OK, so much for the draft. The Avs picked up some serious potential, but most of these players will not see NHL ice in the coming year. There is a serious issue with the cap floor, particularly now that John-Michael Liles, and his $4M+ salary, are lounging in Toronto. Most of all, the Avs need to get stronger across the board.
If we look at what the Avalanche emphasized in the draft: compete, character, skill, size, what kind of free agents are on the market that will bring these to the ice?
I'm going to break this down by position and place in the lineup (top-6, top pairing, etc.), and list one or two players who I think might be able to upgrade the Avs in these positions, and who might also bring a bit more to the team through experience and attitude.
Maybe this was a bad place to start. This is the current team's area of strength. There's only one on the market who would be an upgrade over what we have today. Brad Richards. He'd be a #1 center on most teams in the league, even the Avs. His current $7.8M contract will likely be kicked up a notch. The question would be, if we picked up Richards, who would drop down? Stastny or Duchene? What about Hishon and O'Reilly? Not impossible, but I don't really see any movement here.
How do we upgrade the 3rd and 4th lines. One way would be to find a 2nd line center with defensive skills who might be interested in coming to Denver and build a scoring 3rd line. Brooks Laich might be that upgrade. He had a 48 point season last year with the Captials. He kills penalties (8 SH goals in his career). He was 55.7% on faceoffs (on a limited number of draws). He made about $2M last year and should be due for a substantial bump. He's 27 years old, so he would fit into a long-term strategy. He's also the guy who stopped on a bridge after a game (a loss) and changed a tire for a couple of stranded fans. Looks like a winner to me. Sign him at about $3.5M. He played quite a bit of LW last year as well, so would provide depth to the top lines.
Left Wing (Top-6):
We now have Thor (Landeskog) throwing the hammer from the left side. The new guy Lindstrom is also in the top-6 mix. That's an 18 year old rookie and a career bubble guy who has bounced around a number of leagues. Improvement? Simone Gagne would be a step up, and on a shorter term contract (he's 30) might be acceptable while the kid grows into the pro game. His downside is that he's been injured quite a bit the last 2 seasons, but when he plays he's a 70 point guy. Can he stay healthy on our new glass and boards? Ville Leino is another option, but he still has the stink of the Red Wings on him. The upside is that he's young, and will probably not break the bank.
Left Wing (Bottom-6)
Our old friend Chris Durno is UFA this year. Good character, definitely physical, pretty big too. However, he's such a thriller on the scoreboard that nhl.com didn't bother to update his stats for 2010-2011. Given McLeod's last 2 years, he might still be a step up. The downside is that he probably would come so cheap that the cap floor would get further away. A decent replacement for Winnik might be harder to come by. Someone needs to remind him that he's supposed to be a defensive juggernaut, but his skill/size combination is a good fit for the 3rd line. Tomas Kopecky is available. He got a lot of top-6 ice time last year, and his stats showed it. The year before he was a 4th liner and Chicago's depth problems this year accounted for the jump. He's probably more suited to the 3rd line. He's likely to see a bigger lump in his wallet this summer in any case. Galiardi also needs to be considered here. When he's healthy and motivated, he can play a high energy game and can chip in some goals. But, he spent way too much time in (physical) rehab last year. Which Gali will come to camp this year?
Right Wing (Top-6)
No one is replacing the Duke this year, that leaves only one spot open for consideration. David Jones and Peter Mueller are the incumbents here. Mueller is an unknown going in to the season. Jones stayed healthy and showed a great deal of promise. The UFA market is thin on RWs. To upgrade, the Avs would probably have to overpay or take on an older player. I think neither is a real option. There's also that plethora of center talent to consider when looking at the right side. I think the Avs will stand pat.
Right Wing (Bottom-6)
This is the land of "who do we have left?" Brandon Yip couldn't stay out of the penalty box and when he actually touched the ice he was ineffective. Evidently the Corsiati were right - he couldn't sustain that shooting percentage or anything close to it. Joel Ward from NSH might be a great pick-up here. He had a great playoff run, which will make him overpriced, but if he maintains that drive and energy I would love to have him in Burgundy. Scottie Upshall is also out there. He'd bring energy and some secondary scoring.
Defense (Top Pair)
The Avs have Johnson in hand. That pretty much seals up the right side. The left side is more open. Christian Ehrhoff would be my pick here. He's young, and looks to be ready to challenge someone like Quincey for the top pairing. His 50 points last year would be very nice to see from the blueline now that JML is gone. Unfortunately, there is every indication that he will take a hometown discount to stay in Vancouver. If Quincey finds his game beside Johnson, it may not make that much difference.
Defense (Lower Pairs)
What's the point? The Avs have so much young talent here that going for UFAs is silly. Let's get the kids in the game and see what they can do. OB-wan can anchor the second paring, and we can let Wilson battle it out with the rest for the 3rd paring spot.
Vokoun, Vokoun, Vokoun, and Harding. Those are the choices. I say sign them both. We've got the cap room. Give Vokoun 3 years at $6.5M and Harding 2 years at $1.5M. That should keep the boat afloat until one of the prospects can show he has what it takes.