It's no secret this year hasn't gone the way the Avs were expecting. Despite just falling short of a playoff spot last year and improving the roster in the off-season, the Avalanche have sunk back into the Western Conference basement. Between the injuries, contract disputes, defensive meltdown, and under-preforming players, it's been a rocky few months.
Even though the team is only a few points from a playoff spot, the chances of actually making it in is roughly 5% right now. Between this fact and the recent bizarre player usage, ice-time, and demotions that have taken place over the past few weeks, I believe that the Avs have been gearing up to be active at the trade deadline. Greg Sherman has a history of making big trades, and if he can find someone to dance with, I doubt this year will be any different.
Below are my guesses as to what the team might be looking at between now and April 3rd. I highly doubt there will be a fire-sale as our young core is mostly established, but there are clearly some players that aren't working and some that need to be brought in for us to be successful.
Just for Reference:
Untouchable Players: Duchene, O'Reilly, Landeskog, Parenteau, Johnson, Varlamov
Highly Unlikely to be Moved: Hejduk, McGinn, Mitchell, Downie (IR), Hejda, Wilson (IR), Giguere
Players We Would Like to Trade, But No One in Their Right Minds Would Take: Jones, likely Zanon
1. Young, Left-Handed, Puck-Moving #2 Defenseman
This is the single largest, most glaring hole on the Avs roster right now. Quite simply, Erik Johnson needs a reliable partner. Most of this team's struggles are due to bottom-pairing players being asked to take on top roles, so solidifying our Top 4 is a high priority.
Unfortunately, we don't have any prospects in the system that fit this mold (all of our top puck-moving defensemen shoot right) so we'll need to acquire this player through trade. Youth is important as we'll likely want this player to be a member of our core moving forward, so someone in the Under 26 range is ideal. NHL experience is a major plus, but as long as said player is able to handle top-pairing minutes within the next couple years, allowing for some development time isn't likely to be a problem.
2. IF STASTNY IS TRADED: Defensively-Reliable 3rd Line Center
Currently, Stastny is filling this role. If he's moved at the Deadline (see below) we'd need to find his replacement either through trade or Free Agency this summer. Essentially, we need someone who can take defensive-zone faceoffs and be reliable around our goalies while still chipping in occasionally on offense. Some PK work would be nice as well.
3. Top 6 Winger (Left or Right)
While more of a luxury than a necessity, our prospect pool for can't-miss Top 6-caliber wings is virtually non-existent. Upgrading our wings is going to be the next step in making this team competitive, so the Avs will likely be keeping an eye out for players and prospects that could fit into the system.
4. Picks and Prospects
You can never have too many. The Avs rebuild is winding down, but we're still a young team and could definitely make use of more young talent.
1. 3rd Pairing Defenseman
We have a bit of a nasty log-jam at defense right now. There are a number of players on one-way contracts that are preventing our prospects from making the jump into the lineup, so they need to be moved as soon as possible. It wouldn't surprise me to see one or more moved for 2nd-4th round picks. Names include:
- Greg Zanon: Very good at blocking shots. He has an awesome beard and could help add defensive depth if he's never played above the 3rd pairing.
- Ryan O`Byrne: Big shut-down defenseman who has struggled this year after anchoring one of our top pairs last season. UFA this summer.
- Shane O`Brien: Decent 2-way defenseman and character guy, likes to jump up into the play.
- Matt Hunwick: Typically reliable puck-moving defenseman. Very good teammate, excellent as a 3rd pair or #7 defenseman.
It's possible that Ryan Wilson may also be considered, but the return would have to be more substantial. He's currently on the IR as well with a tweaked ankle, so it's unlikely that he'll be moved.
2. Top 6 Two-Way Playmaking Center: Paul Stastny
With Duchene emerging as a true #1 Center and O'Reilly likely to be around for a while because of his contract (only Feaster would want that $6.5 Qualifying Offer), it's looking like Stastny is the odd-man out. The Avs are in no hurry to trade him, but if someone offers up the defenseman we need, Stastny is likely to be the primary piece heading the other way. It's hard to justify keeping 3 top centers around when we're hurting this badly on D.
The best way to describe Stastny is that he's a multiplier. He can't carry a line, but he will play up to the level of his wingers no matter how good they are. He's amazing at distributing the puck, and if you have someone that crashes the net, Stastny will find a way to make the pass. He's good for about 20 goals a season, but with the correct wingers, 50+ assists is certainly not out of the question.
He's reliable defensively, strong on faceoffs (52% right now despite facing the highest QualComp and worst zone starts on the team), and a pretty decent leader. He's not flashy, but he can put up points if given the chance. He's only 27 and is going to be good for quite some time, so if you can put up with his $6.6 mil cap hit until it expires in 2014, he'd be a solid addition to almost any team's 1st or 2nd line.
3. 2013 1st Round Pick
I could see the Avs moving this year's pick, one that will likely be in the Top 5, if it brought back a substantial enough return. None of the top prospects this year really address an organizational need, so it wouldn't completely surprise me if the Avs decided to trade it for someone that does. Trading down in the draft may also be an option.
There isn't a strong likelihood of this happening, but I don't think it's impossible either.
4. Other Picks and Prospects
Moving top prospects isn't really something the Avs do very much, but if it's a package deal, there's a possibility one may be included.
At forward, we're organizationally weak. We do have Michael Sgarbossa and Joey Hishon who both look to be Top 6 Centers within the next few years, but I strongly doubt the Avs would be willing to part with either until they're allowed to develop more and we lock up both Duchene and O'Reilly long-term.
Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott are both 2nd Pairing Right-Handed Puck-Moving Defenseman. These two are the reason why we were able to trade away Kevin Shattenkirk since all three are very similar players. Tyson Barrie is NHL-ready right now but was inexplicably sent back to the minors and is currently injured. Stefan Elliott is a bit more raw - he lost half a season to a concussion - but he's not too far out from being a NHL regular either and is currently in the Avs lineup as a call-up. In the next few years, I expect the Avs to choose one or the other, but a really good offer may speed that decision along. If I had to guess, I'd say Elliott is more likely to be moved.
We also have a wealth of Goalie prospects. Calvin Pickard and Sami Aittokallio both project to be NHL regulars and have been strong during their first year in the AHL. Kent Patterson and Kieran Millan were both rookies in the CHL this season and are still promising prospects despite being further out. With Varlamov only being 24, it's unlikely that we'll need all 4 of these young goalies. Pickard is probably the most NHL ready of the group, but Aittokallio isn't far behind.