I'll warn you right off the bat: this isn't going to be pretty (or short). The NHL salary cap next year is $64.3 million. Now that you've read that number, feel free to purge it from your memory because it will have absolutely no bearing on the way the "rebuilding" Avalanche run their business next year, except that the cap floor is ultimately derived from that number.
Instead, the number to think about is $48.3 million - the league-mandated cap floor. The Avalanche could more than double their current payroll and still be under the salary cap...but I think we all know they aren't going to do that. I'll spare you all from rehashing my rant about the shammy "preserve-space-to-retain-core-players" bullshit, as my therapist has advised against me trying to fix things in my life that are not fixable. With that in mind, here's a look at how the Avalanche depth chart looks right now, using only players currently under contract for next season.
Of course, we know the Avalanche will ultimately sign David Jones and probably T.J. Galiardi and Kevin Porter as well (or at least one of the two). And, we do expect that Gabriel Landeskog will be in the opening night lineup, with a contract similar to the $3.5 million that Tyler Seguin signed last year (if Landy were to sign that deal today, he'd be the 2nd highest paid player on the team). So, let's plug in some estimated cap numbers and juggle some things around:
The projected signings of Landeskog, Jones and Galiardi bumped Olver, Stoa and Bordeleau off of the depth chart. You can also see a few other things above. First, you can definitely see where the Stastny rumors come from. Unless a center is going to move to a wing, there's no regular spot for Hishon. One might argue that Hishon doesn't need to be rushed - and he can develop in Lake Erie next year - but at some point someone is going to have to move to clear up this little logjam. This is a situation similar to having Sakic, Forsberg & Sundin with the Nordiques. Hopefully, we'll get more for Stastny than 37 games of Wendel freaking Clark.
Second, the signing of Joakim Lindstrom and especially the drafting of Landeskog really seems to validate the rumors that the Avalanche will not be attempting to re-sign Tomas Fleischmann. In fact, the word last week that the Avalanche hadn't contacted Fleischmann about a new deal was, in retrospect, a bit of a tell that the Avalanche were anticipating drafting an NHL-ready player like Landeskog and not someone who may need another year at junior (like Jonathan Huberdeau).
Finally, because of space (not cap) constraints, it's not exactly a slam dunk that Galiardi or Porter get re-signed or that there will be a spot for Brandon Yip. And it looks even worse for Philippe Dupuis. A Stastny trade might open things up a bit, but, for now, it's a crowded field. It's hard to picture the Avalanche pursuing anything other than a depth player up front the way things are looking now. Later this week, Andi will be presenting some free agent players the Avalanche might want to pursue once the July 1st feeding frenzy kicks off.
On defense, right now here's how things are looking.
Stefson Barriott are both right handed shooters, as are Erik Johnson, Cameron Gaunce and Jonas Holos. So is Ryan Murphy, the offensive defenseman the Avalanche passed over in the draft. Ditto for one of the RFA's the Avalanche will likely sign, Ryan O'Byrne.
Penciling in estimates for Ryan Wilson and O'Byrne (went with $2.5 million, a shade less than the $3.2ish that big, physical comparables like Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn make) bumps Holos and Gaunce from the projected depth chart and reaffirms that the Avalanche will probably need to play Erik Johnson about 40 minutes a game next year. I don't know that we'll see both Elliott and Barrie out of camp, of course, and a more likely scenario has Elliott making the squad and Barrie starting out in Lake Erie. Even with the logjam of "not quite there" d-men like Holos and Gaunce waiting to bust through, this would be a great spot for the Avalanche to sign a veteran defenseman like an Ed Jovanovski or Bryan McCabe to mentor the younger players and take pressure off of Erik Johnson while also, you know, contributing some good defense while the prospects percolate. If I was making a realistic wish list, this would probably be #2 on it.
#1, of course, is a goalie. I didn't bother to make a graphic here, as the Avalanche have two goalies under contract: Trevor Cann, who spent most of his season in the CHL and Calvin Pickard, a promising young goalie who, at 19, is ineligible to play in the AHL for another year; he'll be staying in the WHL under the tutelage of his new coach, Steve Konowalchuk. Brian Elliott is a restricted free agent, but the Avs would need to tender him an offer of $945,000 to retain his rights and even that relatively small sum seems like an overpayment. There has been a lot of talk about a trade for the Kings' Jonathan Bernier and it makes a lot of sense; Bernier is a French-Canadian goalie and the Avalanche do seem to favor goalies from Quebec (Patrick Roy, Stephane Fiset, Jocelyn Thibault, Marc Denis, Jose Theodore, Philippe Sauve). Or, they could go the free agency route and pursue UFA Tomas Vokoun. Either way, it is safe to say that next year's starting goalie for the Avs is one not currently on the roster. Probably ditto for the backup.
So, how much
can they do they have to spend? In the scenario above, taking into account projected deals for Landeskog, Jones, Galiardi, O'Byrne and Wilson and also adding in the Tom Preissing buyout (don't get me started on this), the Avalanche would be shaping up to around $42.3 million in cap, meaning they need to add just under $6 million this summer (barring some sort of voodoo caponomics that I'm not savvy to) to get to the salary floor.
This is significant to me for two reasons. One, the Avalanche have money to pursue Vokoun if this is the direction they want to go. The issue here will probably not be the yearly salary but the number of years the Avs are willing to offer (this seems vaguely familiar). While many teams are all set between the pipes, there may be enough teams interested in an upgrade or filling a hole (rough list: Columbus, Edmonton, Florida - duh, the Islanders, Phoenix, Tampa, Winnipeg) and, with Bryzgalov gone (*points and laughs at Philadelphia*), Vokoun is the lone big fish in the free agent waters. I just don't picture the Avalanche outbidding someone for his services. And, frankly, I highly doubt a 34-year-old goalie is even on their radar.
Which brings us back to the trade scenario and point number two. Moving Stastny would remove $6.6 million from the Avs cap hit, moving them nearly $13 million from the cap floor. Bernier, for what it's worth, has a cap hit of just $1.25 million. If Stastny moves (and, sadly, that's becoming a smaller "if" each and every day), we can at least be confident that it won't just be for a future 2nd round draft pick; the Avalanche will need to bring back some fairly significant salary in any deal, which generally would mean more veteran-type talent rather than prospects or picks (and, yes, maybe a salary dump like Preissing). The Kings, of course, just freed up $6 million dollars in cap space by trading Ryan Smyth, a player they acquired from their frequent trading partner, the Colorado Avalanche. It makes so much sense, it hurts. Why do I feel I'm setting myself up for a gigantic letdown?
If you've gotten this far, I both applaud you for your perseverance and also wonder how you got such a cushy job. Bottom line: the Avalanche are probably closer to the cap floor than you think, don't need to throw money away to get there and, for the 3rd year in a row will probably not be very active in the free agent market. Trades are another story, though, as signs sure seem to be pointing towards moving Paul Stastny to acquire a young goalie who can be counted on to solidify the position for many many years. Peter Stastny is probably going to be pissed when that happens. I just hope the same doesn't go for the rest of us.