Searching For Salary

The drama is over. Peter Mueller and Chris Stewart are signed and the Avalanche project to be over the salary cap floor...albeit just barely and only because of the savvy Tom Preissing buyout to artificially inflate the cap hit. The Avalanche currently have about $18 million in cap space (enough to sign Ilya Kovalchuk. Twice.) but don't expect any major transactions to occur to change that.

In the real world, that is. Here in our blogging fantasy land we decided to take a break from our busy day frolicking with unicorns and supermodels to envision a deal to make the team better today instead of waiting for the fruits of the Tree of Rebuilding to ripen into juicy, succulent man fruit. And yes, I too find that imagery disturbing.

The other day I was contacted by Tom Stivali from In Lou We Trust. His Devils are currently at the opposite end of the salary spectrum and need to pare some salary before the start of the season. Since the Avalanche have enough cap space to drive a truck through (or at least a Kyle Wellwood), he pegged the Avs as a good potential partner for the Devils. So, we both donned our stylish GM fedoras and engaged in a week of cutthroat fake trade negotiations, which is coming up after the break

Tom:

David, thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this exercise.

I know you are not going to take salary from the Devils for nothing, so no asset that the Devils currently have (except their 2011 second pick which was already traded) is off the table for this discussion. That being said, there are a few areas which I think the Devils can help the Avalanche both at the NHL level and in their development system. After taking a look at the Avalanche prospects, it seems the development system has a lack of high-end
talent at both left wing and the goaltender position. At the NHL level, it looks as if the Avalanche could use some additional goal scoring power out of the left wing position and a defensive focused defenseman to help eat up some of the time that Brett Clark (who departed via free agency) played (Clark had 19:08 TOI per game and
1:56 of that TOI on the penalty kill unit). Am I correct in these observations?

David:


The Colorado Avalanche do indeed have a great deal of cap room - heck, they are currently operating below the cap floor - so they would indeed seem like a good trading partner for the Devils. There is a lot of speculation Avalanche GM Greg Sherman is being ordered to stay at the minimum, but I, as acting fake GM, have received no such edict from the mucky mucks and will have no qualms about adding some salary...if it helps our team.

While it's true that we did lose Brett Clark and Ruslan Salei to free agency, both spent many nights in the press box last season and we don't expect their departure to have a huge impact. More importantly, we have a plethora of young defensemen like Kevin Shattenkirk, Jonas Holos and Cameron Gaunce (just to name a few) who will be pushing for playing time this year. So, while a defensive-minded veteran would be a nice addition, we'd probably be more inclined to stick with the youth movement here.

You are spot on about left wing, though. The Avs' top left wingers on the depth chart are T.J. Galiardi, Peter Mueller and Ryan Stoa - two rookies last year and a player with one 20-goal season under his belt. While we think that all three have the potential to be solid NHL players, a little more firepower would be really useful here. It would
be an added bonus if that player had some leadership traits (the Avs' oldest center is 24) and PP skills would be desirable as well as the Avs were fairly mediocre in that department last year.

One other area the Avalanche could use a boost in: toughness. Cody McLeod is the only player who had more than 100 PIMs last year and he is not exactly a heavyweight. David Koci is on the roster, but doesn't figure to play much. In recent years, the Avalanche have lost guys like Ian Laperriere, Matt Hendricks and Cody McCormick - guys who could play and weren't afraid to drop the gloves.

Looking forward to hearing your offer.

Tom:

Seeing that you don't need any defensemen, which makes sense considering your system depth, the Devils have two options at wing that might be appealing to the Avalanche. The first would be former Avalanche player Brian Rolston (note that as fake GM I will operate under the idea that I can negotiate terms of a possible trade involving Rolston with the understanding that he would have to waive his NTC) who can help your team in all the areas you are looking for below. Scoring from the wing, power play skills at the point and at the age of 37 he would be a strong veteran presence on the team. The second option would be Dainius Zubrus. While not a scoring wing like Rolston, he can score with the right players and he is willing to do the dirty work along the boards and down low. He was especially effective on a line with Travis Zajac and Zach Parise, clearing out some space for them down low. I could see him working on the wing with Matt Duschene. He also, while not a fighter, is tough and will protect his teammates on the ice.

Now I know while for both players their cap hit is a concern (Rolston at $5MM and Zubrus at $3.4MM), each player still provides a good level of productivity. That said, I can make the following two offers to you:

1. Brian Rolston (of course this is contingent on his waiving his NTC), a third round pick in 2011 and left wing prospect Alexander Vasyunov for the rights to Peter Mueller and a fifth round pick in 2011.

2. Dainius Zubrus and Alexander Vasyunov for the rights to Peter Mueller.

Vasyunov is blocked in NJ, but still has top six potential in the NHL. His natural position is LW, which the Avalanche lack in their development system. Either Rolston or Zubrus helps you in different ways on the power play and on even strength. Since Rolston does have a high cap hit for his production, I am comfortable swapping picks to even out the deal. The Devils could use Mueller as a bottom six forward if he was willing to sign for $1-$1.5MM per year.

No interest in Bryce Salvador? He does help provide the toughness you are looking for.......

David:

We're actually pretty high on Mueller. He scored 20 points in 15 games with us this spring and we believe he has top 6 talent. Indeed, he scored as many points as Rolston did last year (and more than Zubrus) and, at 21, could still have his best days in front of him. He's not untouchable, but the asking price for him would be considerably higher.

Rolston is a guy that we've liked for a while and that point shot could certainly bolster our powerplay. But that salary is an anchor. We'd probably be thinking more in line with depth forward Kevin Porter for Rolston.

Zubrus is an intriguing player, but again that salary is a bit tough on the wallet. Being on the hook for 3 more years at $3.4 million for a guy who hasn't scored more than 40 points since 2007 is a bit hard to swallow, especially since the Avalanche are concerned with the upcoming CBA and only have one player signed past 2012. For Zubrus, we'd be willing to offer the rights to Russian prospect Denis Parshin. The Avs drafted Parshin in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft but have yet to be able to pry him away from CSKA Moscow of the KHL. I don't know: do the Devils have any high profile Russian players that might be a draw for Parshin to come stateside?

There's another player we might be interested in: Jamie Langenbrunner. While we have good depth at right wing, we think Langenbrunner's leadership and offensive ability would be a boon to our young team. His cap number ($2.8 million) is much more palatable than Rolston's or Zubrus' and, as an added bonus, he's a free agent after this season. For Langenbrunner, we'd be willing to offer Porter and Kyle Cumiskey a speedy defenseman. Both Avalanche players have favorable salaries - $660,000 for Porter and $600,000 for Cumiskey.

Tom:

Since Langenbrunner is still the team 'Captain', management has issued an edict to keep him for the remainder of the year. Parshin is intriguing and since he is in the KHL there wouldn't be a concern about an additional contract on the books (if he ever came over) for a few years. I think we are close to common ground so let me throw two amended offers your way:

1. Rolston (NTC disclaimers still apply) and a third round pick in 2011 for Parshin and a sixth round pick from the Avalanche in 2011.
2. Zubrus and a fourth round pick in 2011 for Parshin.

Bryce Salvador still available.......

David:

I think we can do that Rolston deal. Zubrus' 3rd year is just too much of a potential burden for us down the road. Rolston's cap number is terrible, but we think we can absorb that salary for 2 years, and he'll be off the books before guys like Matt Duchene and Chris Stewart are due for new deals.

Salvador is intriguing to us, but we would have to give up one of the 6 on the roster now to make room for him.

Tom:

Fair enough. If Rolston doesn't waive his NTC what could we do with Zubrus? If I said Zubrus and a second round pick in 2012 for Parshin, would that work for you?

David:

I think we'd probably need a 1st to make that work...

Tom:

Ok, the Rolston deal is priority #1. If he doesn't waive his NTC then Zubrus is yours. Now we just need to make it from my lips (fingertips?) to our hockey God's (Lou Lamoriello) ears.

David's Takeaway:

I actually think the 6'5" Zubrus might be a better fit for the Avalanche on the ice, but that 3rd contract year was just too scary for me. Plus, I think Rolston's versatility and leadership ability - not to mention that wicked slapshot - would be great for the team. Is his salary too high? Hell yes. But the Avalanche have plenty of cap room this year and next year and Rolston's $5 million comes off the books before Duchene and the rest of the gang start signing extensions.

Giving up Denis Parshin wasn't a difficult decision as it seems like his chances of coming to Colorado are slim as it is. Although Parshin seemed interested in making the jump last summer, the Avalanche appeared to have little interest in the diminutive forward.

One of the difficulties in doing this from my lazy chair is that I don't have a scouting department to guide me on the progress on younger players. Vasyunov seemed intriguing and I probably should have worked a little harder to obtain him, but I don't know much about him so it's tough to give up assets for an unknown return. Furthermore, in a perfect world I probably could have spun one of the bazillion defense prospects the Avalanche have, but I'm not really sure how they project out on the depth chart. Is Tyson Barrie going to be better than Stefan Elliott? How about Holos vs Cameron Gaunce? Joel Chouinard vs Colby Cohen? Without that scouting knowledge, I couldn't quite drill down deep enough to make this as realistic an exercise as I would like. But I still got to wear a cool fedora.

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