We are now less than three weeks away from the NHL trade deadline and as it approaches, the Colorado Avalanche are going to be moving towards the final decision as to how they should approach the remainder of the season. With losses piling up, it’s looking more and more like Joe Sakic should avoid being a buyer before February 25th. His team has been the worst in the league over the last two months so giving up suture assets in order to save a playoff birth might not be the best idea.
That said, if Sakic does decide to become a seller ahead of the deadline, he’s going to have to decide how far he wants to go. Does he move out guys on expiring contracts like Colin Wilson and Patrik Nemeth or is it time to take a longer look at selling off some of the guys that were once seen as a part of the team’s core?
Why the Avalanche should be sellers
Really all you have to do is point at the standings. Despite being only two points out of a Wild Card playoff spot, the Avs are now sixth in the Central division and only four points ahead of the bottom feeding LA Kings for last in the West.
The team has not been good for more than two months now and it’s starting to look like Sakic & Co. should abandon the idea of making the playoffs this season. Take a step back in order to take two forward next season.
The coaches and players wouldn’t be a fan of this decision. Whether part of the natural progression of the team or not, selling off assets a year after making the playoffs will turn this season into a failure for guys like Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Players will never be a fan of their general manager telling them to wait until next year.
It would be a bitter pill to swallow after the progression the Avalanche made last season, but one that ultimately might be the best course of action for the long-term growth of the team.
The Avalanche have a few players that are set to be unrestricted free agents this summer. The problem is that none of them will carry significant value at the deadline. A guy like Colin Wilson could probably land the team a mid-round pick but beyond that there’s not a whole lot to sell.
Colin Wilson - the 29-year old winger is exactly the type of player a contending team would pay a pick for on deadline day. He’s got speed, he can play both sides, and Wilson comes along with a lot of playoff experience. The problem is that Wilson carries a heavy price tag so a team that is up against the cap - as most contenders are - might have trouble fitting in his contract. If the Avalanche are willing to retain a significant portion of his remaining salary, Sakic might be able to upgrade the return from a fourth rounder to a third.
Possible suitors: Toronto, Washington, Montreal, San Jose, Columbus
Gabriel Bourque - the veteran winger (who inexplicably has been in the lineup every night) has a contract that expires this summer. Unfortunately for the Avalanche he almost certainly carries no value around the league so unless you can talk someone into giving you a conditional 2020 7th rounder, fans should assume Bourque will be around for the remainder of the season.
Patrik Nemeth - Like Bourque, there is likely very little interest in Nemeth around the league. That said, he’s big and can hit hard so there are a few old school thinking GMs that might like to add him as a depth guy for the playoffs. If someone offers up a late round pick for Nemeth, Sakic should jump on the offer as quickly as possible.
Possible suitors: Montreal, Vegas, Vancouver
Semyon Varlamov - This is an interesting one. The 30-year old goalie is on the last year of his contract and thanks to a trade for Philipp Grubauer this past summer, most believed his days in Denver were numbered. Thanks to some very underwhelming play by Grubauer, Varlamov has retained the starting job for the Avs and not there are rumblings that the team would sign him to a short-term extension before July 1st.
As with the rest of the team, Varlamov has been pretty bad recently, but for the first two months of the season, he was among the best netminders in the league. It’s easy to see the Avalanche wanting to keep him around as in case the Grubauer experiment doesn’t work out.
The other issue with a Varlamov trade is the value. Teams are going to be scared off by his injury history and lack of consistency. Maybe someone is desperate to bring him in as an insurance policy, but the offers aren’t going to be higher than a mid pick or a lower-tier prospect - and if that’s the case, Sakic would likely just hold on to him for the remainder of the season.
Possible suitors: Arizona, Carolina, Toronto
If Joe Sakic is looking to make a “hockey trade”, it’s going to involve moving guys who are under team control past this off season. Whether it be a pending RFA or a guy with more term on his contract, there are a few very strong candidates to be moved out before the deadline.
Nikita Zadorov - Through the season, many have started to wonder if Zadorov’s time with the Avalanche is running out. He will be 24 this summer and need a new contract. With the way negotiations went two summers ago, extending the restricted-free agent might be something Sakic would like to avoid. As much as Avs fans love the big Russian, it seems as though the coaches and front office aren’t as sold on him.
He’s a young defender with a lot of up side and there’s a strong possibility that he turns into an elite second pair defender on a good team. That’s going to have a lot of other teams calling with offers if he’s made available.
If Sakic is looking for a hockey trade, Zadorov is probably the most likely candidate to be sent out. Moving him for a young middle-six forward is something that could make a lot of sense
Possible suitors: Edmonton, Buffalo, Montreal, Arizona
A.J. Greer - just called up from the AHL, Greer is a young player that is known around the league to be available. He’s excelled with the Eagles this season but has yet to win favor with the NHL team and it’s become apparent that he’s not seen as a part of the long-term solution in Colorado. It would make sense to trade Greer for a struggling youngster that needs a change of scenery.
Possible suitors: Washington, Philadelphia, Florida
Tyson Barrie - there is a portion of the Avalanche fan base that thinks the best thing the team can do is trade away their best puck-mover. Barrie is an integral part of the team’s transition game and a big reason why they are among the highest scoring teams in the league. He’s better defensively than many give him credit for and that’s a big reason why he won’t be traded this year.
That said, the team is going to have to make some tough decisions as the expansion draft looms and Barrie might end up eventually being the odd man out - especially since he’s due a pretty decent raise in the summer of 2020.
Possible suitors: Toronto, New York, New Jersey, Edmonton
There’s always the possibility that Joe is working on something wacky. If nothing else, he is a patient GM and when he makes a deal of significance, it’s often something we don’t expect. We all knew Matt Duchene was going to be traded, no one saw the super-rare three-team deal happening.
Maybe he trades Tyson Jost - this is only crazy in that he’d be selling at a very low point in Jost’s value. Maybe he moves a youngster like Alex Kerfoot in order to bring in a guy who is a better fit. Maybe Joe decides to make a big slash and sells off the team’s captain for a gigantic haul.
These aren’t very likely, but there is no reason to completely rule them out.