The NHL’s March 1st trade deadline is fast-approaching and the Colorado Avalanche, sitting dead-last in the league with a 16-40-3 record, are primed to make some significant changes to the roster in the coming days. Will they trade any of their core players? Can they unload any of their veterans to make room for AHL prospects? Right now, there’s not much clear indication of anything, only rumors and speculation, so let’s go through the NHL-worthy 50-man roster (as well as a few pre-ELC prospects) and make some sense of it, shall we?
Don’t event think about it. The Avalanche are rebuilding and these are the building blocks.
- Nathan MacKinnon — The 21-year-old former No. 1 overall draft pick isn’t going anywhere for any reason. He signed a brand-new seven-year deal in the offseason and leads the team in points (despite a rock-bottom 6.3% shooting percentage). He is Colorado’s most talented player the face of the franchise for the next decade.
- Mikko Rantanen — The Finnish rookie was drafted No. 10 overall in 2015 and is currently third on the team in scoring. The big 6’4” wing is quickly rising as one of the top forwards among a vaunted rookie class and looks to be a lock among the Avalanche’s Top-6 forwards for a long time to come.
- Nikita Zadorov — The marquis player in the Ryan O’Reilly trade will be the foundation from which the Avalanche blue line is built. At 21-years-old, he was beginning to find his footing as a top-pairing NHL defenseman (and notorious open-ice hitter) the past two months before suffering a broken ankle in practice.
- Tyson Jost — Selected No. 10 overall in 2016, the 18-year-old University of North Dakota freshman is still third on his team in scoring despite missing a number of games following a crash into his opponents’ goal. He a logical replacement in the coming years for a Top-6 forward position, should a current option be traded.
Not Quite Ripe
These players are a step below “The Untouchables,” but still top prospects and likely priorities in the Avalanche’s future. If one of these names could tip a trade the organization is desperate to make, anything is possible; but otherwise, they’re not likely on the table.
- AJ Greer — The 20-year-old was an AHL all-star in his first professional season after taking the, uh, road less taken last year through the NCAA and QMJHL. He’s demonstrated a knack for making plays in front of the net with his size, tenacity and great hands. He’s likely a Top-6 wing for the Avalanche headed into camp next year.
- JT Compher — Another major piece in the Ryan O’Reilly trade, who has also made quite an impression in his first professional season in the AHL. He can score, play defense and draw the ire of an opponent with his physical play in just a single shift. Compher will likely be slotting into the Avalanche third line next year.
- Chris Bigras — Though a lot of fans have been surprised by his absence from the NHL blue line this season, he has yet to really regain his footing again after suffering an early-season concussion. The organization might be angling to add more defensive talent, but I can’t imagine Bigras isn’t part of the plans going forward.
- Spencer Martin — Despite an inauspicious NHL debut and some up-and-down play of late in the AHL, there are indications the 21-year-old could be the future of the Avalanche in net. He still has a way to go with his development before the front office can determine his eventual upside and there is little to no organization depth behind him. No real chance he’s included in any trade proposal in the foreseeable future.
“Lower on the vine” controlled AHL players like Rocco Grimaldi, Sergei Boikov, Anton Lindholm, Julien Nantel, Troy Bourke and Mason Geertsen and impending ELC decisions like Andrei Mironov, JC Beaudin, Nicolas Meloche, Will Butcher, Ben Storm, Gustav Olhaver and Adam Werner are not being shopped necessarily, but if they could balance a larger trade the team really wanted to make, I don’t see then organization getting too precious with these prospects.
Let’s not overthink this. Your team needs low-buy veteran players for a playoff push; the Avalanche need to clear roster space to start building toward the future. Call Joe with a mid-to-late-round draft pick and get it over with.
- Jarome Iginla — A first ballot Hall-of-Famer on an expiring deal, who can still put goals in the back of the net—and has never won a Cup? These are the deadline deals dreams are made of. If your team is headed for the playoffs, can use some punch on the power play and has room somewhere on the fourth line, you make this trade.
- Francois Beauchemin — Oh, no! Your bottom-pairing defenseman is out for the season and his AHL replacement is too green to get you through the playoffs. Here’s an idea: a versatile veteran with a Stanley Cup in his belt who can play big minutes and still score points like a Top-4 blue liner. Yeah, he’s owed $4.5M next year, but the Avalanche will eat 40%.
- Fedor Tyutin — Can’t stomach Beauchemin’s (reduced) salary next year? Well, how about a neutral-zone suppression specialist on an expiring deal? No, he’s not going to clear the zone for you, but that’s what your other five guys are for! Limit his defensive-zone starts and you have yourself a decent vet defenseman for a couple of months at very little cost.
- Andreas Martinsen — I think a lot of Avalanche fans were a bit surprised when the Norwegian’s name popped up in trade rumors about a month ago. Then again, he’s big, cheap, healthy, a decent enough skater and an unrestricted free agent at the year. Need a fourth-liner to hit some people and not get in the way? Here ya go!
- Rene Bourque — He may not have played for the past three weeks, but he’s still the tip-in king for the Colorado Avalanche; and in today’s NHL, every team can use one of those. Rene has nine goals on the season and chances are your fourth liner hasn’t scored that many. Help us lighten our organizational load of Bourques and toss Joe a high draft pick.
- John Mitchell — He may only have four points in 52 games played, but semi-capable fourth line centers are traded every year at the deadline. Mitchell is a nine-year veteran on an expiring contract, possesses some really solid puck skills and is more than 54% on faceoffs this season. Having already passed through waivers this season, the Avalanche will only be looking for a nominal return. Shore up your veteran depth and help the Avalanche clear a roster spot, will ya?
- Joe Colborne — It was seen as a bit of a coup this past offseason when the Avalanche signed the versatile 27-year-old forward to a two-year deal, fresh off a 19-goal season with the Calgary Flames, but he’s failed to replicate anywhere near than kind of production of Colorado’s bottom lines. Could he be an attractive trade option with $2.5M left on his contract next year? Doubtful, but you never know who is still looking at those 19 goals.
- Cody Goloubef — Considering where he began the year, Goloubef has surprised a lot of observers in proving capable of the Avalanche roster, but he’s an unrestricted free agent this coming and not likely to earn an NHL contract. If another team wants to shore up their 7th or 8th defensive option down the stretch at minimum cost, you could do worse.
There Be Dragons
These players are in a dark and scary place, with poor on-ice performance and terrible contracts. Your team wants no part of these players and we totally understand. Just go ahead and gloss over these names.
- Carl Soderberg — Colorado’s big free agent acquisition in 2015 has fallen off a cliff after a solid 50-point first season with the team. The Swedish center has just 11 points this year, which is downright inexcusable for a player who made his World Cup team this past summer and is slated to make $14.25M over the next three years. Maybe your team has a magic spell that will turn him back into a well-rounded middle-six pivot? Otherwise, steer clear.
- Semyon Varlamov — Formerly a top-tier goalie in the league, the 28-year-old Russian netminder was having his worst season since breaking into the league nine years ago, posting an .898 Save Percentage, before opting for season-ended groin surgery. Varlamov is owed $5.9M each of the next two season and no one (not doing fistfuls of LSD) will be trading for him at the deadline.
Sauces and Dressings
No, these players aren’t entrées, but they’re important enough in supplementary roles and roster position going into next year where they’re not likely to be included in any trade scenario.
- Calvin Pickard — In his first full professional season, we may be seeing some limitations in the 24-year-old’s game. With just a .909 save percentage, Pickard has contributed to his fair share of losses this year; but he also wasn’t expected to carry anywhere near this large of load. When he isn’t having to start four straight games, he’s been more effective and should serve as a solid backup and spot-starter going forward.
- Matt Nieto — It says a lot when a recent waiver wire pickup has been one of the team’s best forwards. After being claimed from San Jose, the 24-year-old has served admirably on Colorado’s top lines and, while due for a new contract this coming offseason, the Avalanche will likely have no problem tendering him a two-year deal to fill a bottom-six role.
- Mark Barberio — Much of what has been said about Nieto can apply to Barberio. The 26-year-old has proven to be a capable puck-moving blue liner, is signed through next season and wouldn’t look a bit out of place on the bottom pairing of a better defense. He’s likely more valuable filling a roster spot next season than any futures return he could fetch. Count him out.
- Patrick Wiercioch — This name could surprise a few people here, but in the context of Colorado’s defensive unit, he’s been passable—which is a compliment. He’s 26 and a restricted free agent this offseason, but also a reasonable candidate to receive a new contract to serve as the sixth or seventh defenseman again (or to expose to the expansion draft).
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The Avalanche are walking out their Picassos and Renoirs dressed tuxedos and fancy white gloves, and these rare and exciting pieces can be yours...for an exorbitant price. Don’t expect any discounting here. Colorado will likely only accept surplus value of younger players to add to “The Untouchables.”
- Matt Duchene — The Avalanche are frustrated by their team’s record and Duchene is justifiable frustrated by the talent the team has been able to surround him with during his eight-year career. Rumors are rampant and the organization could be moved to make a trade in order to get younger and fill some holes, but it won’t be at a discount. Boston, Carolina, Ottawa and Montreal have all emerged as interested, if not entirely willing, trade partners; and it’s possible something could get done by March 1st, but as it stands, each team is balking at Colorado’s justifiably high demands. Is there a chance Colorado’s 2009 third-overall draft pick gets shipped off? Yes, there is. But don’t be surprised if the front office can’t find the right deal either. The Avalanche would be happy to break camp with Duchene next year if that’s the best value.
- Gabriel Landeskog — Colorado’s 24-year-old captain was the topic of just as many trade rumors for the past month, but they always felt less justified. He plays a position the Avalanche are desperately trying to fill and his play has received nothing but accolades from the coaching staff as he’s recovered from his early-season injury. Were they listening? Of course they were, but I’m not convinced it was going to require anything but overwhelming surplus value to get a deal done. Landeskog is signed long-term, a fantastic hockey player and close enough to the age range of its wave of new young players. Smart money says he stays.
- Tyson Barrie — There may be no more polarizing player in the organization than the undersized, offensively-gifted defenseman. He’s struggled through long stretches this season after signing a big four-year deal this past offseason and plenty of fans question whether defensive liabilities are worth a roster spot, let alone the $5.5M per year contract. Insiders have confirmed the front office communicated a higher standard of play was expected, and his play has certainly improved of late. Can he be traded? Absolutely. Will it happen now? My feeling is no—the Avalanche would be “selling low” and not maximizing the value of an elite possession defenseman on pace for more than 40 points in a down year.
- Erik Johnson — Despite missing nearly three months this season with a broken tibia, the 28-year-old is the closest thing the Avalanche have to a premier defenseman. He signed a seven-year deal this offseason for $42M and may have the biggest impact on overall team results as anyone on the roster. The problem? He’ll be in his 30s by the time the organization’s young talent is hitting their prime. If a team approached Joe Sakic with a prospects and futures package, Johnson might have to go earn that big contract elsewhere.
The Sweet Spot
These low-buy, controlled players are young and intriguing enough to appeal to not necessarily contenders, but also rebuilding teams who want to get a 25-game look before extending RFA deals over the summer.
- Mikhail Grigorenko — Like a lot of players on this roster, the 22-year-old has had difficulty this year translating the skills that made him successful in previous seasons. The defensively responsible center/left-wing, who showed an aptitude for complimenting top lines last year has been largely absent for much of this season and the Avalanche appear to be confused about what to do with him going forward. If another team has a clearer idea about how to turn him into a consistently useful NHL player, I wouldn’t be surprised at a trade for futures or a similar player in another system.
- Blake Comeau — It wasn’t that long ago the 31-year-old was a Top-6 wing on a good Penguins team with really solid possession numbers. With just a single year remaining on his contract at a reasonable $2.4M, he’s neither a rental nor cost prohibitive and could step into a lot of third-line roles around the league. Of all the trade options the Avalanche have, Comeau might be the most viable.
- Duncan Siemens — When are the Avalanche going to call up their 2011 first round draft pick? The answer is never. Seriously, never. No matter how many times the big club has needed a decent skating, defensively sound left-handed defenseman, they have chosen to sign underperforming free agents, claim cast-offs from the waiver wire or promote another player that seemed lower in the pecking order. Siemens was waived before the beginning of the season and is a restricted free agent this summer. He won’t be qualified and some other team should probably be interested in seeing if he’s worth it.