During this downtime we at Burgundy Review have decided to make some predictions on the contracts all players in the Colorado Avalanche organization will receive for the 2020-21 season. Currently only 29 contracts for next year are on the books so it will again be another busy offseason signing players. We run the gamut on all those needing contracts so settle in for Part I now with Part II to follow.
Section A: Restricted Free Agents
Possibly the most interesting class of players for the Avalanche. A lot of decisions to be made here which will shape the organization’s future salary cap.
earl: The thought is that Burky wants a long-term home. He and the Avs couldn’t get together on that right after the trade so the qualifying offer stood. Now it’s time to decide how long he’s going to be a fit with the rest of the Avs core around his age. Despite some injury issues and barren stretches (and the virus) he put up career highs in goals, assists and points. At 25, his upside is about what we saw, maybe 30 goals and 60 points in a full season. Downside is about half that, which is what the Caps saw in his final season there.
This is the first of two tough calls the Avs have to make this off-season (the other being Ryan Graves) and it’s going to be the first off-season in a while that they have to watch the cap. Burakovsky will not be cheap to sign long-term, probably in the 5×5 range as a starting point to negotiate. They have a fall back position of another $3.25M qualifying offer which would likely go up a bit in arbitration. The risk there is that if he has another season like this the price goes up again. Basing the decision on 58 games is brutal. I’m inclined to go with the long-term deal but it’s got a fair amount of risk involved and makes them wing-heavy in their cap situation, which I’m not a fan of. My guess is he signs for 5 years, $5M or something pretty close.
Jackie: With only one RFA year left the Avs will need to decide this offseason if they want to get married to Burakovsky or not. Since he made them look smart on the gamble to acquire him from the Washington Capitals and he did what was asked of him, it’s now time to pay up with a long-term contract. The $5M range or even a touch higher is a good bet on dollars but the Avs usually can hammer term on guys who aren’t on the open market so they’ll likely get him to take a three or four year deal.
earl: Nichushkin proved he belongs in the NHL again and had some very effective stretches for the Avs this year but he’s got to back that up to get anything but a one-year contract. He’ll be UFA in 2 years so a single season deal makes the most sense. I’d give him a 100% raise at $1.7M.
Jackie: As the opposite situation to Burakovsky, it’s Nichushkin who has two RFA years left the Avs have time to sort through their long range plans with him. He’s earned a longer leash than just a one-year deal but the Avs can’t give him that two-year commitment to walk him to unrestricted free agency and there’s no need for a longer marriage now with time on their side. I’d be fairly generous on a one-year extension and $2-2.5M is a good range for what Nichushkin has provided the Avs.
earl: this one’s pretty easy. Jost is the only RFA without arb rights. I think he takes his qualifying offer, 1-way at $915k or whatever it is.
Jackie: It’s true Jost doesn’t have much leverage and if the Avs aren’t interested in anything beyond the qualifying offer he doesn’t have many options. However they’ve always been in Jost’s corner and for someone who has basically played his entire Entry Level Contract in the NHL he has earned a standard small bridge deal. A two-year extension worth around $1.6-1.7M per year seems about right. Plus having Jost under contract that second year opens up options for the expansion draft and makes his value more tangible on the trade market if the Avs want to go that route.
earl: They’ll qualify Kamenev I’m pretty sure but with other players about to overtake him they might consider parting ways somehow. I doubt there’s much to be gained in arbitration so he’ll end up on another deal like this year’s, 1-way around $750k.
Jackie: Kamenev was fine as the 13th forward for much of the season but there really isn’t a compelling reason to keep him either. Logan O’Connor could probably fill that role and is someone whose game endears to Jared Bednar much more. I don’t think the Avs want to get in a situation where Kamenev files for arbitration and they get stuck with a one-way deal. I see a non-qualifier here and it’s probably best for Kamenev to look for another opportunity. If the Avs do keep him around because he’s cheap and an easy extra depth piece that’s ok I just then think he might end up getting buried.
Jackie: Graves is setting up to get this decade’s version of the Nick Holden deal which is probably a three-year extension. Again, as someone with two RFA years left the Avs have to pick a side and while a one year deal would be fine to see if Graves can continue his elevated role and production the Avs probably feel strong enough about him to offer up some term. Having a contract that runs through the 21-22 season also gives expansion draft flexibility to expose Graves if need be but more term might dissuade Seattle from selecting him if he ends up available. Graves will get paid for his unexpected production of 26 points plus sporting that eye-popping league leading +40 will make a strong case for him in arbitration so the Avs will need to pony up and the range of $3.3-3.5M per year seems fair.
earl: The Graves situation could be a real pitfall for the Avs. There’s not much of a track record to go on and unlike Burky he doesn’t have time with another team to clear the fog. There are some easy comparables out there at $4M+ per season on long term deals, which is… [gulp]. One of those comparables is Nikita Zaitsev and that is 100% what cannot happen.
The Avs pro scouting staff targeted him and acquired him then the coaching and player personnel staff fast-tracked him. Now they have to create a deal that reflects that confidence while not compromising the long-term cap situation. I don’t think that’s entirely difficult as long as Graves continues to fit into the club’s style and his own role the way he did for most of this season. It would force the Avs out of their comfort zone with having to scale back on re-signing or otherwise acquiring veteran defensemen like EJ and Ian Cole.
One thing is for sure, Graves’ qualifying offer (around 1 year, $810k) won’t get it done. Arbitration will jack that up several times, which isn’t a terrible thing. I would be much more comfortable with a 1-year show-me (or back it up) contract than committing to a 5 year deal right now. The chances of Graves improving significantly next year in the money-making areas are small. No reason to jump the gun here.
earl: The cheeky move would have been to trade Z at the deadline but that didn’t work out for various reasons. The Avs need to make a hole in the defensive corps for Bowen Byram and unfortunately he’s the odd man out. I think the relationship with the coaching staff and management is probably tepid at best right now.
Say they do try to re-sign him it’s tough to come up with a realistic deal. He’s had 2 show-me’s now and the 1-year, $3.2M contract he signed last summer was overpayment for his ultimate role. Again, this is why trading him at the deadline would have been the smart move. His market value exceeds his role on the club, which is exactly why/when you trade someone. The options now are a trade with meagher return or arbitration and an unhappy player. Not great.
Jackie: Sigh…the Zadorov saga is always something. The Avs probably want to find a deal which gives them an upgrade in another area but they won’t just dump Zadorov either. He has two more RFA years left that they could milk with one-year contracts and just leave him available for Seattle which seems to be the path of least resistance. With only 13 points that’s not going to get him much raise to something like $3.5M if they go that route even in arbitration. The relationship seems like it’s heading to an end, it’s a matter of when. Zadorov is still a useful NHL experienced defenseman regardless.
Stay tuned for Part II coming next week covering all other contracts including Unrestricted Free Agents and all types of NHL contracts pertaining to AHL players.