There's been a lot of trade talk on Mile High Hockey lately...A LOT. Scrolling through the comments, I think I've heard just about every name offered up in a trade. Whether this is for better or worse, I don't know. All I know is it's time to put all our personal vendettas aside, look past the poor moves this team has made from a management standpoint in the past, and take a realistically look at where this team is now and how to best make improvements to it for the future. So, with that, love it or hate it, here's what I feel are the best moves for this Avalanche team:
1- Don't blow up the team at the deadline.
Despite what some people think, the Avs are not in the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes. They are fewer points out of first place in the NHL then they are last place. As hard as it would be to catch a team like Nashville (which will not happen), it would be even harder to suck more than a team like Buffalo that has lost 14 straight. So, with that, there's no reason to blow this team up. The Avs are just two points out of the playoffs and have a chance to make the playoffs despite their awful ROW. They're in the Calgary Zone, but that's okay, because right now, Calgary is in the playoffs. The young core of this team needs as much playoff experience they can get. The Avs will not win the cup this year, but they can grow on their way to becoming a cup contender.
With that in mind, I'm not going to say the Avs shouldn't make any moves at the deadline. As much as this team is hurting on defense, its number one need is prospects, and that means trading for draft picks. If possible, the Avs should unload Briere and Elliott (may get some showcase time here) for draft picks. Max Talbot still has a year on his contract, but I would trade him to his old team the Penguins that have a lot of pending UFA forwards either at the deadline (if possible with Pittsburgh's tight cap) or at the draft. A week ago I would have included Hejda with those guys, but with Johnson out for awhile, I feel Hejda's importance for the now may outweigh his trade value.
2- Make your moves at the draft.
I already mentioned moving Talbot at the draft, but draft time is where I think the Avs should move their big chip, Ryan O'Reilly. O'Reilly's trade value really won't change that much from March to June. Given his strong value/play for this team currently, I feel trading O'Reilly at the deadline is throwing in the white flag on a playoff run. It's hard to regain chemistry on a team after that significant of a move. Make a move with O'Reilly at the draft, so new players have a training camp to get used to the new system. While there are a number of O'Reilly deals that seem plausible out there, I think the one that makes the most sense from a cap stance (which is really the reason O'Reilly would be traded at all) is a deal with Buffalo that sends Tyler Myers back. Myers has term at a cap friendly number. But I also feel that a one-for-one with those players leaves the Avs with a hole up front, so I think the best deal is a packaged deal. Here's what I would make it:
Avs send Ryan O'Reilly, Nick Holden, and Calvin Pickard to Buffalo
Tyler Myers, Zemgus Girgensons, 2015 2nd round pick, and 2016 1st round pick (conditional)
Both teams benefit from this. The Sabres get an experienced second line center in O'Reilly to protect a new franchise centerman, a cap friendly third pairing defenseman with term, and a goaltender of the future for a team that has two UFA goaltenders. The Avs get a top-four d-man with a cap-friendly contract with term, a less proven yet still talented (as well as cheap) O'Reilly replacement, and a 2nd round pick with the possibility of getting a 1st the next draft if O'Reilly signs an extension with Buffalo, all while freeing up some future cap space to sign players due extensions. Not a bad move if you ask me.
If all goes well, the Avs continued a playoff hunt and still secured three to four picks (including a replacement 2nd) for the upcoming draft.
3- Make a few moves during free agency.
With that big trade, the Avs now have themselves a solid d-man in Myers to play alongside Barrie in the second pairing, but they would still need someone to play on the top pairing with Johnson. If Johnny Boychuk was a lefty, I'd say go for it, but he's a righty and that top-four already has three of them. Christian Ehrhoff and Andrej Meszaros would be available, but their bang probably wouldn't match their buck. There's also Johnny Oduya and Francois Beauchemin, neither of which I'm convinced will leave their respective teams without a significant pay raise. For younger and possibly cheaper options in the upcoming free agency, the Avs could look toward Matt Irwin or Adam McQuaid, neither of which I'm convinced are real first pair material. Which leads me to this: Jan Hejda.
Would signing Hejda to a similar cap hit for two more years really be the end of the world? Johnson and Hejda have some decent chemistry and have been the Avs' strongest pair, so why not give Hejda the retirement deal? You know what you get from Hejda. It may be better for him to hold the spot until a younger defenseman is ready to take on the minutes.
In addition to addressing the top-pair, I would also pick up a third line forward. The most attractive options to me are Carl Soderberg (more of a second line guy) and Eric Fehr. With Fehr likely to break the 20-goal mark this season, I would expect him to command around two to three million a year in free agency. With the Avs having shed around ten million with the losses of Briere, Wilson, Talbot, Holden, and the difference of the O'Reilly contract, I don't see why paying a guy like Fehr three million a year for a few years would be such a bad investment.
Finally, with free agency, there's the subject of a back-up goalie. Part of me wants the Avs just to be rid of Berra and his contract now. Send him to waivers and be done with him. But maybe the guy deserves another chance. With Pickard gone the way of Buffalo, Berra's gonna need some competition to push him to succeed though and the 2015 UFA class has no shortage of available back-up goalies. I think at least one of them would be willing to sign a two-way deal at one million or less. If Berra does well, the new back-up goes down. If not, Berra is looking to see if he clears waivers.
4- Make the necessary roster adjustments.
With the addition of Myers, the d-core is looking much better. But, you still need to build for the future. That's why I would have Duncan Siemens, Chris Bigras, and Will Butcher compete for a spot alongside the mentor, Brad Stuart on the third D-pairing and the possibility of playing next to Erik Johnson in two years. Second and third compete for the Stuart replacement job in two years. With that, Guenin and Redmond become the odd ones out. Maybe one of them gets traded for a late draft pick leaving the other to play the seventh defenseman role, or maybe the Avs just carry eight defenseman in case one of the old guys goes down or Roy wants to punish a youngster. But with all of that, we get a healthy line-up that looks like this:
Guenin and/or Redmond
Berra or New Back-up
Those are my moves. We'll see what moves the Avs make. Maybe they'll have moves like Jagr.