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The Colorado Avalanche should buy bad contracts at the Trade Deadline and in the summer

Arizona Coyotes are an example of what the Colorado Avalanche should do at the trade deadline. Seriously.

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NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Toronto Maple Leafs
Jan 22, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Patrick Marleau (12) is congratulated by teammates on the bench after scoring a goal in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche at Air Canada Centre. The Avalanche beat the Maple Leafs 4-2.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking news, the Arizona Coyotes are sellers. The seasoned vets of the trade deadline have the opportunity to quietly enter March as big winners as they look ahead to next year. But they aren’t the only ones. The Colorado Avalanche have been falling like a rock for the past two months and it doesn’t look like they going to recover. Both the Coyotes and Avalanche would be smart to keep going down and reload their teams for next year.

Since the two teams are in similar short-term positions right now, I thought it would be interesting to go through their trade deadline strategies in parallel just to see what we could learn from one to apply to another. It also helps with inherent fan bias to see a comparable player without that emotional pull.

Spending Cap Space

The Coyotes and Avalanche are prime candidates to make lots of smart moves to help bring in depth and maximize their assets for the future. First, let’s look at both teams’ cap situations at the moment because it’s probably both their biggest assets. Just to make things easier to read, allow me to round these numbers to the nearest hundred grand.

The Yotes have $6.5 million in cap space this season, which is the equivalent ability to acquire $30.4M of contracts at the deadline. Think about it like they can bring in six Erik Johnson-sized contracts and stay under the cap ceiling while only having to pay a quarter of their salaries.

And this goes for next year as well. The Coyotes don’t have any expiring deals that will cost them much money, most of their better players are locked up for at least next year, so they have a lot of wiggle room, especially since Dave Bolland, who has been on their books (on the IR) since the beginning of the 2016-17 season sees his $5.5 million cap hit come off the books this summer.

Similarly, the Avs have twice as much space as that ($11.2M equaling $54.1M at the deadline) to play with, and apart from Mikko Rantanen, I don’t see anyone on the Avalanche getting very much of a raise over the summer, meaning there’s money to work with. Sure, some space should definitely go towards improving the depth at forward and defense, but it’s not exactly efficient business to not do anything with the cap space another team could pay you to use.

This deadline, the Coyotes and Avalanche will be able to eat a lot of salary from the cap-strapped contending teams around the league in exchange for futures. This means, teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, St. Louis, San Jose, Calgary, Toronto, and Tampa Bay will definitely be calling John Chayka and Joe Sakic, trying to dump their expensive extras for help this season, or the ability to get help now. It costs the contenders more assets to make the cap work, which only helps the sellers.

Who’s Available

In terms of players that could be sent back and forth as salary dumps, there are two types. One, players who have been pushed out of the lineup and are making just a little too much money, and the LTIR crowd.

After a quick look around the league at players who might fit the playable-but-expensive bracket, you get names like: Ryan Kesler in Anaheim, Patrick Marleau in Toronto, Ryan Callahan in Tampa Bay, Roberto Luongo in Florida, and David Backes in Boston.

The LTIR crew consists of players like Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit. Possibly also Mikko Koivu in Minnesota, depending on how his surgery goes. He only has a year left in his deal. Maybe even a Milan Lucic in Edmonton is available for a very pretty penny. Has anyone seen him skate? He looks like he’s using all his energy to keep his limbs from falling apart. Though it should cost the Oilers A LOT since he has a ridiculous four years and $24m left on his contract.

I can see the headline now: “Lucic and Puljujarvi traded to Coyotes for Brad Richardson.”

All these contracts range in cap hits from about $4 million on the low end to more then $8m on the high end. Arizona has done business in this arena with both the Red Wings and Panthers in the past, the Avalanche have made a similar deal with the Washington Capitals for Brooks Orpik in the summer, I don’t see why they won’t do it again.

Spending money to aquire useful assets is something smart teams do - and something both Colorado and Arizona have proven they’re willing to do.

The return for taking on contracts lesser than the ones above have consistently been between a third- and fourth-round pick. Maybe the Avalanche could pry a second and a prospect, or get one of the above players who can still play at a decent level for much cheaper? I would definitely be going in that direction on an older forward, just to help fill out the roster.

A lot has been said about Colorado having a fragile team mentality. An old guy who can play sounds like pretty good medicine for that to me.

Patrick Marleau and Ryan Callahan are two examples of guys who have one year left on their contract, and are both capable players as well as great people to have in a young room. Just go look at Mitch Marner’s or Auston Matthews’ Instagram and you’ll find them in family pictures with the Marleau’s. Same goes for Callahan. The people in Tampa Bay really love him and it’s been a difficult process to be able to let him go after the upcoming playoff run.

Now, I know both these players have no-movement clauses — meaning they choose where they get to go — but if there’s even a slim chance, you might as well look into it. Maybe the Avs get Jack Hughes and Kappo Kakko, and these guys feel like pulling a Jarome Iginla and want to come. Who knows.

Rental Options

Neither of the Avalanche or Coyotes have any high-end pending free-agents who could be out the door by March, but there are a handful of solid mid-round picks to be had on both lists.

For comparison, here are some of the Coyotes rental players. Odds are, whatever you think those players are worth, the guy on the Avalanche whom you’re thinking about is probably worth the same:

Richard Panik ($2.8M) and Jordan Weal ($1.75M) are the only pure rentals worth anything on this team, but both would be solid possession players that any smart team would be happy to pay a fourth-round pick for in order to fill out the rest of their forward corps. I must say, I wouldn’t mind either of these pending-UFAs on the Avalanche in the bottom-six next year. What do you think? Tell me in the comments!

Looking a little deeper, Kevin Connauton ($1.375M for this year and next) is a bad production defenseman, but is 6’2”, 205 lbs every shift and comes from Edmonton, Alberta. A team just looking for grit and size would be happy to take him on, surely. Brad Richardson ($1.25M for this year and next) works in the same vein, but somehow has a no-movement clause, so that will have to be waived.

Tom has gone into detail on what players could be available from the Avalanche and for how much. I would highly recommend skimming through that. Most of these players won’t fetch more than a third or a B-level prospect. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.