With the buyout period opening today, NHL silly season officially kicks off. The Amateur Draft is a week from today, RFA qualifying offers are due a week from Monday and Free Agency begins two weeks from Sunday. By three weeks from now we’re going to know 95% of what the Avs depth chart will look like going into next season. Unlike years past the base is solid and the needs they do have are peripheral. They have several ways to fill those so let’s take a look at the options.
The week before the draft has become what the in-season deadline used to be. The GM’s have gone through their end-of-season evaluations and have their road maps in hand when they hit Las Vegas for the meetings and Awards Banquet. The Avs don’t have any horrible contracts or disgruntled players to get rid of. If Joe Sakic is presented with an offer that makes the team better there is plenty of cap space to play with and some roster flexibility so they’re in a good spot. Not needing to do anything puts them in an even better spot because for once they have the position of strength. The only weakness is an organization that is still a little light in developed or realized talent so they don’t have assets to give like they should in 2 or 3 years. For me the key points would be:
– Don’t make a major consolidation trade.
– Try to get younger and more right-handed on the forward side if possible.
– Don’t trade up in the draft unless you’re getting an NHL player.
My pick to click would be to find a trade for Colin Wilson. He’s gone a year from now anyway and doesn’t add anything the team doesn’t have plenty of already. An expensive veteran bottom 6 wing that can’t kill penalties is not an easy sale but GMs make this same mistake every year. Opening up a roster spot for youngsters to shoot at would be worth as much or more than anything the Avs would get in a return.
A year from now the Avs have to have a handle on what they want to do with Tyson Barrie going forward. If an extension is something both sides want and communication lines are open and friendly then there’s no action to be taken. If not then the exit strategy has to be planned and executed. That could come in the next week or so if the Avs have made up their minds on it and would radically change what needs to be done in the off-season.
There’s a perception that the Avs have Ottawa’s 1st round pick next year and could trade it for immediate return and that’s not the case. The Avs own Ottawa’s 1st round pick this year. That’s right, they own the 4th overall pick in the draft as of right now. Ottawa has the right, but not the obligation, to use that pick if they choose to since it is in the top 10. If they do not opt to use that pick, then the 2019 OTT 1st rounder becomes property of the Avalanche. The decision to use it or not can come as late as when the clock starts on the draft floor.
I am not a draft expert and we have QueenJK, Rudo and others on staff here that cover that extremely well so I defer to them on who the Avs ought to be looking at. What I can do is lay out what the Avs have and overall needs.
- Round 1: 4th overall (until OTT uses it), 16th overall
- Round 2: 47th overall, 58th overall (from NSH)
- Round 3: 78th overall
- Round 4: 109th overall
- Round 5: 140th overall
- Round 6: 171st overall
- Round 7: 202nd overall
My hopes are plainly that they don’t go super-safe early, that they get a solid goalie to add to the stable and take a shoot-the-moon chance with at least one of the late picks. You’re not going to find an Igor Shvirev every year but you should definitely try. Having a pair of selections 9 spots apart in the 2nd round lends itself to making a bold move with one of them. On Sunday the 24th I want to look at the draft as a whole and see some diversity in skills and risk that make sense.
Now that it’s been exposed that the Senators are a total disaster area in every conceivable way, the chances they opt not to use the 4th overall have gone up. How much isn’t clear. They want to get their pick back from the Avs but that’s going to be tough. From now to the draft, they’re basically trading for this year’s 4th pick overall which is a great asset but it’s tough to justify paying a lot for it. It gets to the point quickly where just letting the Avs pick 4th is the better option. Once the draft is over, if the Avs hold their 2019 1st round pick then there’s no reason for Sakic to give it up for anything less than a massive overpayment and not budge for a long time. You see where I’m going with this, it may be cheaper and better for the Senators in the long run to just forget about picking 4th this year and gain the assurance of having next year’s pick in a rebuilding year. That’s a bunch of logic that might not apply to an organization that’s gotten into this situation, but Alan Hepple is ready at #4 if the opportunity is there.
For the purposes of this discussion free agency is referring to unrestricted free agents from outside the organization. For the record, I am not a fan. Even for desirable players there’s a premium of term and compensation that I’d rather avoid. Some players transcend that. If a player like John Tavares is interested in joining your organization then you listen. I don’t think that’s likely so I’ll just leave it there.
Besides Tavares there are two other players that that Colorado ought to be doing some diligence on. John Carlson is a defenseman the Avs don’t exactly need but they kind of do. If Tyson Barrie is traded that goes up to almost definitely need, at least for a year or two before the young D can start to handle top 4 responsibilities. I’m pretty sure the Avs are interested so we’ll see where that goes on July 1st.
The third target I have is James Neal. The Avs can use some supplemental top 6 scoring for sure and Neal could be the ticket if he doesn’t stick around in Vegas. He fills a need in several ways and as long as they could get reasonable term the salary shouldn’t matter.
And that’s it for notable moves. If they can’t get Tavares there’s no need to go down the list of UFA centers until someone says yes. If Neal slips away then forget overpaying for JVR. If Carlson signs elsewhere then don’t sign some plug that’s only going to block the young D’s the Avs have patiently been acquiring over the past few years. Like I said above, they don’t need anything. They can afford to court the best and stick with what they have if it doesn’t work out. The front office has set the org up to replenish internally if they keep with the strategy they started on over a year ago.
Aside from that there is the goalie situation, which has to be addressed in some way. Right now they have Varly and Francouz, so an NHL starter and a guy that will start in the AHL until Jussi Parkkila and the staff get a handle on his capabilities. They need a backup and another AHL goalie and then a utility goalie that won’t have much of a role until injuries occur. It’s possible all 3 roles will be filled internally so don’t be surprised if they pass on the excitement here on July 1st.
As far as the Eagles are concerned, they have 3 veterans already in Agozzino, Warsofsky and Alt with perhaps another in Siemens. So 1-2 openings max for that. I have a feeling the needs there at forward will be filled by some AHL contracts, a few amateur signings mixed with unqualified RFAs from elsewhere.
The Avs had 5 guys on the NHL roster going to UFA this summer, 6 if you count Hammond. So far they’ve signed Bourque, Alt and Barberio, leaving questions about Jon Bernier and Blake Comeau.
Bernier is in a tough spot but then again so are the Avs. Varly is the #1 but it’s pretty much a given that he’s going to miss time during the year so skimping on the backup is silly. Francouz would seem to be a good candidate in the future but not ready out of the box. The Avs and Bernie are talking and my feeling is that he won’t make it to free agency. I’m sure he’d rather have a starting job somewhere but a #1a job is probably his ceiling in the eyes of NHL GM’s. With those 3 the Avs should be covered in the NHL this year. The Avs have zero goalies signed for next year so this might end up being a bit of a gong show.
For the 4th and 5th goalie spots we have Spencer Martin, who should return on his qualifying offer and a question mark. Easiest solution would be to re-sign Joe Cannata after winning the Eagles a Kelly Cup. Cannata was the utility guy this year and if he’s comfortable with that role then it’s a fit. A dark horse would be the Avs drafting an overager from Europe and bringing him over immediately.
Patrik Nemeth, Matt Nieto and Duncan Siemens are the RFAs that played in the NHL last season. Nemeth is a given, he’ll be back on a qualifying offer or more likely a 2 or 3 year deal. Nieto elected arbitration last summer, which used to be the kiss of death in the Lacroix era. Wouldn’t it be fun if he does it again? Not sure what to think about Duncan. He fits the perfect role as a leader with the Eagles and a callup but the Alt signing makes that murky.
The minor league RFAs are forwards Felix Girard & Reid Petryk and defensemen Mason Geertsen, Ryan Graves and Jesse Graham. I don’t have strong feelings either way on Girard and Petryk, other than the fact they’re right-handed which is a big need at all levels of the org. There should be 2 NHL contracts available for Duncan, Mason, Graves and Graham. I’d take Duncan & Mason if it was me. Graves was horrible after coming over in the Bigras trade but he’s huge and maybe they want to give him a shot with some better coaching and talent on the team. If Graham would take an AHL deal he might stick around, he’s a good scorer if nothing else but he won’t get another NHL contract from the Avs.
There are two strong candidates for ELCs from last year’s AHL contracted group, Shawn St-Amant and Michael Joly. St-A has put in the time and improved since signing an AHL deal at age 19. I think he has marginal NHL upside thanks to his defensive skills and speed plus he’s only 21. Joly was the ECHL Playoff MVP and scoring leader for the Eagles along with killing it in the regular season. I don’t think he’s got NHL upside but an ELC would be a nice reward from the org and a good way to retain him. He’s 23 so it would be a 2-year contract, why not. I think Alex Belzile gets an AHL contract, perhaps a 2-year, and becomes the Eagles captain.
The rest of the depth spots should be filled out by try-outs in development camp and rookie camp. Development camp happens the week after the draft so by then we’ll have a better idea who they’re looking at and what the shopping list for July 1st looks like.
It’s very refreshing to go through a Summer like this, finally, with little controversy or feelings of dread as the deadlines for buyouts and qualifications and free agency loom. They’re in a good place, a relatively competitive team with talent below the NHL level for once. Plenty of people don’t think they’ll make the playoffs next year as currently built, which is fine since no one thought they had a prayer going into last year. I don’t think any of the possible free agent deals or trades affect that much. If they make progress in the standings it’s going to be on the back of Mack’s line and the young players improving as a group. Adding one talented player is highly overrated in today’s NHL when all the good someone can do in 20 minutes of ice time can be undone in an instant by a single mistake. Joe Sakic and the Avs management committing to building a team and an organization rather than a bunch of players is what will drive success for the foreseeable future.