiring after this season, so assuming the trade comes with an extension, that will be an expensive contract. The best move would be keeping Girard and then in goal re-signing Kuemper or signing Ville Husso, and at 2nd line center, either bringing in Vincent Trocheck or giving chances to Newhook, Rantanen, and Landeskog and seeing if any of them can succeed in the role.

Girard is one of the rare cases where a team’s fan base undervalues its player. It likely has to do with the fans focusing entirely on offense and defense and ignoring Girard’s elite transition ability, which is one of the Avalanche’s greatest team strengths and a big part of what led them to become the 2022 Stanley Cup Champions.

Data via Evolving Hockey & Corey Sznajder

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4 thoughts on “Opinion: Why the Avalanche Shouldn’t Trade Samuel Girard

  1. Solid post, and I definitely appreciate seeing it, but I would say that there are compelling reasons to trade Sammy and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sakic felt similarly. First, it’s not about any perceived weakness in him, it’s quite the opposite, I’m a big fan of his and I think he has a lot of value, whether on the Avs or for a lot of teams out there looking to copycat the Avs D system and philosophy. You posted some great numbers and analysis above that shows how valuable Sammy is. As a trade chip, and with Joe as GM, I think the Avs could get a huge return. And that’s the only way you would pull the trigger, is if the pieces coming back make it a no-brainer. I don’t think it should be for anything we need now, though (2C, goalie, possibly), I think you do it for prospects and/or picks and free up some much needed money for signing others the next 2 years by shedding that contract and shore up our somewhat depleted “cupboard”. It is a great contract…but that’s an additional selling point to other teams. Yes, keeping Sammy on the team gives us a top 4 that’s unmatched, but we didn’t need that to get to the playoffs nor win the Cup. He’s a bit of a luxury when I think there are more important things to address.

    1. Yeah, he’s definitely not untouchable, and down the line a deal like you suggested could make sense, I just believe it is not going to be worth it this offseason. First off, as you mentioned, the Avalanche prospect pool is quite depleted, and while Behrens is a very good prospect, it is no guarantee he becomes a top 4, and it very likely won’t be soon, so you would then have a large hole in your defence. Secondly, the Avalanche don’t really need the cap space yet, maybe down the line depending on if Byram takes a bridge instead of long term, but this season it’s definitely not worth it for the cap space. But a young defenceman on a great contract is what contending teams need, so unless it’s a no-brainer deal as you mentioned, they should keep him, and I believe they will, considering I don’t see a team offering a no-brainer, but crazier things have happened.

  2. yep, I think there’s more of a chance of this not happening because the return won’t be worth it, but the Avs have one of, if not the, top GMs in the business and I think there’s a decent chance he can swing something big. Behrens won’t be ready for at least another year, probably 2, and like you said not guaranteed to be top 4, but I do think you can still plug pretty much anyone in there in the meantime and the Avs still have the best D unit in the league. Ideally you keep Sammy, but also Naz, DK, Nichuskin, Bura…but we can’t keep them all, so some prioritization is needed.

    1. Yeah, sadly some are gone, but I do think there are more replacements at forward. Lehkonen almost guaranteed stays, Nichushkin very likely, but Kadri and Burakovsky are most likely gone, but even if they can’t sign a player like Trocheck (who I believe would be a very good fit and will write an article about), you have Newhook who might be able to take a step, if not now soon, and Ben Meyers who probably doesn’t get there but there’s a chance, but likely neither is going to be ready to start the season, so you have Rantanen and Landeskog with some experience in the role, so you can get them some good experience with it that will give you long term flexibility at the position, or Compher can start there and you can revaluate near the deadline.

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