When the season started, most people assumed that by the time the NHL trade deadline came around, the Colorado Avalanche would be among a small group of sure-fire sellers.
Now, as we sit 46 days away from the February 26th deadline, things aren’t quite so simple.
Through 41 games, the Avalanche sit 22-16-3 and have a better winning percentage than the Minnesota Wild - the team currently holding the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
So do they still sell off pending free-agents as we expected earlier in the year?
Guys like Blake Comeau, Mark Barberio, and even Matt Nieto are the kind of players that get sold at the deadline to playoff-bound teams willing to give up more than they should in order to add some depth to their lineup.
Comeau, in particular, is the kind of veteran penalty-killer that a team would baldy over-pay for at the trade deadline. He is the “leadership presence” GMs and coaches talk about and would have a number of suitors if the Avs made him available.
Moving guys like that might still be an option, but as the Avalanche start the second half of their season, things look a lot different than they did a couple months ago.
The Avs still have 20 games between now and the deadline so a lot can change, but if they continue to play the way they are now, there are going to be some tough decisions to be made at the end of February.
I would sell off Comeau regardless. A desperate GM will pay WAY too much for a player with his style of game and if you can turn a pending UFA into an overpayment, that’s proper asset management.
Regardless of where they sit in the standings, the Avalanche would do well to see themselves as “untraditional buyers”.
They shouldn’t be going out and buying rentals - even if they sit in a playoff position. This is a team that is very young and built to succeed in two to three seasons. Don’t disrupt that by paying draft pick or prospect capital for a guy like Evander Kane or Mike Green.
The Avs should look at what the Chicago Blackhawks did yesterday with Anthony Duclair and buy-low on pending RFAs or guys who are undervalued by their own organization.
Names like Brock Nelson, J.T. Miller, and Sam Reinhart have been in the rumor mill this year. They’re all guys that aren’t necessarily living up to expectations this season but have the potential to be impact players. They all fit well into the age bracket of this Colorado team and would help fill the Avs’ need for top-9 offensively minded wingers. As pending RFAs, they’ll all need new contracts this summer and might be able to be had for 50 cents on the dollar.
Also, take advantage of the huge amounts of cap space. Help out a team that wants to add at the deadline by taking a bad (short term) contract off their hands - for a cost. The Avs have a lot of financial flexibility to work with, something that has become very valuable in the NHL.
This team isn’t a contender. Not even the most die-hard of fans can see them as a legitimate threat to win the Stanley Cup this season - even if the squeak into the playoffs. So buying in a traditional sense should be taken off the table, regardless of how the next 46 days go.
With that said, the way the Avalanche handle their assets going into this year’s trade deadline will have major ramifications on the future of the franchise. A franchise that could be very successful as early as next season, if the next six months are handled correctly.
Be patient, be smart - two things Joe Sakic has definitely shown us he’s capable of being this year.