A Look at the Avs' UFAs

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 21: Jay McClement #16 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the St. Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center on December 21, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. McClement had the game winning goal as the Avalanche defeated the Blues 3-2. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

As you might imagine, this was originally going to be a bit more in-depth, but the Avs have already re-signed potential UFAs Milan Hejduk, Cody McLeod, David Jones and Matt Hunwick, leaving just two key UFAs in Jay McClement and Shane O`Brien. I plan to look at the AHL guys at a later point in a separate post and, of course, I'll be breaking down the RFAs too. For now, we're just looking at McClement and O'Brien and their chances at returning.

In the soon-to-expire NHL CBA, any NHL player with 7 years of experience or is 27 years old becomes an unrestricted free agent when his existing contract expires, able to sign with any NHL team on July 1st. McClement is 29, signing his last 3-year deal at the age of 26 as an RFA with St Louis meaning he'll be able to hit the open market for the first time this year. O'Brien was 27 last summer, his first year of UFA eligibility, and signed a 1-year deal with the Avs. I thought it might be helpful to take a look at players comparable to each to determine a market price. This turned out to be a fairly tall task.

Shane O'Brien is a bit of a rarity in today's NHL - a defenseman who racks up a lot of penalty minutes. The days of having an enforcer on the blueline like Garth Butcher, Paul Laus, Bob Boughner or Enrico Ciccone are mostly over. Only 3 defensemen had over 100 penalty minutes last year - O'Brien, P.K. Subban and Stu Bickel. Of the 23 players with 10+ major penalties only one - Bickell - is listed as a defenseman. O'Brien used to be a fighter, but kept the gloves on last year. His PiM total is due to minor penalties, not majors - only Subban and Kyle Quincey had more minor penalties from the blueline 2011-2012. So, even though the "100 penalty minutes" is more a negative than a truculence marker, I need some sort of statistical lure for my fishing expedition, so I'm sticking with it. I used hockey reference's handy search tool to come up with recent seasons where a defensemen had 100 penalty minutes, limiting it to guys at least 27 years old or older (so, only UFA aged players).

Over the last 4 seasons, that list is 15 players deep...

Player Season Age Tm Pos GP G A PTS +/- PIM Salary
Rob Blake 2008-09 39 SJS D 73 10 35 45 15 110 $ 5,000,000
Ed Jovanovski 2008-09 32 PHX D 82 9 27 36 -15 106 $ 6,500,000
Mattias Ohlund 2008-09 32 VAN D 82 6 19 25 14 105 $ 3,500,000
Mike Commodore 2008-09 29 CBJ D 81 5 19 24 11 100 $ 3,750,000
Craig Rivet 2008-09 34 BUF D 64 2 22 24 4 125 $ 3,500,000
Steve Montador 2008-09 29 TOT D 78 4 17 21 17 143 $ 800,000
Shane O'Brien 2011-12 28 COL D 76 3 17 20 2 105 $ 1,100,000
Cory Sarich 2008-09 30 CGY D 76 2 18 20 12 112 $ 3,600,000
Craig Rivet 2009-10 35 BUF D 78 1 14 15 -6 100 $ 3,500,000
Andy Sutton 2009-10 34 TOT D 72 5 8 13 -10 107 $ 3,000,000
Mike Komisarek 2008-09 27 MTL D 66 2 9 11 0 121 $ 1,700,000
Sheldon Brookbank 2009-10 29 ANA D 66 0 9 9 10 114 $ 500,000
Matt Carkner 2010-11 30 OTT D 50 1 6 7 0 136 $ 700,000
Garnet Exelby 2008-09 27 ATL D 59 0 7 7 -2 120 $ 1,391,667
Jim Vandermeer 2008-09 28 CGY D 45 1 6 7 1 108 $ 2,300,000

...and there's really not a lot of O'Brien like players on the list. Andy Sutton might be the closest - big guy, will drop them when needed, takes some bad penalties, has a little offsensive pop and struggles at times defensively...a bottom 6 fireplug. Sutton became a free agent the summer after the season above and grabbed a 2 year deal at $2.125 per and recently signed an extension with the Oilers at $1.75 per. I think that's a fairly reasonable range for O'Brien - somewhere in the $1.5 to $2.5 range, especially given this weak free agent crop. I don't think money will be a huge issue for the Avalanche. I think the question will be more a matter of whether his fiery on ice play (something the Avs need more of, not less) outweigh his box addiction. In the end, though, I think he returns.

Evaluating a defensive-minded center is even tougher for a Corsi-aversed knucklehead like myself. The first player that comes to mind is Sammy Pahlsson, who signed for a $1.4 cap hit the summer after the Ducks won the Cup (in which he played a big part of the run) and two years later signed at $2.65. Off the top of my head, I would put McClements number at closer to the lower of those two. The Avs will certainly be able to afford him, but is he a lock to come back? Unlike many commenters here at MHH, I'm not so sure that McClement is a lock. Yes, he was an integral part of the Avs' improved PK and the Avs aren't exactly brimming with forward prospects (with Joey Hishon still recovering from a concussion, there are no huge threats in the system to make the jump next year). But the Avs need to add offense and don't have a ton of free roster spots to do that with. I think it is plausible and possible that McClement will be elsewhere next year.

In the link referenced above, I surmised that the Avs may have more an issue of roster space than cap (floor) space and I think that will come into play with both pending UFAs. Both are good players that I feel the Avalanche would like to see back...but either, or both, might get squeezed by the numbers game. It's really tough to predict, which hasn't stopped me and shouldn't stop any of you from weighing in below.

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