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Avalanche Free Agency Game Plan: Forwards

Ilya Kovalchuk.

The end.

Okay, that was obvious, but it's really not all that far from the truth. Kovy is, in so many ways, the perfect fit for the Avalanche. The Avs have money to spend (between $10 million and $15 million perhaps), they have a dearth of quality left wingers and they could use an upgrade offensively. Oh, and Kovalchuk would probably sell a few tickets as well - something the team could certainly use. We've been talking about adding Kovy since well before last season's trading deadline. We've talked about how high his contract demands will be, which teams can afford him, how the KHL will play into this, whether he's a good team player or a bad team player. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It's gone on so long that I'm sure the K, O, V and Y keys have completely worn off of Bob in Boulder's keyboard. Will the Avalanche pull the trigger on Thursday? There's no way to know. One thing I do know, though: he's the best option by a wide margin.

With Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly, the Avalanche are probably set up the middle for the next 27 years or so. They may still need a 4th line pivot man, but no one is reading this to find out our chances of landing Richard Park or Ryan Johnson. Center is not a need.

On the right wing, the Avalanche have Milan Hejduk, Chris Stewart, David Jones and Brandon Yip in terms of front-line talent. That's a solid group...but the age of Hejduk and relative inexperience of the latter three might leave room for a depth signing here, just in case. I believe GM Greg Sherman when he says he's committed to sticking with the youth movement, so I don't think the Avs will pursue any big-name right wingers.

The left wing, though, is another story. The Avalanche currently have T.J. Galiardi, Peter Mueller and Ryan Stoa. All three have potential and all three had some success especially late in the season last year. This is the position that is screaming for an influx of talent (and, honestly, it was this way even before the Avalanche traded away Ryan Smyth last summer). As good as I think these three can be - and I'm high on all of them - I think they would absolutely benefit from the addition of someone to take the pressure off. If you bring in a first-line winger, you can leave Mueller on the second line (where he flourished), allow Galiardi to move to the third line (where he's probably better suited and where he could combine with Radar O'Reilly to be a potent combo) and it would allow Ryan Stoa a little more time to find his NHL groove.

With all that in mind, let's take a look at some of the top-tier LW available on Thursday and see if we can find a couple of good bargain options for the right wing as well.

Ilya Kovalchuk. LW. Age 27. 2009 Cap Hit: $6.4 million. Okay, here we go. Last year, Chris Stewart led the Avalanche with 28 goals. In Kovalchuk's worst NHL season - his first - he scored 29. In 65 games. His 2nd lowest goal output was 38 in his sophomore year. Since then, he's scored 40 goals 4 times and 50 goals twice. The Avalanche haven't had a 40- or 50-goal scorer since the '02-'03 season, when Hejduk potted 50. His salary next year will be a lot closer to $10 million than mine will, but all that money would bring the Avs a massive upgrade in talent. There's not many NHL players worth that kind of cake. Kovalchuk is. The Avs can afford him now and they can afford to pay him a few years from now. To me, he is a the perfect addition tor a young, talented team on the rise - a proven, reliable superstar who produces like few others. Remember back in 2007 when Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan were highly touted as excellent targets for the Avs even before Francois Giguere signed them? Kovalchuk is an even better match. He's such a logical addition that I actually will be surprised if he doesn't end up in the unipron next year (note to Kovy: #17 is available). Setting myself up for disappointment, I know.

Ray Whitney. LW. Age 38. $3.5 million. No offense to Whitney, who scored 58 points last year, but he does represent a rather significant drop off in talent between Kovalchuk and everyone else. Whitney is a veteran who should be good to provide 20 goals as well as some significant leadership. At 5'10" 180, I don't think he's a perfect fit for the smallish Avs.

Alexander Frolov. LW. Age 28. $4 million. Frolov is possibly the 2nd best option for the Avalanche...and that's a bit of a scary thought. He's immensely talented (71 points in 2006), but also extremely inconsistent (51 points last year). He's a bit of a gamble - especially at a contract north of $5 million a year - but Frolov has the potential to thrive. No, he's not my first choice...but he's

Matt Lombardi. RW. Age 28. $1.8 million. Lombardi is getting a lot of ink this summer as one of the guys due a big raise following his 58 point season in Phoenix. I've always been a Lombardi fan - that speed is breathtaking - but I'd like to see a few more consistent seasons on the books before getting into a bidding war for his services.

Lee Stempniak. RW. Age 27. $2.5 million. Seriously, is there anyone on the Coyotes who isn't a free agent this summer? I like Stempniak, who scored 27 goals last year. As with Lombardi, I'm just not sure I like him enough to go batshit crazy to land him.

Alexei Ponikarovsky. LW. Age 30. $2.1 million. Considering I had no idea that Ponikarovsky was as big (6'4") or as old (30) as he is, I'm probably not in a position to talk about him (that West Coast bias rearing its ugly head). I'm not really sure a guy who averages 40 points a year is going to help us too much anyway, though.

Raffi Torres. LW. Age 28. $ 2.25 million. The "other" #17. If you follow this blog, you may recall I thought Torres might be a good deadline acquisition for the Avalanche. As a free agent, he's certainly not the top-tier winger the Avalanche need, but his hustle and grit would make him a solid choice in the "value add" category; he could be an effective player on the lower lines, but wouldn't be totally out of place moving up for a spell in case of an injury.

Thanks, but no thanks:

  • Maxim Afinoganov. Svatos 2.0
  • Paul Kariya. A shadow at this point. More importantly, he would be a constant reminder of the most disappointing season in Avalanche history.
  • Olli Jokinen. The 'stache is cool. Everything else about the moody guy is overrated.
  • Jonathan Cheechoo. Don't even think about it...unless Joe Thornton is coming with him.
  • Alex Tanguay. I still have many great memories. Please don't come back and tarnish them.

We're not too deep into this and we're already getting to a point where there probably wouldn't be a huge return for the Avalanche. After Kovy and, arguably, Frolov, there doesn't seem to be too much out there worthy of a significant investment. There's not many other names I'd put ahead of the top 8 or 9 players on the depth chart. Greg Sherman struck pay dirt last year with the bargain signing of Craig Anderson (yeah, I know, I'm the first guy ever to point that out), so perhaps he can work his magic again. For the most part, though, I think the Avs' approach to this position on Canada Day is going to be "go big or go home".