Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy face a number of difficult roster decisions this summer, the most pressing of which is whether or not they can come to an agreement with UFA-to-be Paul Stastny. I think it is a general consensus here at MHH along with the hockey web in general that the Avs would be well served to re-sign Mr. Walnuts as he was the second best possession player on the team as well as the 5th leading scorer on the team. He provides veteran leadership to a team who will lose players such as JS Giguere and Cory Sarich this offseason and has been a staple of the team going back to 2006.
Unfortunately, all of those shiny stats he has produced over the years will make him perhaps the most highly sought after UFA forward this summer. The Avs will have competition to retain the services of Stastny as teams will be lining up to offer up their dollars (or loonies, looking at you Toronto) to procure his services.
Complicating the situation is the Avalanche depth chart at the center position. The Avs face the problem that Tom Brady and Derek Jeter assuredly lament about together in regards to their dating histories. There are so many fantastic options, it can be paralyzing trying to pick which ones are right. First you have Matt Duchene, 3rd overall pick in the 2009 draft, who has certainly been performing to the lofty expectations put on him. He is an assist wizard who brings speed, quick hands, surprising strength on the puck, and an unfettered adoration of country music stars. Do not underestimate how important that last part is.
Then you have boy wonder, Nathan MacKinnon. At the spritely age of 18, he is a lock for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. He has produced more worthy gifs in one season of work than all of Shakira's music videos combined...well maybe not, but he is a dynamic skater with power, a laser rocket shot, and an and1 style passing ability to match his love of rap music. Providing more of a goal scoring threat than Duchene, the two look to be a 1-2 punch to envy over the next 10-15 years. He could be the best player Denver has seen since Joe Sakic if he continues on this trajectory.
What's that, there's more? Ahh yes, Ryan O'Reilly, our resident hipSTAR loves his yoga, funky hats, is a noted facial hair grower, and oh yeah, has the capability to play either center or wing at a high level. He provides solid 2 way play from either position plus the ability to produce a solid amount of points and amazing flexibility and core strength (i can only assume.)
So with Duchene and MacKinnon ready to assume control of the top 2 center slots on the Avalanche and O'Reilly available to fill in when injuries occur, why should the Avs sign Stastny? Shouldn't they allocate the 6.5-7M per season towards turning their defensive core into an impenetrable rabbit with a vicious streak a mile wide with huge sharp feet who can leap about 3 feet? Yes they should, and that is why they should re-sign him.
Obviously losing him for nothing is the worst case scenario. Asset management is all about taking what you have and making it into something better. With the free agents out there, I cannot envision a scenario outside of the Avs signing Thomas Vanek (and him magically beginning to care about his 2 way play) that can keep the Avs forward corps at the same level if they lose Stastny. Avoiding that drop off is needed to continue the momentum around Denver the franchise regained this year as the bottom 4 forwards were frankly abysmal last year and none should realistically be expected to improve much. If you can re-sign him, the Avs go into 2014 looking like this in my estimation (for simplicity's sake, everybody else was re-signed and nobody was traded. Mark Fayne was added at a 3.25M cap hit):
Avs with Stastny/Fayne
Ryan O'Reilly ($6.500m) / Matt Duchene ($6.000m) / Alex Tanguay ($3.500m)
Gabriel Landeskog ($5.571m) / Paul Stastny ($7.000m) / Nathan MacKinnon ($0.925m)
Jamie McGinn ($2.500m) / John Mitchell ($1.800m) / P-A Parenteau ($4.000m)
Patrick Bordeleau ($1.000m) / Maxime Talbot ($1.750m) / Cody McLeod ($1.150m)
Joey Hishon ($0.851m) /
Erik Johnson ($3.750m) / Jan Hejda ($3.250m)
Ryan Wilson ($2.250m) / Mark Fayne ($3.250m)
Nick Holden ($0.600m) / Tyson Barrie ($3.500m)
Nate Guenin ($0.800m) / Stefan Elliott ($0.851m)
Semyon Varlamov ($5.900m)
Reto Berra ($1.450m)
Greg Zanon ($0.750m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(estimations for 2014-15)
SALARY CAP: $71,100,000; CAP PAYROLL: $68,897,429; BONUSES: $2,850,000
CAP SPACE (23-man roster): $2,202,571
That is not such a bad looking roster. However, when thinking about MacKinnon, we need to realize that he will be a top 2 center instead of a wing, and that the Avs can't pay 3 centers that much money and have any semblance of balance to their roster.
My plan would be to re-sign Paul Stastny, hopefully for less than 7M, and then I would trade him for assets when possible and pragmatic. Sakic and Roy know that Colorado still needs upgrades defensively and to the bottom 6 forwards in order to seriously compete for the Stanley Cup. This scenario provides a roadmap to both. By not trading a 1st round draft pick for defensive help now, the Avs can begin to stockpile picks to play in their bottom 6 early in their careers, hopefully transitioning into greater roles as they get older. Imagine replacing McCloed, Cliche, and Bordeleau with Trevor Lewis (17th overall pick), Tanner Pearson (30th), and Tyler Toffoli (47th). The Kings 3 had a combined cap hit of $2,977,500. The Avs: $2,850,000. Young players is the best way to stock your bottom lines with value. Veterans cost more and usually produce less.
Then, when the time is right, you look to deal Paul Stastny to a team in need of center ice help in return for a solid defenseman or even draft picks depending on how things play out with Siemens, Bigras, and potentially another first round defnenseman this year. Even if all you get is picks, it is still better than the inevitable nipple chafing that will occur after your soulmate of 8 years dumps you then you have to put on those shirts that don't quite fit anymore and go clubbing to find someone new.
That is how I would play this situation if I were Joe and Patrick. Sure there are other ways to go about it but I think for the Avs situation right now, they need to keep him. In a year or two, he will probably be expendable, but if you can sign and trade him, you at least get some sort of return.