The Colorado Avalanche have a lot of money they can spend this offseason and a lot of spots to fill on their roster. Currently under contract, the Avs have 6 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 1 goalie for next season. Half the minor-league system needs to be re-upped as well. That’s where things stand now, the next step will be re-signing their existing talent under team control and potentially agreeing to terms with some of their unrestricted free agents. After that? Trades (likely around the draft) and new free agents joining the team starting July 1st.
In the coming weeks and months we are going to be talking a lot about potential free-agent acquisitions that could fit the Avalanche for next year and moving forward. We’ll talk about potential fits below, but before we even do that, we have to make some assumptions as to where this team will be on July 1st when they are eligible to be signed. Now we could throw numbers at a wall and end up with either a very optimistic or pessimistic view of what’s to come, but instead we’ll use data that other, smarter people have put a lot of time and energy into so they are as accurate as possible.
For this, we are going to use CapFriendly.com — the website universally known in hockey as the gold standard for salary cap and contract information — to help figure out how much money and space the Avalanche have for the 2019-20 season. We are also going to use Evolving Wild’s (Evolving-Hockey.com) contract projection model that uses production and contract comparables over the years to come up with a most-likely contract for every unsigned skater in the league (no goalies, sadly). Hopefully this gets us in the ballpark so we can get to July 1st with a pretty good idea of where things stand.
Restricted Free Agents
The Avalanche only have 13/23 players on their NHL roster currently under contract for next season, but they have control over 20/23 thanks to the RFAs that are still under team control but yet to be signed. Those additional 7 players range from “very very very good” to “likely not in the NHL next year” so for the sake of time, we’ll project forward the contracts that make more than a million dollars (according to EW).
Also, keep in mind that there are projections for a variety of term lengths, but we are going with the most likely contract that will be signed, according to the model.
Mikko Rantanen - 8 years, $10.115 million
J.T. Compher - 6 years, $3.945 million
Alexander Kerfoot - 2 years, $2.876 million
Nikita Zadorov - 2 years, $2.585 million
Sven Andrighetto - 2 years, $1.409 million
After putting these numbers into the team’s 23-man roster, we get a team of 18 players (10F, 7D, 1G) making $66.9 million, which is $16.1 million under a projected $83 million cap (this cap ceiling projection has been reported by multiple NHL sources). So $16 million and 5 free roster spots, that’s how much the Avalanche have to work with in terms of adding talent from the outside world, right? Not exactly.
Carl Soderberg, Matt Nieto, Tyson Jost, Tyson Barrie, and Samuel Girard all have contracts that are expiring next summer. Space is going to be needed to re-sign them. The summer after that, Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, and Philipp Grubauer are the main targets for an extension. So from that $16 million in free space the Avalanche have right now, they should probably keep some of it in their back pocket so they don’t end up in cap hell like the Edmonton Oilers, Detroit Red Wings, or Anaheim Ducks. There is an argument for spending cap space as an asset on one-year buyouts or LTIR moves (like in the Brooks Orpik deal), but that’s been discussed before.
The team will definitely have a more accurate idea of what their expiring players want, as well as how much they can spend, but have not yet become privy to that information so let’s say the Avalanche go into the summer with between $10 million and $16 million in cap space that they can spend on a new player with term. I hope that feels like a nice range for both the optimists and pessimists.
On defense, names in that projected range include Erik Karlsson and Jake Gardiner (aka East Coast Tyson Barrie), as well as potential offer-sheet targets in Jacob Trouba, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, and Ivan Provorov.
Karlsson and Gardiner have similar pros and cons to their game, namely both are incredible at offense and far outperform their faults on defense. They are also coming off seasons where they played with significant injuries that hampered their production and are quickly approaching their 30s. Karlsson should come in around $9.9 million for max term (7 or 8 years), while Gardiner will likely get around $6.9 million also on a max term deal.
Both are good players, and should the preliminary talks around Tyson Barrie’s extension look less than ideal, solid replacements starting next year. The question is, as always, do we trust their health?
As much as we complain and argue against it, the Avalanche are a one-line team. They have the best line in hockey and a good, not great, supporting cast. It was able to get them as far as they did in the playoffs, but adding just one or two more weapons (to a second line that could feature Tyson Jost full-time next year) either from within or in free agency would really help. Also, giving a player like Jost or Kerfoot a strong, reliable, and dynamic veteran to work off of can only help them.
At the high end, a player like Jeff Skinner would be unreal on the left of a Jost plus Kerfoot or Compher line. He’s likely going to make $8.5 million on a max term deal, which is a really good bargain for a 40-goal scorer who will be 34 by the end of his contract. By comparison, a player like Phil Kessel only made half a million less per year on his contract that he signed when the Cap was $64 million whereas other contracts (i.e. Sidney Crosby at $8.7 million to Connor McDavid at $12.5 million) have increased at a similar rate to the cap.
Further down the list we have, uhh, Matt Duchene at a potential 6-year $6.9 million contract. Is there still a relationship there between he and Joe Sakic? Does he still love his boyhood team? Both are questions that still need to be answered before there’s thought of a return. I will say, if he went by any other name, he would be a no-brainer signing.
One more player that I’ll throw out because I know I’ll want to go into more depth later is Jordan Eberle. Famously traded from Edmonton in the deal that got them nothing, Eberle has never put up great counting stats — 30 goals once, 20 goals five times — his shot rate numbers and offensive production has always been really good. He’s a player traditional analysts will hum and haw over, referencing only his World Juniors success as something to go off of, but for an analytics savvy organization like Colorado, he could be a pretty nice undervalued option. His projected contract is only 7 years by $6 million, so it’s something to look at.