When he held his press conference following the loss in Game 6, Joe Sakic mentioned that his plan for the Colorado Avalanche is to stay the course. The team blew away expectations this season, and some thought that it was a sign that the “re-build” should be accelerated. The Avalanche were clearly ahead of schedule, so maybe they’re closer to being a contender than we thought. Maybe the team was ready to get a little older and make a push up the standings next season.
It’s good to hear that Sakic doesn’t feel that way.
The Avalanche were the youngest team in the NHL for most of the season. Their core groups is all in their early-20s (or younger), and it sounds like Joe is going to keep it that way.
While the front office plans to stick with the long-term build, there is still a lot of work to be done this offseason in order to maintain the growth curve. Who knows, the Avs will likely do something big that nobody saw coming, but for right now we’re just looking at the things Sakic & Co. absolutely must do this summer. Joe has a pretty long to-do list while getting ready for the 2018-19 season.
Sort out RFAs
This summer’s list of restricted free agents isn’t overly worrisome.
Matt Nieto has proven his value to the team as a strong checking winger on Carl Soderberg’s line. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got another $1m extension.
The only other forward is Nail Yakupov and it’s safe to assume the team won’t qualify him. As fun as Yak was, there just isn’t room for him on this team.
On the back end, Duncan Siemens and Patrik Nemeth are both pending RFAs. I could see a short-term extension for both of them, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the team walked away from either in an attempt to create a roster spot for a more impactful defender.
Then there’s Spencer Martin. He is most definitely not the goaltender of the future, but he could be a stabilizing presence for the Eagles next season. A two-year contract would work for him.
Get Mikko Rantanen signed to an extension
Rantanen has one year left on his entry-level contract and will become a restricted free agent a year from now. He’s not the only one - Alex Kerfoot, J.T. Compher, Dominic Toninato, Vladislav Kamenev and Nikita Zadorov are all on the same time frame - they can wait. Rantanen should not.
And forget about a bridge deal.
Rantanen is probably the second most valuable piece for the future of the franchise - locking him up long-term is the only thing that makes sense. At 21-years old, you can go as long as you want, six, seven, eight years, and the term can not be criticized.
The one sticking point when it comes to signing Mikko long-term is the dollar amount. Last summer, David Pastrnak signed a 6-year contract with an AAV of $6.67m. Leon Draisaitl got a whopping $8.5 million. Rantanen’s season was better than both of theirs. If I’m his agent I’m pointing to Draisait’s contract in negotiations. But can you really justify paying the winger more than $2m more per season than his superstar linemate?
The team could wait until next summer to re-sign him, but I wouldn’t.
Walk away from all the UFAs
Mark Barberio, Blake Comeau, Gabriel Bourque, Mark Alt, Andrew Hammond; let them all go.
If the goal is to stay with the youth movement, it’s hard to justify way of them being on the roster next season. Cutting ties with these five players creates full time roster spots for guys like Kamanev, Toninato and maybe even A.J. Greer.
Jonathan Bernier is also an unrestricted free agent this summer. He is a very strong backup that has the ability to run with starter’s role when Varlamov gets injured. He problem is that he has a hard time staying healthy himself. With Varly’s injury concerns, I would want to see a backup that is a little more dependable than Bernier.
Joe Colborne’s contract is up this summer as well, so that frees up another $2.5m on the payroll.
There’s also Rocco Grimaldi. He isn’t an NHL caliber player. Walk away from him unless you can sign him to a two-way deal to provide a scoring punch with the Eagles next season.
Find at least one proven NHL defender (preferably two)
For so much of this season, the Avalanche were playing with a defense group that had at least a couple AHL caliber players in it. Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Nikita Zadorov and Samuel Girard is a very solid top-4.
Maybe Patrik Nemeth or Anton Lindholm come back, but in an ideal world, they are 7/8 guys on a good team.
That leaves two spots to fill on the blueline. On the right side, there is a good chance that one of Nicholas Meloche or Conor Timmins blows away the coaching staff at training camp to win the 3RD spot. If that’s the case, it would be great to pair the youngster with an established NHLer on the left side. One interesting option is Calvin DeHaan. The 26-year old is an unrestricted free agent and would fit in perfectly as a dependable third paring guy that can play up in the lineup when injuries arise.
Find a second goalie
As mentioned above, I could see Jonathan Bernier coming back next season, but there is also a strong possibility that the front office wants to find a more reliable backup that can eventually take over for Varly. This organization doesn’t have a “goaltender of the future”, maybe this is the summer they find one.
Look at what the Arizona Coyotes did last summer. They went and traded for a young guy that was stuck behind an established starter. It paid off. When healthy, Antti Raanta was one of the best goalies in the NHL this season.
If this is the road the Avs are looking to take, guys like Philipp Grubauer in Washington (an RFA), Tristan Jarry in Pittsburgh or Joonas Korpisalo in Columbus might be options.
If the team is comfortable running with Semyon Varlamov as the unquestioned starter again next season, a free agent signing like Anton Khudobin would be a solid backup.
Make a strong and impassioned pitch to John Tavares
At first glance, this might seem like it doesn’t fit into the “staying the course” model. Tavares is a few years older than the core of this team and he would cost upwards of $12+ million a season. The thing is, it would absolutely be the right move.
John Tavares is one of the best 5-10 forwards in the NHL - and he will only be 28 when next season begins. Pairing Tavares with Nathan MacKinnon would give the Avalanche a one-two punch down the middle that would likely only be rivaled by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Colorado has the cap space to make it work. The team has one of the lowest cap hits in the NHL and even with a big extension to Rantanen, they have a ton of flexibility moving forward thanks to incredible contracts for both MacKinnon and Landeskog.
But, would he want to come to Denver?
This is a young, exciting team that has a window to be a true contender within the next five years. They could pay him the money many teams can’t and his insertion into the lineup would make this Avs team a legitimate contender at the top of the Western Conference in a year or two.