Most of the time, the best thing an NHL general manager can do on July 1st is nothing - unless you’re signing John Tavares.
The worst deals in the NHL are signed every year on the first day of free agency and yesterday proved that the Colorado Avalanche are not exempt from that.
Yesterday, the Avalanche added two former Columbus Blue Jackets to the lineup when they signed winger Matt Calvert and defenseman Ian Cole. The veterans add a lot of experience to the young Avs lineup and definitely improve the lineup from the one that ended last season. The problem is that the team paid far too much for them.
Calvert was the first to sign. He received a three-year contract worth $2.8 million dollars a season. Calvert is a bottom-6 energy player that will kill penalty and eat up tough minutes. He’s a younger replacement for Blake Comeau, and while he might be overpaid a little, the extra $800k doesn’t worry many.
Then things got a little ugly when the Avalanche signed 29-year old defenseman Ian Cole to a three-year, $12.75m contract. That’s a $4.25m AAV - far too much for a 3rd pair veteran defenseman. Cole is an upgrade over Patrik Nemeth. There are a lot of fans that like Nemeth as a good shut-down defender, but the numbers simply don’t back that up.
Ian Cole is much better with the puck and will aid the transition game far more than Nemeth does. That will have an especially big impact in Coach Bednar’s system. A third pairing of Cole and Barberio is a very solid, the problem is that they just paid way too much to get it.
But is it really a problem?
Despite what a lot of fans seem to think, the Avalanche are in no risk whatsoever of getting in cap trouble any time soon. Cole’s cap hit is probably $1.5m higher than it should be, but it absolutely doesn’t matter.
As things sit now, the Avalanche have more that $14 million in cap space with about $1m needed for Matt Nieto and maybe another $2m for Nemeth - though they could let him go now that Cole is in the fold. That leaves the team more than $10m under the salary cap with a full roster.
It’s next summer where people get worried. Rantanen and Zadorov will both need big extensions and while they’ll be expensive, those are the only big contracts the team will need to sign. Luckily, the Avs will have nearly $45 million - before any cap inflation. Alex Kerfoot and J.T. Compher will need extensions as well, but based on what RFAs have been signing for, it seems like many Avs fans are overestimating the salary they’ll get.
So let’s break this down;
Mikko Rantanen - probably around $7m a year
Nikita Zadorov - comparable RFAs would put him at about $5m
Alex Kerfoot - maybe, MAYBE $3.5m on the high end
J. T. Compher - $2.5m
Let’s say Vladislav Kamenev gets $2m, and Dom Toninato gets $1m for himself.
That’s a full roster - minus a backup goalie - with more than $20m of cap space.
The next summer Tyson Jost needs a new contract. The hope is that he takes a big step over the next two seasons and will need a decent raise. There will be plenty of room for that one as well.
Assuming the Avalanche don’t bring in a star on a monster contract, their salary structure is set up in a way that they’re aren’t going to have to worry about losing players due to cap concerns - even with bad contracts to guys like Cole.
In fact, the Avalanche have enough room that they are going to be able to operate in a way that would let them use their cap space as an asset to acquire talent. They proved they’re willing to use their financial flexibility in the Grubauer/Orpik trade. They’ll have the ability to make similar moves down the road.
When you’re in the position the Avalanche are, you’re able to pay a premium in order to improve your lineup, and that’s exactly what Joe Sakic has done. The contract might be a little ugly, but this Avalanche lineup is better today than it was yesterday.