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The Avs' Unrestricted Free Agents

Yes, it's a holiday here in the States today, but Monday is my day to contribute this offseason so I'm sticking with the schedule. If you're not reading this until you get into work on Tuesday (ugh), I don't think you'll be missing too much.

So far, we've looked at

This week, I'm looking at the Avalanche who are eligible to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st (as in, free to sign with any team). For each player so designated, I'll be looking at how much cap space they ate up last year and their odds at returning to the Avalanche next season.

F Darcy Tucker. 2009 Cap Hit: $2,250,000. You may recall that Tucker was the guy we brought in two years ago to replace Andrew Brunette in an effort to, uh, improve the Avs' overall speed. Bruno's cap number in Minnesota is just slightly higher than Tucker's. He's scored 111 points to Tucker's 40 - not a bad deal for an extra $83,000 (and one year longer on the contract). No, Brunette probably wouldn't have been a great fit in Colorado last year, but I think we can all agree that Tucker wasn't either. This is the part where someone would point out that Tucker provided veteran presence and mentored his roommate Ryan O'Reilly and that his gaze cures diseases and other such "intangibles". To that I give a big meh. Maybe it's me, but I've never gotten any vibe from Tucker other than "I didn't want to come here, but no one else was going to pay me that kind of scratch after getting bought out by the lousy Maple Leafs". And even if I'm totally wrong on that, he still wasn't very good on the ice. Tucker is 35 and hasn't hit 40 points in 3 years. He'll be taking a big pay cut this summer and might have a tough time finding NHL work. I think the odds are very long that he'll be back in Denver next year.

F Marek Svatos. 2009 Cap Hit: $2,050,000. I've always had a soft spot for Marek Svatos and I really wish he'd panned out with the Avs. There's so much potential there - little guy with skill, shooting ability and surprising dose of feisty. Svatos had 11 points last year and when guys like Matt Hendricks have more goals than you, your agent is going to have his work cut out for you. Svatos is still just 27 and still has the ability to regain some of that old Marek Magic. It won't be with Colorado, though. I think both parties will be looking for a fresh start here. I'm interested to see where Svatos lands this summer (there were rumors that Ottawa was interested in him at the deadline). I wonder if he might garner the most interest by a KHL club.

F Stephane Yelle. 2009 Cap Hit: $575,000. It was great to see Yelle back in an Avalanche uniform (even if it was a unipron), but I wonder if we might have been seeing a career swan song this spring. He just turned 36 and if I'm being honest I'd have to say he didn't seem like he had much left in his tank. The Avs were his 4th club in the last 3 seasons. If he doesn't hang them up, there's room for him on the 4th line in Colorado for sure.

F David Koci. 2009 Cap Hit: $575,000. Nice guy, but it wasn't a good fit from the beginning.

F Matt Hendricks, Chris Durno, Brian Willsie, Darren Haydar, Philippe Dupuis, Marty Sertich. Hendricks is really the only guy on this last I expect to be back (maybe with a raise, but still under $1 million in salary). Durno is a possibility, but he seemed to fall out of favor with Skipper Joe last year. Any of the other guys that get re-signed would be headed to Lake Erie anyway...and I think that's a roster in for an overhaul this summer. Sertich has already signed with a Swiss team, so scratch him from the list. Belated congratulations to Darren Haydar, who became the 43rd player with 600 career AHL points on the final day of the Monster's season.

D Brett Clark. 2009 Cap Hit $3,500,000. I've started this sentence over about 3 times, and now I'm just going with it. I still contend that Clark is a better defenseman than many of you fine readers have given him credit for. He wasn't quite worth the $3.5 million he's earned in each of the last 3 years, but I think he may get more than you'd expect this summer. With 87 defensemen already under contract for next year, he won't be returning to Colorado. I'm going to take a wild stab and say he lands with one of the Florida teams for, say, a 2-year, $5 million deal.

D Ruslan Salei. 2009 Cap Hit $3,025,000. The Avs will be clearing over $6.5 million by letting Clark and Salei and their 78 combined games played walk. Salei's Avalanche stint mirrored the TV show Lost - scary good in the beginning and frustratingly awful at the end and a lot of hit-or-miss stuff in the middle. Strangely reminiscent of the guy we gave up to get him - Karlis Skrastins. I still contend there was something fishy about his "injury" situation this year, but maybe I'm just fabricating a conspiracy. There's no chance he returns next year - even less likely than Tucker. He played so poorly (when he did play) that I wonder if he'll be KHL bound.

D Brian Fahey & Joel Skinner. I can't really tell these guys apart. Doesn't matter - chances are slim they'd even be re-signed for Lake Erie duty (nothing against either - we've already documented that there aren't going to be many openings for defensemen down there).

G Peter Budaj. 2009 Cap Hit $1,250,000. I don't really have a clue what will happen to Budaj next year. By my count, there are maybe 6 teams looking for a starting goalie this summer:  Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Jose, St Louis, Tampa and Washington. As there are 13 free agent goaltenders who started at least 20 games last year, Budaj has some long odds to land a starting gig in the NHL. So, as long as he's going to be a backup, he might as well stay in Denver, right? Well, if he's looking at another shot at a starter's job someday down the road, Colorado is probably not the best place for him (hint: 71 starts for Craig Anderson). I think the Avalanche would like to have him back; his demeanor is terrific and he acts like an extra coach on the bench. And I think Budaj is sincere when he says he'd like to be back in Denver (to lazy to dig up the link). In the end, though, I have a feeling some team is going to offer him an opportunity that he won't be able to refuse.

G Tyler Weiman and John Grahame. I'm pretty sure I had Weiman on the RFA list last week, but it appears that he is a Group VI free agent. Either way, the Avs weren't likely to tender him anyway, but he may still end up in Lake Erie again. I think this is the year he moves on though. I wonder if Grahame is regretting leaving the Flyer's farm team to sign with the Avs a few months ago?


In the end, I think a lot of the names on this list will be moving on this year. Matt Hendricks, Peter Budaj, Stephane Yelle and Chris Durno are the only four players that I feel have a significant chance at returning next year and Hendricks is the only one who I'd consider a lock. No matter how you feel about them as players, the presumed departure of Tucker, Svatos, Salei and Clark is going to free up just shy of $11 million in cap space. And next Monday, I'll start venturing wild guesses as to how the Avalanche might spend all this fresh new loot.