When it comes to the NHL Trade Deadline, there are a number of teams that become hamstrung because of the salary cap. Competing teams that want to make an acquisition for a long playoff run often lack the ability to make an impact trade because of financial constraints. That’s not the case for the Colorado Avalanche.
As of February 13, the Colorado Avalanche sit with a payroll of a little more than $66.45 million - that’s the third lowest in the NHL.
Over the past few years, a number of the more astute front office groups - New Jersey, Toronto, Vegas, Philadelphia - have used their financial flexibility as an asset. Teams would use the cap space they had in order to facilitate a trade or salary dump for others in exchange for an asset. The end game was essentially to buy a pick or prospect.
A prime example of this happened at the deadline last year. The Tampa Bay Lightning traded Valtteri Filppula and his $5m cap hit along with a 4th and 7th round draft picks to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Mark Streit. The addition of Streit was to counter Filppula’s remaining 2016-17 salary, but he became a free agent this summer, so essentially, the Lightning were paying a 4th and a 7th round draft pick in order to shed themselves of Filppula’s $5m cap hit this season. At the end of the day, the Flyers were able to use their cap space in order to acquire two draft picks.
With the deadline 10 days away, there is no reason that the Colorado Avalanche can’t use their cap space to their advantage. They just need to get creative.
There are going to be teams that want to make a big splash in order to make a push in this year’s playoffs - but maybe they don’t have the financial flexibility to do so. Joe Sakic and the Avalanche can help facilitate this - at a cost.
Here are a few trades the Avalanche could make that would help the maximize their cap flexibility while bringing in a couple more assets.
To Colorado: Kari Lehtonen + 2018 3rd
To Dallas: Jonathan Bernier
The Dallas Stars currently hold on to the first Wildcard position in the Western Conference. They have been playing well lately and are pushing towards the top-3 in the Central division. The Stars are one of the teams that have been rumored to be heavy buyers at the deadline - unfortunately, they are up near the cap ceiling. According to CapFriendly.com, Dallas is projected to have only $889k in cap space at the end of the season. That doesn’t leave them a whole lot of wiggle room to make deals. They are currently paying Kari Lehtonen $5.9m to be the backup for Ben Bishop. If they could shed his contract, it would free up a ton of money.
Jonathan Bernier has been great for the Avalanche over the past few month. He was one of the best goaltenders in the NHL while Semyon Varlamov was injured putting up an incredible .939 sv% in January. He has cooled off recently as his sv% has regressed back near his career average of .911 in February and the fact that Varly is back, relegates Bernier back to the bench a lot more often. He has already provided more than many Avs fans would have expected when they signed him, and since he’s a pending UFA at the end of the season, moving him on in this deal isn’t the end of the world.
In this trade, the Avalanche take on Lehtonen’s contract - that expires at the end of the season - in exchange for a 3rd round draft pick. Since Bernier only makes $2.75m this season, the Stars free up a bunch of cap space and get a competent backup goalie for half the price.
To Colorado: Tyler Ennis + Ivan Lodnia
To Minnesota: Blake Comeau
This one might hurt because it’s a trad within the division, with a team that you will be battling with for a Wildcard spot. It doesn’t make sense if you’re pushing for the playoffs, but it’s a deal that could have a big impact in the future.
Tyler Ennis has fallen way off as a player - by no fault of his own. Thanks to concussion issues, that kept him out for large portions of the past two seasons, Ennis is a shell of the player he was in Buffalo. He has 15 points on the season and has been playing around 13 minutes a night for the Wild. That’s not exactly what you’d want to see from a player that accounts $4.6 million against the cap.
Blake Comeau is a free agent this summer, and assuming he’s healthy by February 26th, there is a good chance the Avs will be moving him as a rental. At $2.4m, Comeau would provide the Wild with a much more efficient bottom-6 winger and free up some cap space to do something else.
The tricky part here is that Tyler Ennis still as another year on his contract after this season. A 4th line player making $4.6m is far from ideal, so the Wild would have to sweeten the pot quite a bit. Ivan Lodnia would definitely do that.
Selected 85th overall in the 2017 draft, Lodina is an immensely talented right-winger that has the raw talent to be an impact player in the NHL. He is currently playing with the Erie Otters in the OHL and isn’t AHL eligible for another two seasons, but he would instantly become one of the Avs’ top forward prospects.