BARBERIO A BIG DEAL
D-man making an impression
Seven weeks ago, Avalanche defenseman Mark Barberio was playing in his hometown, Montreal. The Canadiens, by far the market’s marquee pro franchise, were destined to make the playoffs in their bid to win the Stanley Cup for the 25th time.
“It was really special,” Barberio said Wednesday at the Family Sports Center. “I grew up a huge Canadiens fan. I had the chance to sign with them, and I jumped all over it. I had to work my way into that lineup for both seasons that I was there. I’m proud that I was able to wear their colors.”
Barberio joined the Canadiens as an unrestricted free agent in July 2015 after playing two full seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2015-16 and again this season, he divided time between the Canadiens and the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League, essentially as an organizational insurance defenseman. But he wasn’t able to lock down a long-term spot on the Canadiens roster.
“They have a lot of depth over there,” Barberio said. “Last year, there was a bunch of injuries and I got a chance to play more. This year, going into the season, everyone was healthy and it was a tough lineup to crack. But then there were some injuries and when I got to come in, I did my best with the minutes that I was given. I was playing more like a third-pair D and I was always doing whatever I could to help the team, but in the end it wasn’t enough.”
After the Canadiens acquired Nikita Nesterov from Tampa Bay and Andrei Markov came off injured reserve, Barberio was the odd man out. When the Canadiens put him on waivers to send him to St. John’s, the Avalanche claimed him Feb 2.
What a contrast. He was going from one of the top teams in the NHL to one having a historically horrible season.
“This is a second chance, and I’m just trying to make the most of it,” Barberio said.
There have been few positives in the Avalanche season, but Barberio has been one of them. It’s a backhanded compliment that a defenseman the Canadiens considered expendable now is playing with Erik Johnson in Colorado’s top pairing — and it’s on merit. He had his second goal in 24 games with Colorado in Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to St. Louis, and going into the Avalanche’s Thursday home game against Edmonton, he is averaging 20:40 of ice time. He also is a respectable — at least on this team — minus-4.
“I think he’s been pretty good,” said Colorado coach Jared Bednar. “He helps us in a lot of areas. You look at his ability to move the puck and contribute to our offensive scheme, I think he’s fitting in. He defends hard and we’re asking a lot of him, playing in the top pair and logging minutes against some of those top guys he’s got to defend. But I think he’s doing an admirable job.”
Wingers Matt Nieto, claimed on waivers from San Jose in January, and Sven Andrighetto, acquired from Montreal for Andreas Martinsen on March 1, both have expiring deals, and if the Avalanche makes them qualifying offers, they could be restricted free agents July 1. Or the Avalanche might just let them walk. Those are auditions. Barberio’s situation is different: He is in the first season of a twoyear, $1.5 million contract.
“If you have a two-year deal, sometimes it’s harder to get picked up,” Barberio said. “Teams don’t want to be locked into that second season. I think that was a good sign that Colorado still wanted to pick me up and they believe I can be part of the future.”