This is a busy week for NHL organizations, the Amateur Draft starts Friday night and the Free Agent legal tampering period begins Thursday leading to the mayhem on July 1st, not to mention the Board of Governors meetings in Vegas. Also, Restricted Free Agents must be qualified by Monday June 29th or they become Unrestricted Free Agents. So the Avs have that to deal with this week as well and seeing as the draft could affect a couple of choices they won't decide until the last minute on the full list.
There are 11 players anxiously waiting to hear from the org, let's take a quick look at them:
Andrew Agozzino - Aggz joined the Monsters on an AHL contract in 2012 and was named to the All-Star team that year along with Mike Sgarbossa. The Avs signed him to a 2-year ELC in the Spring of 2013 which is now expiring. This past year saw a big jump in his development. He was in the final cut for the Avs, played his first NHL game and recorded his first NHL point and ended up 7th in AHL scoring with 30 goals and 34 assists. He's also the Monsters all-time leader in goals, assists, points, games played and the only Monster to record a 30-goal season. Coach Dean remarked in a trip to San Antonio last month that signing Aggz is something the org is working on so it's a safe bet he will be qualified.
Minimum QO - $640k
Sami Aittokallio - Sami was drafted by the Avs in the 4th round 2010, played another couple of years for Ilves in Finland then joined the Monsters/Avs on a 3-year ELC in 2012. For reasons still somewhat vague, he fell out of favor with the Avs staff last summer and did not participate in any of the summer goalie camps run by Francois Allaire. He had a poor training camp and ended up in Ft Wayne for a gruesome stint but ultimately fell into the backup role in Lake Erie where he posted a 7-5-1 record, .900 Sv%, 3.19 GAA. Word on the street is that he's been working out with Karpat in the Finnish league but still hopes to play in North America next season. With 5 goalie contracts already spoken for in the Avs org, it looks extremely doubtful he will be part of the family going forward.
Minimum QO - $820k
Jordan Caron - Part of the trade that sent Max Talbot and Paul Carey to the B's, Caron spent 19 games with the Avs without recording a single point while plummeting from top-6 replacement wing minutes all the way to Bordy minutes. Safe to say he was not impressive. He does have a reasonable history of scoring in the AHL and would probably be preferable to a washed-up veteran in that respect but unfortunately played under a 1-way deal last year so a qualifying offer would have to mirror that. Also it's logical to assume that his coach in junior, Andre Tourigny, had a hand in recommending his acquisition and with Bear gone perhaps Jordan will be too. I'd say there's a chance he's qualified but more likely would return as a FA on a 2-way or AHL contract if the Avs feel the need to see more.
Minimum QO - $660k, 1-way
Mat Clark - Acquired for Mike Sgarbossa at the deadline, Clark stepped into a steady defensive defenseman role with Lake Erie and filled a need that had been around all year. Even with the potential logjam at defense in San Antonio, there should be a spot for Clark and he would make a great partner for rookie Chris Bigras. Unless the Avs see the 50-contract limit being tighter than it looks from the outside, I expect him to be qualified. He's sort of a luxury but one that's well worth it with all the young Ds in the AHL.
Minimum QO - $605k
Stefan Elliott - This would be Elliott's second contract since his ELC expired and there's no evidence the Avs are counting him on the NHL roster next season. If retained, he should be fighting with Max Noreau for top-pair RD in San Antonio but could fall to 3rd pairing in a few scenarios. That said, Stef had a pretty good bump up developmentally last year with the Monsters scoring career highs in goals, assists and points (19/21/40) although a fair amount of these came on the PP. We've all wondered if the Avs have run out of patience with their 2nd round pick from 2009 but he does have some value if signed and losing him for nothing shouldn't be an option.
Minimum QO - $893k
Freddie Hamilton - Came to the Avs in a deal for Karl Stollery at the deadline and was called up after only 2 games in Lake Erie. Hamilton is exactly what you want from a depth prospect, good scoring at the AHL level, still has some upside and can play bottom-6 in the NHL competently if needed. Coming off of his 3-year ELC this should be a slam dunk.
Minimum QO - $688k
Mitchell Heard - Every time I sit down to write something about Mitch I am reminded of the scene in Animal House when Flounder's picture comes up and everyone starts screaming and throwing beer at the screen. His third year in pros started terribly, got better after a resurrection in Ft Wayne and gradually faded away towards the end of the year. He's a good ECHL player and the fans in Ft Wayne love him, maybe that's the right place for him at this point. I don't see him being qualified. He more than likely finishes his Avs career with 28 points and 376 PIMs in 137 AHL games.
Minimum QO - $971k (oh my word!)
Joey Hishon - Like Stefan Elliott, he's looking for his second contract since ELC and also like Elliott he has some value if signed and shouldn't be lost for nothing. If you throw out the year he lost plus the next season where he played 9 games, he's really only a second year pro going into next season. On the other hand, he's almost 24 and the window for rapid development is closing. What he is right now is a good AHL 2nd line Center that's shown little other than promise at the NHL level. I believe that with 200 NHL games under his belt he could be a solid bottom-6 center and crafty depth scorer, but how he gets to that plateau is a big question. It's a pretty safe bet that if he spends the majority of this year in the minors, this will be his last contract from the Avs.
Minimum QO - $893k
Markus Lauridsen - Moose has already signed to play in the Swedish League next year so he won't be in San Antonio but the Avs do have the option of qualifying him and retaining his rights for a couple years.
Calvin Pickard - Obviously the Avs are going to qualify Picks and of all the guys on this list he's the only one that will negotiate for more than a 1-year deal. A standard bridge contract makes the most sense for both sides, but I have a feeling this one might be tougher to get done than it looks. Calvin's going to want to see some commitment from the Avs that if he continues to play heavy minutes in the AHL and plays savior when Varly gets injured he'll be taken care of and have a shot at the NHL sooner than later. He's got one more year of waiver eligibility if my math is correct so this should be his one and only year in San Antonio.
Minimum QO - $850k
Tomas Vincour - After taking a year off to play in the KHL Vinny returned to the org and had a horribly injury-plagued season. A knee smashed up in pre-season delayed his debut and various other maladies cropped up over the season limiting him to 10 goals and 13 assists in 38 games for Lake Erie and a single assist in 7 for the Avs. However, 15 of those points came in the final 19 games of the year when he was presumably healthy at last. This is a tough call, Vincour can be very good in the AHL and it's not like there's a ton of wingers ready to take his job this year. Plus he's big.
To summarize my wild guesses:
Qualified (6): Aggz, Clark, Elliott, Hamilton, Hish, Picks
Not qualified (3): Sami, Heard, Lauridsen
??? (2): Caron, Vincour
As of right now, the Avs have 37 contracts signed for next year and need 2 defensemen and a forward at the NHL level (at least) so there's a bit more flexibility than we had last year. If things get tight, I really think there's a better chance than in the past to try to move some older prospects/depth players out of training camp.
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Just to go over some rules about qualifying and RFAs, a team qualifies a player by offering an amount determined by the previous contract. The player signs that and it's considered in force or they can not sign it and negotiate further. If the team does not qualify the player then they become UFA on July 1st. Also starting July 1st, a qualified player can consider and sign offer sheets from other clubs.
The amounts on the minimum QOs are all NHL salaries, AHL minimum salaries are determined by experience and can also be negotiated upwards of course. Jordan Caron is the only RFA with a 1-way salary deal and that does translate to the qualifying offer requirements.
With the draft and UFA to deal with in the next couple weeks, we probably won't see any of these guys signed right off the bat unless they sign the QO. Last year Hish, Carey, Elliott and Stollery were officially signed on July 16th.
A quick word about the players on AHL-only contracts last year: Joey Leach, Dan Maggio, Reid Petryk, Kenny Ryan, Ben Youds, Michael Schumacher, Francois Tremblay and CJ Severyn. Neither the Avs or Monsters have any kind of rights retained on them and they all become Unrestricted Free Agents on July 1st.