Weekly Watercooler: UFA Roundup & O'Reilly Saga Continues

Harry How

Cole and AJ sit down to talk about what happened in free agency and where to go with constant contractual headache Ryan O'Reilly.

Hokay! We're back with what is likely to become a weekly thing (during the season, anyway) as Cole and I touch upon some of the big topics regarding the Avs and around the NHL. Seeing as how not a lot has happened in the last 10 days, we're going all the way back to free agency to talk about some of the curious Avs moves and some league-wide eyebrow-raisers. We wanted to get to this a bit earlier, but life and stuff. Onwards!

Let's start with the painful stuff. Stastny leaves for the the Blues. Talk.

Cole: Look, I was one of the most outspoken people around here about what a colossal failure losing Stastny in UFA would be. I lambasted this team for being cheap and for betraying a player who devoted 8 years to the franchise over a few dollars. THOSE DAYS ARE GONE. Did the Avs prove they are willing to spend? Yup, you bet. Did Stastny show a commitment to his team and offer a "hometown discount?" Yup, sure did, but not to us. Look I wish Paul Stastny all the luck in the world but the dude kind of strung the Avs along. He made a public comment at the trade deadline saying how bad he wanted to say and that he'd offer a discount, then he and his agent put off negotiating until the week before, then all this "we're going to UFA but we'll circle back and give a chance to match" and then, to top it all off.... The Blues break the signing on their own with a bunch of fancy pre-made graphics and they have #26 Stastny jerseys ready for sale day of? Yeah... Sorry Paul, I'm not buying it. Post signing he's made it pretty clear that he felt squeezed out here and his heart has been with Stl for a long time. It's a big loss to take for this upcoming season but MacKinnon will be the better player in the long run so whatever Stastny. You left a team with a serious future for a squad of chokers (or did you forget what it was like playing in the Olympics with those dudes?)

AJ: Oh, shit. comin out SWINGIN.

Cole: Hey look, if Stastny wanted to compete for a cup he'd stick around and play between two Calder winners. I'm sure he'll have lots of fun watching T.J. Oshie win the Stanley Cup in a shootout... -_-

It will be interesting to see if Stastny faces the Wild again in the playoffs. Between Stastny, Oshie, Backes, Suter and Parise I'm not sure which team would choke out of the big games first.

That felt good. I think I'm done now.

AJ: Oh. Well then. I'll save my cathartic ranting for when I'm watching Stastny skate off the ice in the first or second round of next year's playoffs having watched another team fail to reach its ultimate goal. I'm not bitter or angry at Stastny. I think he saw the writing on the wall and wanted to be the 1C of a Cup contender instead of slowly being phased out by the emerging and far more dynamic Duchene/MacKinnon duo. It leaves the Avs in a bind because their best defensive center is now in STL but I think it'll be something they work out in the long run. The financial commitment simply didn't make a lot of sense beyond this upcoming season assuming Duchene and MacKinnon blossom as the stars we believe them to be. Good luck to Pauly in St. Louis and no hard feelings from me. He got what he wanted and I hope he's happy for the Avs when they win the Cup in the next 3 years and he's at home watching :)

We've talked a lot around here about the Avs' other UFA work this summer, the good, the bad, and the ugly, but we haven't really talked about the rest of the teams they'll have to beat. Who are your big winners from July 1?

AJ: I think the big winners were probably Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Minnesota. The Lightning ran a clinic in the days leading up to FA by unloading meh players on meh contracts and clearing space to sign Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman, and Brian Boyle. I guess you could add in Nabokov signing with them as cool, I guess, but having watched him the last couple years I can tell you he sucks and this should not be celebrated. Anyway. I don't really like the Callahan deal that much because he's now a "heart and soul" guy making "oodles of talent" kind of money but the extremely reasonable Stralman deal makes that blueline better in a big way and the Boyle deal fills a hole vacated with their 13 trades before FA opened.

Dallas has everyone excited with all the moves they made and they now have a top 6 that can hang in the ridiculously loaded Western Conference. I don't really share the enthusiasm over Spezza and Hemsky (if they were so great, why was Ottawa at home for the playoffs in the vastly inferior East?) but they're both without a doubt an upgrade over what Dallas had last year so there you go. Jim Nill showing he knows how to run a program down there. Seguin last year and Spezza this year? Hats off to him. The Stars are about to be relevant in Dallas again.

Minnesota wins simply by not matching the absurd Clayton Stoner contract (lol Anaheim wtf) and getting Thomas Vanek on a reduced price for only 3 years. That's a brilliant sell job to sign a guy who very, very clearly wanted to play for the Wild. Good on them for bringing it home.

Cole: Yeah Tampa did make some serious strides when it comes to depth. Ben Bishop or no, that's not a team that gets swept in the first round with their new defense. Hedman, Stralman, Carle, Garrison is a solid top four group. As for Dallas, I'm a pretty big Spezza fan so I think they made themselves a force to be reckoned with this season. Their blueline is still a problem, but Brenden Dillon can play and he should only get better next year so that should help to shore things up a bit. Basically, don't expect them to finish 4th in the central again. No way no how. I'm surprised you didn't go there AJ, but my other big UFA winners are the New York Islanders. Grabovski and Kulemin are strong players who will be really productive behind Tavares.

The two biggest winners though have to be Brad Richards and Brooks Orpik. Richards will make a ludicrous amount of money to NOT play for the Rangers while simultaneously improving his chance at a Stanley Cup dramatically, and Brooks Orpik got an enormous contract and potential future buyout for reasons I don't completely understand.

AJ: I love what the Islanders did. They turned themselves into a darkhorse. They haven't really revamped the mediocre-at-best defense from last season but the jump in goaltending, return to health of Tavares, and additions of Grabo/Kulie should be enough to make them serious playoff contenders in the East. It's hard to call a team a "winner" in Free Agency when half the league told them no, though, so I left them off. Nonetheless, I think the Isles absolutely did help themselves quite a bit. Their top 9 is suddenly scary but they have zero depth and any big injury is going to mean giving too much responsibility to someone again. Which leads to...

Who are the big losers of free agency?

Cole: Having half the league turn you down in UFA must be frustrating as a GM. Having the entire league turn you down when you're the "legendary" Ken Holland managing the "destination" Red Wings would be infuriating though. #1 biggest losers of Free Agency without a doubt. They publicly pursued guys all over the league and lost out on every single one, including a total slap in the face from Christian Ehrhoff, who supposedly turned down 5 years of security to take a 1-year cheap deal with the Penguins. To make matters worse, what does Detroit do when faced with those failures? They turn around and give Dan Cleary a no trade clause (he already has an on-ice no move clause) and they give Kyle Quincey a raise! Like... a BIG raise. Kyle Freaking Quincey is going to make $4.25M per year? Where is your dignity Detroit?

AJ: Kyle Quincey is making more than EJ this season. Hahahahahahaha.

Cole: Kyle Quincey has the same cap hit as Kevin Shattenkirk and Marc Edouard Vlasic. I don't think teams know how to use CapGeek.

AJ: I think the biggest loser outside of Detroit, the obvious big-ticket loser in this because they failed to bring in a single asset to help them, was the Capitals. Landing Niskanen for a ton of money was fine but the Brooks Orpik deal kept the Avalanche from appearing on this list because that's a ton of money for a guy who, like you said earlier, is going to be a strong buyout candidate in a couple of years. I think the Orpik hate has always been overblown simply because he was overextended in Pittsburgh. He's not a terrible defensemen but his best days are already behind him and his contract runs until he's 38. So, uh, wow, Washington. The other big loser I could think of is Calgary just because of the god awful, what the hell are you people doing Deryk Engelland contract. I don't understand what those guys are doing.

Cole: Well Calgary's got to be thinking about a high pick this year, I mean, the rebuild is on like Donkey Kong up there, but Washington made those moves presumably with the intention of winning games this year. I agree with you on Orpik generally, I think he could be successful in a sheltered 2nd pairing role or on the 3rd pairing, but you don't play a guy that little when you're paying him so much. It's the East so they'll survive it, but that's certainly not a good investment.

So it seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that Ryan O'Reilly's days in an Avalanche uniform are numbered (and maybe a small number). What type of package or player would you want in return for O'Reilly? Forward, defense, picks, prospects?

AJ: I think the much-talked about Evander Kane for O'Reilly swap would make a ton of sense for both teams. There is no clear winner and both teams take a big risk on giving up such talented players at such a young age. It would really be an unprecedented swap of headaches. Unfortunately, Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn't really made a big trade in his Jets tenure and certainly hasn't dealt with the growing Kane problem. Both players want out and both players would be excellent fits were this trade to happen. Again, though, these are the kinds of trades that get GMs fired if they don't work so it's highly unlikely this comes to pass. I would prefer to trade for established NHL talent but a top-notch prospect plus a first rounder might be acceptable, depending on the prospect and likely value of the draft pick. Horvat and a 1st for O'Reilly might be something to raise an eyebrow at. Not good enough, but a place to start. Something along those lines.

Cole: I think you're on the right track there with Horvat. I just dont see this team landing a top pairing defenseman for Ryan O'Reilly even if they add. There is way too much risk associated with his contract situation. Add to that, the fact that there just aren't many players of this calibre traded at this age and a one for one trade seems less and less likely. If the Avs are able to target another team's "problem child" like E. Kane, Bobby Ryan, or maybe even Keith Yandle I'd love it, I think that's a great way of doing business. That said I think it's more likely that we trade him for a package that involves a prospect like Horvat, or a young, unestablished NHLer like Despres in Pittsburgh. I also think the Avalanche would be wise to keep O'Reilly in the West. Conventional wisdom says that you don't want to play him often but lets face it, wherever he lands he's only staying for 2 years and I think if you look at this years Unrestricted Free Agency period you'll see that the West is filled with aggressive GM's who are actively looking to improve their teams in order to keep up with a rapidly improving pool of teams. I think the return will be better a little closer to home.

AJ: The arms race in the West is definitely ridiculous. The O'Reilly domino could have a huge effect on the race for years to come. I imagine a lot of the Avs reticence in trading him is knowing if they screw this up, it will be a huge waste of a very valuable asset.

Cole: He's a huge asset on the ice, but I do worry that his contractual drama has drastically, drastically reduced his value in a trade. I think the longer the Avs hold on to him the lower than value gets, time to strike while the iron is hot and trade him before camp if you ask me. Not only do you trade a guy coming off 28 goals and a Lady Byng with 2 guaranteed years for his new club, but you also ensure that when the puck drops this season you're going to war with YOUR guys. Guys who want to be there, who will fight and play for you. Not guys who want . I don't want the O'Reilly cloud hanging around any longer than it has to.

AJ: Preach. Trade him an hour after he loses the arbitration hearing.

Cole: Seriously. I'd be working the phones now, "Hey (insert team here) this is the number we're expecting for O'Reilly, give us (insert good, non-selfish player here)"

We're entering the true doldrums of the offseason so I'm already thinking a lot about training camp. Who's your top player and top battle to watch this September?

AJ: Personally, my top player to watch is Zach Redmond (Borna Rendulic a close second. Euro curiosity lol). I went back and watched all 10 games he played for Winnipeg last year and came away very impressed. He had some struggles but if he's the guy that pushes Nate Guenin out of the lineup (banging that drum one more time) than I'm thrilled. I love his skating and his vision. I think we might have a better Nick Holden here. My top battle to watch is for the 4th line. Assuming no injuries to the projected top 9, the battle for the 4th line is going to be a bloodbath. McLeod, Talbot, Bordeleau, Winchester, Cliche, and any AHL guys looking to impress are all going to be fighting for 4-5 spots. The battle for the final D spots should also be very fun to watch.

Cole: Well you know that I'm super interested in seeing how Rendulic does. The Avalanche have definitely taken a shotgun approach to their Eurpoean signings this summer. Lindstrom and Ledin didn't work out for this team when they were brought in for NHL roles, so instead they signed a whole bunch of dudes who can refill Lake Erie and they'll just the cream rise to the top. For a team that had a lot of contracts to sign at the beginning of the summer I like that approach. The 4th line and 3rd pairing battles are definitely going to be something, but I think there's one HUGE camp battle looming this summer that I'll be disappointed to miss. The battle for top pairing minutes with Erik Johnson. Brad Stuart, Jan Hejda, Chris Bigras, and maybe even Duncan Siemens will be fighting it out for that spot. My money is on Bigras. You heard it here first, that guy is making the team this year. Book it.

AJ: I know the team loves him but I'd be surprised to see Bigras make it. I think the biggest darkhorse is Mason Geertsen. He's coming off a fantastic season last year and is the kind of big-bodied physical presence the team absolutely could've used when it was giving big minutes to Nate Guenin. If he comes into camp and outplays a bunch of guys, you might see a shocker there.

Cole: I always forget about Geertsen when I'm running through the Avs talent pool in my head, but he had some good days in camp last year and was very impressive in the Burgundy and White game. As for Bigras I just get the feeling that his play is about to take a massive leap forward. The Avalanche and their fans have been watching him play with a flat tire on a bad team for the better part of last season. The biggest part of his game is his skating and with that back, and NHL talent to transition the puck to in camp and preseason I think he's going to make things really hard for the Avs. He'll skate circles around Brad Stuart and Jan Hejda and I think it will be enough to change their minds.

With that, Cole and I sign off until next week when we get into the results of O'Reilly's arbitration hearings and where we go as a team from there. See you in the comments :)

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