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The Avalanche Should Make Things Right with Jonas Holøs

Cole Hamilton Avatar
May 6, 2015
A few months ago, rumors that the Colorado Avalanche had signed Norweigan forward Andreas Martinsen appeared all over European hockey boards.  The team hasn’t confirmed or denied their interest in Martinsen, but, with the IIHF World Championship in full swing, I took the opportunity to scout the rumored Avalanche signee.
As I looked for the hulking winger, however, all I could see was former Avalanche defenseman Jonas Holøs playing strong hockey and big minutes for Team Norway.  If the Avalanche are still scouting Martinsen during the IIHF annual tournament, they should also see a rare opportunity in the world of professional sports in regards to Jonas Holøs – the opportunity for a second chance.
The Avalanche drafted Jonas Holøs in the 6th round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and, after allowing him to develop in the SEL for two years, gave him 39 games of NHL action in the 2010-2011 season.  As the Avalanche limped to a 4-28 finish that season, players reportedly lost faith in coach Joe Sacco, who made a habit of putting players in the doghouse for long stretches.  Holøs was a regular victim of Sacco’s benchings and, despite some strong play from the Norwegian defenseman, he left the team for the summer on uncertain terms.
When Holøs didn’t make the Avalanche out of training camp the following season, he asked the team to release him from his contract so that he could play overseas instead of reporting to the Avs’ minor league affiliate.  The Avalanche obliged and the Norwegian blue-liner jumped ship for greener pastures.
Now, four years later, Jonas Holøs’ contract with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv is coming to an end and the value of the Russian ruble has plummeted in such a way that many KHL players are eyeing a move back to the NHL.  Coincidentally, the Avalanche will lose their rights to Holøs on July 1st if they don’t sign the defenseman to a new NHL contract.  Add to that the Avalanche’s paper thin defensive corps and Holøs’ strong play for Norway and this looks like the perfect opportunity for Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy to come in at the eleventh hour and correct the mistake of their predecessor.

Who is Jonas Holøs?
Jonas Holøs is a 27 year old right-shooting defenseman from Sarpsborg, Norway with the ability to play in all situations.  Despite his relatively small (5’11”, 196 lb) stature, Holøs has a solid frame which is amplified by his high level skating.  Holøs plays sound, responsible hockey and makes a good first pass to exit the zone.  His excellent skating makes him hard to separate from the puck, allows him to recover from mistakes, and gives him a valuable tool for moving the puck up ice.  In the NHL, he projects as a quality 3rd pairing defenseman.
Let’s take a look at Jonas Holøs’s professional hockey career, and more specifically what he’s done since leaving North America.

While the Avalanche have struggled defensively in each of the last 5 seasons, Holøs found some relative success in European leagues after walking away from Joe Sacco and the Avs.  In the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Holøs played with Vaxjo HC of the Swedish Elite League.  Holøs had a down year immediately after leaving North America, scoring just 9 points in 41 SEL games, but improved substantially the next season, scoring 17 points in 55 games and leading his Vaxjo team back into the playoffs for an eventual semi-finals loss.

Holøs followed his brief stint in the SEL by signing a two-year contract with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the KHL.  In those two years Holøs scored a modest 33 points in 112 KHL games, all while providing top-pairing defense, ranking 2nd in time on ice per game, and firing an impressive 180 shots on net.  In 2014, Holøs led the 8th seed Yaroslavl over top-ranked Dynamo Moscow and into the Conference Finals with 4 points and 25 shots in the 16 game campaign.  These playoffs Holøs had 1 point and 7 shots in 6 games as Lokomotiv fell to Moscow in the first round.
Holøs has been most impressive, however, in his international appearances.  In the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Holøs was the lone bright spot for an 0-3 Norway Team.  He led Norway with 27 minutes of ice time per night against top competition in a very tough group that included the gold medal winning Canadians and bronze medal winning Fins.  Holøs was one of just four Norwegians to register a point in the tournament.  At this year’s IIHF World Championship, Holøs has played a similarly large role for Norway with 1 assist and 7 shots on goal in three games so far.
Where Would Holøs Fit?
Although the Avalanche have more high-end defensive talent today than they did last time Jonas Holøs donned an Avalanche jersey, the roster is still paper-thin on defense.  The Avalanche are undoubtably stronger on the right side, with All-Star Erik Johnson and the dynamic Tyson Barrie leading the way, but, based on allocation of ice time, Patrick Roy appears dissatisfied with his options on the right side further down the depth chart.
Currently that depth on the right side comes from Zach Redmond and Stefan Elliott, but, despite their offensive talent, neither player has earned the trust of Roy’s coaching staff in the defensive zone.  In fact, when Erik Johnson went down with an injury, Roy opted to move the left-shooting Brad Stuart to his off-side rather than rely more heavily on Redmond and Elliott. Enter Jonas Holøs, who’s steady two-way play would give Roy more versatility from his otherwise limited bottom pairing and allow the coach to keep Stuart on his natural side.
Not only is Holøs a logical fit for the Avs’ needs, but the numbers from his brief NHL tryout indicate that he could be a substantial upgrade for the Avalanche.  In the 2010-2011 season the Avalanche ranked 19th in the NHL for Corsi percentage with 47.3% of even strength possession.  On that team, according to War-On-Ice, Holøs narrowly out-possessed Johnson, with a 48% Corsi score and kept stride with both John Michael-Liles and rookie Kevin Shattenkirk in terms of possession, despite playing the hardest minutes of the four defensemen.
Put simply, Jonas Holøs’ was an above average defenseman in his one NHL season.  He played like he belonged.  The players he performed similarly to are all successful NHL defensemen to this day and the players he surpassed, like Ryan O’Byrne, Scott Hannan, Adam Foote, and Ryan Wilson, have all found themselves outside or on the fringes of NHL hockey.
For comparison’s sake, in the 2013-2014 season, the Avalanche produced 46.9% Corsi for, good for 25th in the NHL.  Only Tyson Barrie possessed the puck better than Holøs’ 48% in 2011, while Jan Hejda and Nate Guenin played well below team average with 44.5% possession.  This past season the Avalanche ranked 29th in the NHL with just 43.2 Corsi percentage.  Erik Johnson led the team with 46.38 CF% while Nate Guenin and Brad Stuart brought up the rear with a near league-worst 39% each.
None of this is to say that Avalanche fans should expect Holøs to miraculously reproduce his 48% possession from 2011 on a worse possession team if he were substituted directly for Nate Guenin or Brad Stuart.  However, Holøs’ decent NHL track record combined with his youth and NHL-level toolkit could make him a better option than either of the veteran defenders.  Either way, re-signing Holøs is an extremely low-risk, high-reward move worth exploring for Avalanche management.
Upgrading the team’s third defensive pairing may not seem impactful, but adding quality depth can have a major ripple effect on a shallow roster like the Avalanche’s.  If Holøs is truly the above average possession defenseman he was in 2011, then he gives Patrick Roy the freedom to remove one of his possession anchors from the lineup and better replacement options when injuries hit.
When all is said and done, Holøs will have the final say on whether or not he returns to the NHL with the Avalanche.  In a 2012 interview with Hockey’s Future, Holøs stated that he was open to reuniting with the Avs, but, three years later, there may be too many bridges burned for him to make his return with Colorado.  In a recent interview with the fan blog Eurolanche, Holøs suggested that he wanted to pursue another KHL contract.
Before that can happen, the onus is on the Avalanche to offer Holøs the NHL contract that would make things right.  It’s a step which requires some organizational humility, admitting that Greg Sherman erred in letting Holos walk, but, unless Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy want to become a regime known for letting talented players walk away for nothing, it’s a step they need to take.
It’s time to bring Jonas Holøs back into the fold.

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