Even before the disastrous end to the 2015-16 season, significant turnover was imminent within the Avalanche organization. With 27 restricted and unrestricted free agents on the 50-man roster, it was given plenty of new players would suit up in Denver and San Antonio next year. Joe Sakic has a number of difficult decisions to make -- and we'll speculate on plenty of these moves in future installments -- but right now let's try to determine how much money the team is working with.
According to General Fanager, the Colorado Avalanche have an estimated salary cap hit next year of $52,650,593. This includes the painful final years of Jarome Iginla and Brad Stuart's contracts, a combined cap hit of nearly nine million dollars. If the salary cap holds steady at $71,400,000 (and there are varying opinions of whether or not it will), it should leave the Avalanche with $18,749,407 -- on the surface a healthy coffer of cash from which to make roster improvements.
But you may also notice from the General Fanager chart Colorado will owe new contracts to four very important restricted free agents before 2016-17 gets underway. Tyson Barrie, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Calvin Pickard will all need pay increases; and in the case of Barrie and MacKinnon, significant ones. More importantly, you may also notice the Avalanche have only 25 signed players headed into next season -- barely enough to fill an NHL roster, let alone your AHL farm team. Along with Buffalo, Colorado has more vacancies to fill this offseason than any other team.
Under the CBA, an NHL team is only required to fill 24 of its 50 roster spots, but chances are San Antonio wouldn't appreciate that too much. (Though the thought of Nate Guenin on the ice alone, pointing at non-existent teammates, evokes a small chuckle.) That means, Colorado must re-sign (or qualify) a whole bunch of its current players or find new ones; and either way, they will be owed at least minimum AHL salaries. With 20-plus spots to fill, even the smaller allotments add up.
Below, I've attempted to create a relationship between a team's projected cap space (assuming $71.4M) and the number of roster spots needed to reach 46 (a number I assume is a reasonable preseason starting point). The Avalanche, with their $18,749,407 actually have 6.0% more cap space this offseason than the NHL average. However their roster vacancies are 19.95% greater than the league average, leaving them much less money to spend per vacant roster spot.
The Avalanche, needing to fill 21 spots, have 11.0% less to spend per player this offseason than the NHL average. And most NHL franchises won't need to pay 12-13 million combined dollars to Barrie and MacKinnon either. So, as fun as it would be to make a run at a free agent like Alexander Radulov, it's unlikely the money is there this offseason unless some salary is jettisoned.
That help isn't going to come from Jarome Iginla, who holds a no-movement clause and isn't willing to waive it. And it's not going to come from buying out Brad Stuart's contract either, who at 36-years of age would provide salary relief, but not salary cap relief under the current CBA. Best case scenario is the team scraps together a couple million bucks to sign Shawn Matthias for a few years.
Otherwise, the big move comes next year when that nine million dollars gets freed up.