Earlier, I looked at the Avalanche forwards and sorted everyone into a neat pile, separating everyone into a "returning next year" and "going elsewhere" pile. To recap, I figure 10 Avalanche forwards are, barring trades, expected to be on the roster next year: Stastny, Duchene, O'Reilly at center, Wolski, Galiard and McLeod on the left wing and Hejduk, Stewart, Yip and Jones on the right side. Those 10 guys would have an estimate cap hit of $25 million.
Now, a look at the rest of the team.
With some big contracts coming off the books, Avalanche GM Greg Sherman should have some cap relief on the blueline. The Avalanche have 5 defensemen under contract next year. We can ignore Tom Preissing and his cap number, as it is unlikely he will see much time in an Avalanche unipron. The remaining 4 have a cap hit of $10,130,000. Yes, I know you want to know about Liles; we'll get to him in a bit.
The Avalanche have 3 players who will be restricted free agents next summer, but the only one of any real consequence is Kyle Quincey.
Quincey has had a good season in Denver, but I can't help but feel that his absolute best quality is his dirt-cheap salary. What would Quincey command? Matt Carle was given a 4-year deal at $3.4 million after his 11-goal, 42-point rookie season. I'd say that probably would be representative of the higher end of the salary scale for Quincey. Last summer, RFA James Wisniewski signed a 1-year, $2.75 million deal with the Ducks. He's put up similar numbers to Quincey in his career. Maybe there's a player who's a better barometer, but until I see otherwise, I'd peg Quincey as somewhere probably just shy of $3 million.
As for the UFAs, Ruslan Salei is as good as gone (I'll be really surprised if he isn't moved on Wednesday) and I have a suspicion that this is the final season for the venerable Adam Foote. With the play of Brett Clark this year (and the fact that he's sitting in front of Salei and Liles on the depth chart), it wouldn't shock me to see him back next year...but not at $3.5 million a year.
With Quincey, the Avalanche would appear to have about $13,000,000 tied up in six defensemen - a big improvement to the $20+ million they had committed to six defensemen going into this season. With those expiring contracts, the Avalanche don't have to move Liles' contract for cap relief. However, with Kevin Shattenkirk expecting to arrive next year and several other defensive prospects nearing NHL readiness, Liles may still fall victim to the numbers game - just roster numbers, not salary numbers. I know this statement is not any revelation to anyone familiar with the Avalanche this year, but Liles is certainly in play at the deadline, along with Salei and, possibly, Clark.
Goaltending is a little simpler. Craig Anderson is locked in for another year (stop by this time next year when we discuss Anderson's pending contract extension). Peter Budaj will hit the market this year, and I'm certain he'll test the waters. It's a tough market to be a goalie in, though, and it may be tough for Budaj to find an NHL gig (sadly). For the Avs, they can go with Tyler Weiman as a backup, or bring in someone new. Regardless, they probably won't spend much money for their #2. Anderson and his backup probably won't make more than $3 million combined.
When you add everything up, between players under contract and restricted free agents expected to return, the Avalanche have potentially 18 guys under contract with a cap hit of about $41 million. Add in some minsal roster filler, and the Avs cap hit would be shaping up to be in the $43 million range - about $9 million less than they current expected cap hit. And that's with Liles still on the squad. More importantly, the Avalanche would be losing very little in terms of quality from their existing roster - Foote being the one guy that the Avalanche would have a difficult time replacing.
The bottom line is that the Avs' bottom line is looking pretty good right now. The Avalanche have a talented team and cap flexibility to bolster the roster either at the deadline or next summer (or both). While Greg Sherman is not expected to part with any young assets, the Avalanche shouldn't have the cap worries that other teams are running into. Even if the cap goes down next year, the Avs should be in good shape. In another year, the Avalanche will be looking at new contracts for Anderson, Galiardi, Jones, Cumiskey and Wilson and the year after that it will be Duchene and O'Reilly. Perhaps by then, the Avs will have some difficult cap decisions to deal with. For now, cap worries are thing of the future.