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Which Colorado Avalanche free agents will return?

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A look at all 26 expiring restricted and unrestricted free agent contracts

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic met with the media earlier this week and outlined an anticipated busy summer ahead. Beyond the draft and upgrades on the unrestricted free agent market, the Avalanche have a lot of work to do on their own list of impeding free agents including a few high profile players.

Unrestricted Free Agents

With 26 total expiring contracts the Avalanche will need to first decide which, if any, of their own unrestricted free agents they want to bring back. That list includes forwards Colin Wilson, Derick Brassard and Gabe Bourque as well as defenseman Patrik Nemeth.

Despite the large role each of these players held at some point for the Avalanche it is unlikely that any will be back. Nemeth has been a trusted player for head coach Jared Bednar over the last two seasons but the writing was on the wall on his future after he signed a one year deal last summer and sat on the bench for Cale Makar in the playoffs. There is a greater possibility each of the forwards could return but the Avalanche would be wise to use this opportunity to upgrade their scoring depth and move on from these low upside players who are pushing 30 and beyond.

Restricted Free Agents

This is where the bulk of the work exists and begins with budding superstar Mikko Rantanen at the head of the class. How the Avalanche approach his long term status will shape the financial construction of the Avalanche for years to come. With currently only two contracts extending beyond the 2020-21 season the Avalanche have lot of flexibility but also little cost certainty. They have the ability to set themselves up well for the future and lengthy window of contention but that needs to begin with smart decisions this summer and a few well-calculated long term gambles. Rantanen certainly fits that bill and hopefully the organization can build on him as a major key of their future foundation after locking him up this summer.

A few others important players for the Avalanche are due new contracts this offseason and include defenseman Nikita Zadorov along with forwards Alexander Kerfoot and JT Compher. Unlike Rantanen each of these players is eligible for arbitration and should have their contracts settled by the end of July should they elect to file and force a deadline on the Avalanche. The decision on whether to go long or short term with these players will come into question but with their long term roles more up in the air it wouldn’t be a surprise to see all three end up with relatively short contracts.

Sven Andrighetto is also still a restricted free agent and has a fairly high $1.55M qualifying offer due to him should the Avalanche elect to retain his rights. He has been a nice depth forward to have around the last few years but with Bednar scratching him for large portions of the season, his injuries and only producing 17 points this year it is probably time for the organization to move on.

Those who finished the season on the Avalanche roster in Vladislav Kamenev and Ryan Graves are expected back and need new deals also. Graves is the one who is arbitration eligible and might find himself on a modest short term deal as a depth defenseman. Kamenev recovering from his second straight long term season ending injury could be brought back with just a qualifying offer and likely will receive that as he makes his third bid to stick on the team.

Goaltenders

Goalies are special people who require their own section and consideration for this club moving forward as their situations are very thorny. Long time starter Semyon Varlamov is expected to depart after eight years with the team once Philipp Grubauer took the reins in the last third of the season and in the playoffs. Sakic also refers to Varlamov seeing the market on July first in his above press conference.

An enormous question looms in regards to who will fill in the number two position behind Grubauer moving forward. The working theory has been that Pavel Francouz will get the upgrade to NHL backup after spending a successful season in the AHL with the Colorado Eagles. He too is an unrestricted free agent and therefore should be a priority to get him locked up if that is indeed the plan.

The future for long time prospect and AHL goaltender Spencer Martin is also rather cloudy. He has seen his progress and favor within the organization halted and now needs a new contract as he also holds arbitration rights. With the recent signing of another goaltender prospect Adam Werner from Sweden it seems that he could be Martin’s replacement next season but the Eagles will obviously still need two goaltenders. If Francouz is the NHL backup then it also would make sense for the Avalanche to look for a more veteran to tandem with Werner and fit in as an appropriate NHL callup.

Rounding out the NHL contract goaltenders is Joe Cannata who the Avalanche seem to appreciate having on-call when needs arise without having to disrupt the AHL. That relationship could continue or someone to fill out as the organizational fifth on the depth chart could be brought in for the ECHL.

On the Farm

Contracts are not just for the NHL club as decisions will need to be made on those who primarily impact the Colorado Eagles and are at least callup depth for the Avalanche. AJ Greer has been on the fringe of the Avalanche roster for what seems like years and will now need a new contract. With no arbitration rights he will likely just get a qualifying offer as the organization decides what the next step is for him and his expired waiver exemption next season.

Forwards Dominic Toninato and Sheldon Dries saw some time with the NHL club over the last two years and are both arbitration eligible. Their upside seems very low at this point but both can fill in for the Avalanche in a pinch and have one more year of waiver exemption which gives the team movement flexibility and is a point in the favor of their return.

Anton Lindholm once played 48 games on the Avalanche blue line but seems to have fallen out of favor and should head back home to Sweden. He too has arbitration rights should the organization want him for defensive depth but they can do better and will hopefully have Conor Timmins healthy next year.

Top AHL scorer Andrew Agozzino is another interesting case. After spending his sixth season with the organization he could just become that reliable AHL scoring forward and stick around for a while longer or he could wish to find other opportunities elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.

The rest are pure AHL depth in unrestricted forwards Scott Kosmachuk and Max McCormick plus defenseman David Warsofsky. Prospects on expiring restricted deals such as Julien Nantel and Sergei Boikov could be brought back with a qualifying offer. Defenseman Mason Geertsen could become an organizational veteran should they choose to bring him back for a fifth season.

All in all 10 players can file for arbitration should the Avalanche qualify them all plus a total of 21 contracts need signing before training camp to bring them to a typical starting point of 47 contracts. A busy summer is ahead for the Avalanche and the fax machine.