The Colorado Avalanche have been fairly active as we approach the opening of the free agency period on July 1st. Since the draft, Joe Sakic has traded away Carl Soderberg and Dominic Toninato while bringing in Andre Burakovsky, Kevin Connauton and some help for the Eagles blue line. The moves haven’t been overly flashy but they are ones that point to the direction Joe wants to take the team this season. Swapping out Soderberg for Burakovsky makes it evident that he clearly wants the Avs to be faster.
Now, on the eve of the NHL’s free agency signing period, we are set to get an even more clear picture of what the 2019-20 Avalanche will look like.
Artemi Panarin isn’t coming. With the Florida Panthers clearing out the contract of James Riemer Sunday morning, the team now has enough space to fit both Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky under the cap. All reports point to Bob & Bread becoming Panthers unless one of the New York teams blows them away with a huge financial offer.
As of now it sounds as though the biggest signing for the Avalanche on July 1st will be Joonas Donskoi - formerly of the San Jose Sharks. Donskoi is a 27-year old right winger who just happens to be good friends with Mikko Rantanen.
Last year with the Sharks, Donskoi put up 14 goals and 37 points playing most of the season opposite Evander Kane - the pair split time playing with Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl down the middle.
Donskoi skates extremely well and can create offense off the rush thanks to his speed and puck handling ability. He is a very good playmaker that was one of San Jose’s best possession drivers while putting up a very good shot-assist rate. He can play either wing but will fit in nicely on the right side as the Avalanche have a need for right-handed shooting wingers playing their natural side. Like Burakovsky, Donskoi is a guy that has the underlying numbers that suggest a breakout is possible if given a bigger role.
Anything can happen until pen is put to paper, but for now it sounds like the Avalanche are the front-runnner for Donskoi with news of his signing coming quickly after noon ET on Monday.
The Avs could add a few other depth guys as both Ryan Carpenter and Richard Panik have been linked to the team.
The possibility for a surprise exists, but for now there are no indications that the Avalanche will be able to land one of the big free agents. Joe Pavelski is likely to join Panarin in Florida - though he’s going to end up with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The other big name of interest was Anders Lee - he has taken meetings with both the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild. He could end up in the Central Division but not with the Avalanche - a good thing considering many expect him to get a very bad contract.
Gustav Nyquist, Ryan Dzingel and Mats Zuccarello are still out there as well. Zuccarello is looking for a four or five year term - something the Avalanche should avoid at all costs. Nyquist and Dzingel sound like they’re still possibilities as both have been rumored to have met with the Avalanche. That said, both sound like they’re expected to get long term contracts worth far more than they’re worth so Sakic and the Avs front office might decide it’s better to pass on them both.
On the blue line, one name that has been connected to the Avalanche is Ben Hutton. He’s another guy who has is underrated but has good underlying numbers and would make sense for the more analytically-inclined side of the Avalanche front office.
When the dust clears on the first day of free agency it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Donskoi is the only addition made by the Avalanche. That said, Joe is clearly in trade mode and Tyson Barrie talks are likely to pick back up as the week goes on. Teams that miss out on Tyler Myers and Anton Stralman will be looking to fill a hole on the right side of their blue line so the trade market for Barrie could see a few more suitors.
So far this offseason the Avalanche front office has proven they are looking at value. Buying low on guys who might not have stats that jump off the page but that many believe are just a change of scenery away from breaking out. That trend is likely to continue as we shift into July.