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Frei: Cale Makar, Bo Byram a throwback to Avalanche D glory days

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After the Avalanche’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals Monday night at Ball Arena, the players at the media room table and microphones potentially represented the long-term future of the Colorado defensive corps.

Cale Makar and Bo Byram were the franchise’s No. 1 draft choices in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

Makar’s assist against Washington — in front of a stunning number of red-clad Capitals fans for their first game in Denver in two years — enabled him to set a Quebec/Colorado franchise record for points by a defenseman in a season.

He now has 83, one more than Steve Duchesne’s total in 1992-93 for the Nordiques.

This is beginning to sound familiar. Which is among the reasons why, at age 23, he is the Norris Trophy favorite.

Last month against the Flyers, Makar’s 24th goal pulled him past the Wandering Latvian, Sandis Ozolinsh, to set the franchise record for goals in a season.

Ozolinsh had 23 goals in 1996-97, the season after, despite what you might have seen or heard about, he did not trip Jeremy Roenick in the Western Conference semifinals. He was a crucial cog in the Avalanche’s 1996 Stanley Cup championship.

The major single-season franchise record for a defenseman that remains for Makar is Duchene’s 62 assists in 1992-93. Makar has 57 with six games remaining.

“It’s not something I think about too much,” Makar said about the points record…and the point of records, period. “This one, obviously I’m honored to get to that. Hopefully, the guy sitting beside me here has the ability to challenge it when he gets in a full season here.”

An aside: Give the Avalanche credit for including the Quebec Nordiques as part of the franchise’s heritage and records. In contrast, the Devils act as if the Colorado Rockies didn’t exist, and the franchise opened shop at the 1982 news conference in the then-new and still-unnamed Meadowlands arena that confirmed the sale and move to New Jersey.

Part of the point of having Makar and Byram available after the loss that snapped Colorado’s winning streak at nine games Monday night was that their responsibilities and even expectations were heightened with veteran D men Devon Toews and Erik Johnson not in the lineup. The banged-up Toews, Makar’s most frequent partner, is being given a four-game respite this week to gear up for the playoffs.

While Johnson is coping with minor injury issues, the truth is that after the acquisition of Josh Manson, plus Samuel Girard’s and Byrom’s returns, there will be tough lineup decisions to make on the backline. They most likely will involve Johnson (Erik) & Johnson (Jack), plus possibly the now-injured Ryan Murray.

“If you look at our team all year, I don’t know if we’ve had a game with everybody in the lineup,” said Makar. “We’ve had a lot of guys step up and play great hockey with key guys out throughout the year, so it’s no different with Tayzer. Obviously, he’s a big piece of our team, part of the heartbeat, but as a D corps, we’ve just got to take a lot of those minutes together, chip away at it. There’s not one guy that’s going to come in and replace him. He’s one of the best to do it, so we have to bear down. Everybody’s got to chip in and help out.”

This is all tied to Byram’s health, of course. I’m among those who at one point thought he should sit out the rest of this season. But he’s back, playing well and is being given more responsibility in Toews’ absence. It’s almost as if the Avalanche is assessing the future and deciding how important — if at all — it is to have steady veteran caretakers among the young D in the lineup. Manson, for example, is meshing with the undersized, but mobile Girard.

After the game, I asked Byram how he is feeling, if he’s tired of us asking how he’s feeling, and if we should stop asking how he’s feeling.

$20 Dollar Bonus Voucher!

He laughed.

“I’m good,” he said.

For comparison purposes, the Avalanche’s second Cup champion, in 2001, on defense by the playoffs had Adam Foote, Ray Bourque, Rob Blake, Martin Skoula, Greg de Vries and Jon Klemm.

Blake was acquired in February. Part of the price was versatile defenseman Aaron Miller, who at the time had played 56 games for Colorado that season.

Skoula was the youngest of the group, at 21. He played in the NHL until 2010 before finishing up in Europe. But he was nowhere as talented as are Makar and Byram.

Veteran organizational depth defenseman Bryan Muir also played three playoff games in 2001.

Plus, Nolan Pratt, then 26, was with the Avalanche all season and played 46 regular-season games. He was listed as injured for the first two playoff games (when Muir played and Bourque also was injured), then was a scratch the rest of the way. But Pratt was there, if needed.

Nolan Pratt now is the Avalanche assistant coach in charge of the D.

He knows what it will be like for either of the Johnsons and/or Murray to watch.

But he also knows what it’s like to have his name on the Stanley Cup.

I’ll close with this jarring factoid: The Avalanche beat the Devils in Game 7 and Joe Sakic made his famous touch pass to Bourque on June 9, 2001.

Bo Byram was born four days later.

Terry Frei (terry@terryfrei.com, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His web site is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html

His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here

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Maurice

“ (Memo to Avs fans: Acknowledging that others, including the Predators’ Roman Josi, are bona fide candidates is neither ignorant nor a putdown of Makar.)”

Memo to Terry Frei: try to be less condescending and presumptuous. Your comment is ignorant, and a put down of Avs fans. The consensus on the three main Avs fan forums is respect to Josi and expecting him to win.

new age, keep up. don’t go the way of the dinosaur terry

Last edited 27 days ago by Maurice
Maurice

I’m…stunned. My post was worded as harshly as someone waking up in a bad mood over a hockey game can be. Fully expected it not to pass the mods. And yet…*you* removed part of your story because of my complaint? All I can share in response is that when I was a freshman in college I once emailed when similarly bent over your balanced coverage of the Avs/wings series in ‘02. Just hated them too much and had to vent.

You….replied thoughtfully. I still have it saved.

Cheers Terry.

Last edited 27 days ago by Maurice
Aaron Rud

If that got you worked up, I’d hate to see what a real harsh comment makes you do. My word, Terry was correct. Most fans truly aren’t objective, no matter what fan base. This gripe is hilarious.

Aaron Rud

Don’t be sorry. Most fans are just that-“fanatics.” I think you are spot on with your comment.

Wayne Dunlap

“Morris you make me sick when you speak”

Cal G

They were definitely on a mission to 16W.

John Mauss

Nice closing sentences.

Flounder

I love Makar, and he’s clearly a better player than Sandis was. But to be fair, Ozo would have scored a lot more with the current rules. As someone who loves those old squads and this new squad…..it is slightly annoying listening to the broadcast go on and on about how great this team and this record or that record. Let them win something first, then we will put them with those great teams of the past. As for the records. It’s all good, but some of these records might not be so reachable if they didn’t have ties back… Read more »

D Malingo

It’s a touch call. As a Makar fan, I want him to win, but Josi went on an insane tear, and I was starting to feel he deserved it more, his PPG were quite a lot higher than Makar, pretty impressive goal count, good underlying numbers. But, he now has only 2 pts in his last 7 games. So, I think it comes down to the wire. Josi was on pace to break 100, and if he does that, I don’t see how he doesn’t get the Norris. But, now it seems like that won’t happen, and Makar could even… Read more »

Scott Groginsky

Agree that it’s disrespectful and ahistorical for the Devils to not recognize the Colorado Rockies (or the Kansas City Scouts) as the origins of their franchise, and I’m also glad the Avalanche honors and includes the Nordiques as part of the team’s history. Do the other transplant teams ignore their franchise’s previous cities/teams? (Hurricanes/Whalers, Coyotes/Jets, Stars/North Stars, Jets/Thrashers, etc).

JD16

I too like the Avs include the Nordiques. I never understood why a team wouldn’t. As for the others I’m not totally certain. I know two, or three seasons ago when the Canes wore Whalers jerseys against Boston one of the Boston commentators pitched a fit about it. Especially in regards to, I believe Hamilton, for wearing his (Hamilton’s) jersey number that was retired by the Whalers but wasn’t with the Canes. Just because a team moves doesn’t mean the others history ceases to exist. Though I’m fine if a team doesn’t bring over the retired numbers. Has a bit… Read more »

NMAvs

I feel teams should honor records and stuff from the franchise in a previous location. I’m not sure how all teams in the league handle it but most seem to at least mention that history better than the Devils do. Personally I think an exception should be the Winnipeg situation where I say the current Jets should honor previous Jets history more than the Coyotes, and if another team is ever in Quebec they should have the Nords records transferred from the Avs. But those situations are not common.

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