Today, multiple sources reported from the NHL’s annual GM meetings in Boca Raton, FL that next year’s salary cap will rise between two-and-a-half and three million dollars depending on certain escalators built in to the current collective bargaining agreement. This is excellent news for both teams toeing the salary threshold and players due to hit free agency and test their market value.
Bill Daly says the NHL's salary cap is projected to be $75.5M-$76M next season, but adds it will depend on inflator negotiations with NHLPA.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 8, 2017
For the Colorado Avalanche, this merely adds to the trove of cap wealth already cleared on their books for next season. After the 2016-17 season they will no longer be paying Brad Stuart’s $3.6M to sip daiquiris beneath tropical palm trees. They won’t be paying half of Jarome Iginla’s $5.25M salary to play for the Los Angeles Kings. John Mitchell’s four points in 57 games for $1.8M will clear the ledger as he hits unrestricted free agency. Likewise for approximately $4M of Fedor Tyutin, Rene Bourque, Eric Gelinas and Cody Goloubef.
Taking this newly announced salary cap figure into consideration, the Avalanche should have somewhere between 22 and 23 million dollars to play around with—should they choose to. So free agency splurge, right? Wrong. This is the exact opposite of what the organization should be doing this offseason and hopefully their past mistakes in this area are informing their upcoming decisions.
This isn’t the NFL with non-guaranteed contracts. You can’t throw money at veterans to plug major roster deficiencies like John Elway and just cut them without consequences when they’re no longer effective. This isn’t the NBA, where expiring contracts are nearly as valuable on its trade market as desirable players. In the NHL, when you pay big money on the open market for good veterans, you are eventually bound to the older version of those players. That’s how your team gets bogged down with Jarome Iginlas and Alex Tanguays and the bevy of defensemen this front office has brought in over the years to provide “leadership.” It’s how you sign Carl Soderbergs to five-year deals. When your team is struggling mightily, spending luxuriantly in free agency is one of the worst ways to climb out of it.
I hear you going, “OK, smart guy. So, what should they be doing?” Glad you asked.
Buy out Francois Beauchemin
The Avalanche just got handed an extra couple million dollars in cap room and they should use it to help eat the $4.5M Francois Beauchemin is owed in the final year of his contract. No, it won’t actually help the team save any cap room next year because it’s a “35+” contract, but it will open up a spot on the organization’s 50-man roster and—more importantly—rid them of his pesky no-movement clause. Why is this important? Well the NHL will be holding an expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights this summer; and unless you want to expose useful system players like Mark Barberio and Matt Nieto, than this is a move you absolutely have to make on June 15th. Good thing they have plenty of cap space to do so!
Take on bad short-term contracts for draft assets
Joe Sakic has been so desperate to stockpile future assets that he’s even considered trading his best players to do so. How about a different solution? It’s easy to forget the Arizona Coyotes traded for Pavel Datsuyk’s contract this past offseason. Why would they do that, you ask? Dude’s playing in Russia this year, right? Well, it’s because the Red Wings were willing to (essentially) swap their No. 16 pick for the Coyotes’ No. 20 pick to do so. This might seem like a pretty minor move to the casual observer, but Arizona is better off having Jacob Chychrun in their system.
Make an offer to Andrei Mironov
You know what would be a better move than throwing a seven-year $50M contract at 28-year-old Kevin Shattenkirk this offseason? Tendering an offer to your 22-year-old former fifth-round draft pick, the one who has already been a KHL all-star and Team Russia World Cup selection. There has already been a fair amount of speculation that he’d be interested in coming over this offseason, so let’s see if his stay-at-home defensive game translates to an NHL bottom pairing—for a fraction of the price and commitment. Let some other team pay defensemen into their twilight years for once.
Tender a restricted free agent offer
There’s likely a gentleman’s agreement among NHL GMs that discourages offers to each other’s restricted free agents, but that didn’t stop the Calgary Flames’ Jay Feaster from extending Ryan O’Reilly an offer sheet prior to the 2013-14 season, driving his price well beyond what the Avalanche wanted to pay him at the time. If the organization wants to add good long-term additions to its core, they’re unlikely to find that on the open market, so why not chase after a guy under team control? At minimum, you’ve made negotiations more difficult for your competitors, but there’s also a chance you might be able to add some real talent to your roster too.
Lure an NCAA free agent
It’s not common, but every once in a while a four-year NCAA players will decline to sign with the NHL team that drafted him, instead opting for free agency—think Mike Reilly or Jimmy Vesey. If the Avalanche are smart, they take some of the money and 50-man roster spots they’ve opened up and pounce. Or throw some money at previously undrafted players like Mike Vecchione or Zach Aston-Reese. Just as important as getting the NHL roster right is making sure your developmental teams have enough talent to succeed.
Commit to a rebuild for next year
This team isn’t going to suddenly turn into a Cup contender. Adding veterans on two- or three-year deals isn’t going to change your immediate fortunes, and is likely to inhibit the growth potential of your future players—so just don’t do it. Joe Sakic may decide to trade Matt Duchene this offseason or he may not; but either way, he needs to provide immediate NHL playing opportunities for Tyson Jost, AJ Greer, their high-2017 draft selection and whomever else they project to be a part of the franchise going forward. Not only does the NHL roster seem stuck, but the pipeline does as well. Let’s dump some drain-o down this bad-boy and try to not get it blocked up again, yeah?