With one little announcement, we now have 19 good reasons to have some optimism about the upcoming season. We also have a much better picture of how this team will look in the fall. We no longer have to include the "if Super Joe returns" qualifier to all of our discussions. There's still the foot-shaped shadow of Peter Forsberg looming in the background, but I think most of us look to him as gravy - albeit very tasty gravy - instead of meat and potatoes.
The Avalanche have 28 guys listed on their roster, with an additional 17 players under contract. It's possible that someone from the latter group could make the team, but odds are that the 23-man roster to start the season will mostly come from the first group. Let's take a look at some of the upcoming battles for a spot on that roster.
Two things to consider when looking at who might and might not make the team (besides their talent level and future potential): waiver eligibility and two-way contracts. A player eligible for waivers would need to clear waivers before being sent down to (or called up from) Lake Erie. This is how we obtained George Parros a couple of seasons back and why Jeff Jillson wasn't immediately available to play when recalled at one point this year (he hadn't cleared yet). As we'll see in a bit, there are some fringe players who would need to be waived to be sent down. A two-way contract is a contract that pays a player a certain amount in the NHL and a much lesser amount in the AHL. As you can see by the link above, most of the younger players (including Paul Stastny) are on two-way contracts (the superscript 2 next to their names is the indicator). Two-way contracts don't affect waiver eligibility or the salary cap - guys in the minors don't count against the cap regardless of the contract type. It really just effects the team's bottom-line and I don't believe this is much of a factor when figuring out who does and doesn't make the roster.
Barring injury, it's probable that Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft will be the two goalies out of camp. Budaj has to be a lock. Raycroft might be on a bit shakier ground given his recent history, but he would have to clear waivers if he didn't make the team. I think he would have to really look bad for the team to give up on him this soon. Tyler Weiman and Jason Bacashihua will be around to pressure Raycroft a bit for that backup spot, but, unlike Razor, both can be moved to and from the AHL without clearing waivers.
In (2): Budaj and Raycroft
Out: Weiman, Bacashihua
Salary Cap Hit: $1,500,000
This one's pretty easy as well. Scott Hannan, Brett Clark, Adam Foote, John-Michael Liles, Ruslan Salei and Jordan Leopold should be your clear top 6. I haven't seen any updates on Clark's status, but I believe he was expected to be fully recovered from his shoulder injury by now. The Avalanche will likely carry 7 - and perhaps 8 - defensemen. Newly signed Daniel Tjarnqvist and speed demon Kyle Cumiskey are two likely candidates for the spot(s). Wes O'Neill [er, Nigel Williams - thanks, Jori] has generated some good buzz, so he could be in the mix as well. I don't know enough about the other youngsters - Darcy Campbell, Michael Vernace, etc - to guage their relatively slim chances at this point. Tjarnqvist is waiver eligible, giving him a slight advantage, but I don't think the Avs will be afraid to waive him if he gets outplayed. Remember that Foote has never played a full 82 games and has averaged just under 63 games a season in his career, so having an extra player or two the Avs feel they can count on is very important.
In (6): Foote, Clark, Liles, Hannan, Salei, Leopold
Salary Cap Hit: $19,725,000
In the Mix for 2 spots: Cumiskey, Tjarnqvist, Williams
Estimated Additional Cap Hit: $1,300,000
The Avs will either carry 13 forwards and 8 defensemen or 14 forwards and 7 defensemen. Either way, there's a few guys who will be on the roster no matter what: Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth, Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, Darcy Tucker, Wojtek Wolski, Marek Svatos, Tyler Arnason (yes) and Ian Laperriere. That's 9 spots (I haven't heard anything about Svatos' recovery, so I'm assuming he'll be ready to start the season). The remaining 4 or 5 spots will be chased by a rather large list of players:
- TJ Hensick
- David Jones
- Cody McCormick
- Cody McLeod
- Chris Stewart
- Per Ledin
- Brian Willsie
- Ben Guite
- Scott Parker
I don't really think Stewart is a viable candidate yet, but he's listed on the roster right now, so he's included. I'm not even going to try to sort through the guys like Codey Burki and TJ Galardi; let's just say that there's some compelling players not on the above list who might also have an outside chance of making the team. I personally feel that Guite should be a lock, but with enough players vying for a spot, I'm including him here. Of the above list, Parker, Guite and Willsie are the three eligible for waivers. I'm very curious to see how this one will play out. If I was picking today, I'd guess Guite, Jones, Willsie and McLeod, but I think there will be some great battles next month.
In (9): Sakic, Stastny, Smyth, Hejduk, Wolski, Tucker, Svatos, Laperriere, Arnason
Cap Hit: $26,925,000
In the mix for 4 spots: Hensick, Jones, Willsie, Guite, Ledin, Parker, Stewart, McCormick, McLeod
Estimated Additional Cap Hit: $2,147,500
Estimated Total Cap Figure: $51,597,500
It looks like the most exciting camp jostling in September will be among the forwards. Unless something dramatic happens, the Avs seem to be on course to open the season with a cap hit of about $51.5 million. We know that GM Francois Giguere likes to have cap room to maneuver, and he's got about $5 million to play with here. More than enough for another dramatic midseason signing or to trade for a goalie.