With the trade deadline looming, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at where the Avs are sitting contract-wise for next season. While the prevailing wisdom seems to be that the Avalanche won't be very active at the March 3rd trade deadline, Avalanche GM Greg Sherman has some interesting decisions ahead of him this summer, and those could have an impact next week. As always, I'm using cap numbers from both NHL Numbers and CapGeek.
Up front, the Avalanche have 9 players locked in for next season (I'm only including guys who've been on the roster this year). Although Ryan Stoa and Justin Mercier may very well be on next year's team, it's a little premature to count on them just yet. The other 7 forwards should all feature prominently in the team's plans for next season. The total cap hit for those 7 is $16,424,000. (CapGeek lists Duchene's cap hit as 3.2 million, NHL Numbers has him at 3.4 million. I went with the former).
Probably the most interesting story in all of this is what happens with some key restricted free agents. With not-very-sincere apologies to T.J. Hensick, the Avalanche have 3 key RFAs this summer (cap number below is their required qualifying offer)
When looking at what kind of a contract Wolski might demand, it's hard not to look at the deal Phil Kessel signed last summer with the Maple Leafs. The previous season, Kessel scored 36 goals and 60 points. Wolski is on pace to score 23 / 63. To that point in his career, Kessel had average .57 points per game. Wolski is currently at .64. Now, Kessel was younger than Wolski and had more career goals, so I don't expect the World of Wolski to quite match Kessel's 5-year, $5.4 million deal. But I can see an argument that he should be in the $4 - $4.5 million range.
Wolski is not on the open market yet, however. In order to retain his rights, the Avalanche need to tender Wolski a qualifying offer of at least $2.8 million per year by July 1st. Wolski does not have to sign this deal, and other teams are able to sign Wolski to an offer sheet. The Avalanche would be able to match this deal. If they don't, they would be get a boatload of draft picks in return. If Wolski gets between $3 and $4 million from another team, the Avalanche would get a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick to give up his rights. If he end up in the $4 to $5 million range, it's 2 1sts, a 2nd and a 3rd - similar to what Boston got for Kessel. Anything over $5 million, and the Avalanche could receive 4 1st round picks as compensation. Is there an NHL GM willing to give up 4 1st round picks to land Wolski? Doubtful. Might a team give up 2 1sts, a 2nd and a 3rd to land him? That's starting to creep a little more into the realm of plausibility.
Wolski may also elect to go to arbitration if he is unhappy with the qualifying offer the Avalanche make to him. Last summer, Nikolai Zherdev, coming off a 58-point season with the Rangers, was awarded $3.9 million by an arbitrator (the Rangers subsequently walked away from the deal, making Zherdev an unrestricted free agent).
With all the variables, it's hard to predict exactly what will happen with Wolski's contract this summer, but don't be shocked if his cap number is at or above the $4 million range. I'm a fan of Double Dub, but I'm curious to see if the Avalanche are confident enough in Wolski to allocate that much cap room to him.
Chris Stewart? Wolski signed his $2.8 million deal in 2008, his first year of restricted free agency. At the time, Wolski had 42 career goals, had a career point per game rate of .64 and his best season was 50 points. Stewart currently has 30 goals, .55 PPG and is on pace to score 55+ points. He also would seem to be a prime poaching candidate - better than Wolski even - due to his combination of size, speed and skill. I'm sure Stewart isn't going anywhere, but the Avalanche will consider themselves lucky if they are paying Stewart anything less than $3 million next year.
Brandon Yip is tougher to gauge. He's had a great year, but it's only one year and not a full one at that. I'm not really sure what fair market value for Yip might be. Cody McLeod signed for a shade over $1 million after his 49-game debut season. For now, let's put Yip in the $1.2-$1.5 million range. That puts the estimated total salary for the three key RFAs at forward at $8,500,000 or so.
Finally, here's a list of the Avs' unrestricted free agents at forwards. Even if Darcy Tucker and Marek Svatos don't get moved at the deadline, their combined $4.4 million in cap space will certainly be off the books next year (essentially that money would go to the raises due to the 3 RFAs above). A couple of these guys - Durno and Hendricks, for example - could return next year, but no one on this list is going to signed for much more than the minimum.
|11||Dupuis, Philippe||C||24||UFA VI|
So, combining the 7 from the first list and the 3 from the 2nd list and the Avalanche would project to have 10 players locked up next year for $24,924,000 - call it $25 million. That would be Stastny, Duchene and O'Reilly up the middle, Wolski, Galiardi and McLeod on the left wing and Hejduk, Stewart, Jones and Yip on the right side - an excellent nucleus. Truthfully, the Avalanche may be heavy on the right side, but I can't really see the Avalanche moving any of those 4 right wingers. With that core group in place, it's hard to picture Svatos, Tucker or Hensick figuring into any of the Avs' future plans. All three players should be considered "in play" at the deadline.
Oh, and 9 of those 10 forwards are under 26 years old. The future is bright...as long as the salary cap doesn't derail the team before they become the next NHL dynasty.
(I'll look at the defense and goaltending a little later on)