Safe to say we’ve not had an offseason like this before. After the frantic pace of the bubbles the league has been prepping for a compressed draft/free agent frenzy that starts Tuesday night and will mostly be over by quitting time on Friday.
The Avalanche haven’t gotten much of their roster construction chores done yet, which is interesting. On the one hand that gives them plenty of options, on the other it means a lot of work coming up in the coming week and beyond. No one is exactly sure when the 20-21 season will actually begin but the earliest case would have training camps starting up in mid-November. That gives Joe Sakic and friends around 6 weeks to build next year’s teams and reserve list. Let’s look at the important dates first, then break down what needs to be done.
The NHL Entry Draft
Tuesday 10/6, First Round
Wednesday 10/7, Rounds 2-7
Thanks to COVID this will be 100% virtual, which may or may not limit some of the usual horse trading we see on the draft floor. The Avs currently own their #25 pick late in R1, the Leafs R3 which falls at #75 and then 4 picks in the latter half of the order. My interest in prospects begins when they are selected by Colorado but I invite you to read Jackie’s excellent breakdown of the Avs plan this year for all the details. Barring a miracle, none of these fellows will have an effect on the pro side of the org until late Spring at the earliest.
Restricted Free Agent Qualifying Offers
Due by 5pm ET on Wednesday 10/7
While Alan Hepple and the amateur crew are finishing up the Entry Draft, the Avs must submit their list of QO’s to the league. The Avs have 5 RFAs on the NHL roster and another 3 in the minors, plus Vlad Kamenev who has opted to return to Russia for next season. All but Tyson Jost are eligible for arbitration hearings. The clubs don’t have to wait for this to sign deals of course, the Avs already re-signed RFA Logan O’Connor last month and many other teams have gotten down to business over the past few weeks.
Free Agent Frenzy
Opens at Noon ET on Friday 10/9
The day we love to hate. TSN usually has a list of 30 top UFAs, last I looked it was at 75 so this should be interesting. I think this is getting overplayed as usual. Few clubs can/want to take on high-dollar deals right now. The smart money is going to wait a few weeks and see who’s still lurking.
In a normal year, high trading season ramps up at the NHL Awards Banquet the week of the draft, then continues through the draft and the week leading up to FAF. Generally it winds down by a few days after free agency opens up. This year who knows. There have been a few deals so far but nothing earth-shaking. The MSHM keeps harping on the fact that lots of teams are “in cap trouble” but I’ll believe it when I see it. GM’s have a far greater understanding of how to manipulate the salary cap than reporters do. Teams that are in good shape cap-wise (like the Avs) are fine staying that way with severely truncated revenue this coming year and perhaps beyond. If a ridiculous pennies-on-the-dollar opportunity opens up then the interest will be there but it’s unlikely anyone takes on money without a great return on investment.
The goal is simple. Fill out the NHL roster, hopefully improving on last year’s squad, and populate the Eagles with callup depth and prospects. Needs begin with identifying what they have by level and position.
The Avs have the 3HM plus Kadri signed for the top 6, then 4 others (Compher, Donskoi, Calvert, PEB) for depth. Jost, Nichushkin and Burakovsky are RFA and all expected to be signed. That’s 11.
Returning Eagles on NHL deals include Martin Kaut, Shane Bowers, Nick Henry and the re-signed TJ Tynan and Logan O’Connor. Kaut and LOC should be in play for NHL spots. Josh Dickinson, Travis Barron and Ty Lewis primarily played for the Utah Grizzlies last year on NHL deals. The Eagles have also signed 2 players to 1-way AHL contracts and 2 players to 2-way AHL/ECHL contracts so far. That’s 12 depending on if anyone graduates. AJ Greer and Sheldon Dries area also RFAs, no idea what they intend to do there.
So conservatively they’ll sign one UFA forward for the NHL at least. Needs fall into two roles more or less. A top-6 upgrade would be nice but I don’t like the UFA options, making a trade would be better bang for the buck. Second need would be some kind of veteran PK specialist which I do think UFA works well for. Beyond that expect the usual bag of tweener journeymen primarily for the Eagles.
The Avs have 4 under contract (EJ, Sam, Makar & Cole) plus Bowen Byram who should have every chance possible to stay on the roster rather than returning to the WHL for no good reason at all. Ryan Graves and Nikita Zadorov are RFAs and will be qualified.
The Eagles have Conor Timmins, Dan Renouf, Anton Lindholm and the newly re-signed Jacob MacDonald on NHL deals along with Josh Anderson who spent more time in Utah than not. They also have 3 guys on one-way AHL contracts and 2 on 2-way AHL/ECHL contracts.
As is, they’re already in pretty good shape on paper at defense. There are two rather large questions however. First of all is what they plan to do with Byram. He can’t play in the AHL this season so it’s NHL or bust and for a 4th overall pick with loads of talent the answer should be an easy one. The second is what to do with Big Z. He is unique among Avs D but because of various issues can’t rise higher than 6th on the depth chart. I’ve made this point many times but this is what happens on good teams, a guy like Z who could be playing 2nd pair on many clubs is underused. This is exactly when you trade a player. His value outside the club is higher than inside. The Avs can get a good asset back and it clears a space for Byram and even Timmins as a call-up.
The final product depends on the answers to those two questions. The Avs will probably want some sort of journeyman to be a 7th NHL D and perhaps another AHL vet type for the Eagles. Lord help us if they buy any more than that.
Grubauer, Francouz and Werner are all signed for this year, as is Justus Annunen who has been assigned to his team in the Liiga. Hunter Miska is RFA and they have former Penn St netminder Peyton Jones under AHL contract. Sounds like a stable situation but according to the rumor mill it’s anything but. Sure, the Avs goalies seemed to have issues saving pucks in the playoffs but the big problem was durability. Healthy, there would have been no problem but availability is a skill so here we are listening to rumors on every goalie in the league coming to Denver.
Until it’s settled whether we stand pat or make moves at the top, figuring out the needs is problematic. Say we stand pat, a 3rd goalie/AHL tandem guy is a need. Is Hunter Miska able to fill that role? I don’t know. He’s fine in the AHL but I don’t have a lot of faith in his NHL chops. Neither he nor Werner have to pass through waivers so that’s a plus. I’m good with starting the season this way and if it doesn’t work out then go from there. Annunen is an option late in the season so there’s that too.
You might have noticed that the Avs only signed one prospect this Spring and he’s going back to Finland. The only prospects with expiring rights were Cam Morrison (signed by Chicago), Denis Smirnov and Brandon Saigeon (sort of). None were offered a contract which makes it an odd year in that regard. The reason this isn’t a concern is because they could sign a boatload of ELCs next Spring. It’s expected that Sampo Ranta and Alex Newhook will turn pro and hoped that Nikolai Kovalenko will join them. Alex Beaucage, Sasha Mutala, Luka Burzan and Trent Miner all have expiring rights as well. Some late birthdays in the 2020 draft class or surprises from the other NCAA players could add to that.
♠ ♠ ♠
That’s pretty much the boring, conservative view. The Avs are generally a boring conservative team so it wouldn’t be surprising if they do a little rather than a lot. Without doing anything they’re already the 2021 Cup favorites in many people’s eyes. That doesn’t mean they aren’t kicking tires and checking into some of the hype deals, they most certainly are, but nowadays they’re the ones operating from the position of strength. They have a really good team, plenty of cap space to sign their RFAs and fill out the rest of the roster and a solid group of prospects to keep feeding the dragon in years to come. Joe Sakic has put them in a position where they can wait for the lopsided win trades and get a free agent to take a discount rather than pay retail all the time. How far we have come….