With all professional sports in a holding pattern, this summer is going to be very unique for the hockey world. The 2020 NHL draft has already been postponed and not even the league knows when it is going to be rescheduled. Eventually, we are going to see an NHL offseason. Whether it is before or after we see more games played, is still in question. Whenever it does come, the Colorado Avalanche are going to be one of the few teams that have money to spend on a free agency class that has a couple of very big names.
With the NHL suspending play due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hockey related revenue is going to be at an all-time low, resulting in and an unprecedented salary cap situation. The salary cap is likely to be frozen for at least a couple season while the league tries to recover from a prolonged lack of ticket sales. Cap space is going to be more valuable than ever and thanks to some great work by Joe Sakic and the front office, the Avalanche have more long-term cap flexibility than nearly anyone else. Only three teams have less money dedicated to the cap for next season than the Avalanche, and they are all teams in the middle of a re-build, so they likely won’t appeal to top free agents. Colorado is in the unique position of having the financial flexibility as well as the Stanley Cup aspirations that will appeal to players looking for both a big pay day and a chance to win a Stanley Cup in the next few years.
There are two big name unrestricted free agents this offseason; one high-end veteran defender and one three-zone winger with elite speed and great play driving capabilities. Both are likely going to be looking for contracts that would carry an average annual value somewhere between $9m and $11m.
Whenever the 2020-21 NHL season starts both Alex Pietrangelo and Taylor Hall are going to be the biggest fish in the free-agency pond and are both likely going to be playing for a new team.
After re-signing Marco Scandella last week, the St. Louis Blues are going to have a very hard time fitting Pietrangelo into their salary structure going forward. Starting next season, the defending Stanley Cup Champions will be spending $9.775m a season on Scandella and Justin Faulk. A figure that would likely be around what Pietrangelo will be looking for on a new contract. The Blues chose two bottom-4 defenders over a number one, a decision that will likely end up costing them their captain.
Coming off of his most productive offensive season, Pietrangelo is one of the best two-way defenders in the entire NHL. Having just turned 30, he is on the back half of his career but Pietrangelo continues to play at an incredibly high level and has given no reason to believe his performance is to drop off a cliff any time soon.
Despite a glut of young defenders, the Avalanche would unquestionably welcome a player like Pietrangelo to their lineup. Playing the tough minutes on a shut down pair with someone like Samuel Girard would create more freedom and better matchups for Cale Makar to excel.
The other option is Taylor Hall. He is a player Joe Sakic has been interested in for a while. Before he was traded back in December, the Avs had talks with New Jersey that would have seen Hall come to Denver. In the end, Sakic wasn’t willing to pay the price asked from the Devils and Hall was sent to finish his season with the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for a package of prospects and draft picks.
This summer, Sakic won’t have to give up assets to acquire Hall - it will come down to a mutual interest between the parties and a willingness from the Avs to pay the money.
Since winning the Hart Trophy in 2018, Hall’s production numbers have been less than impressive but that shouldn’t take away from the type of impact he can make on an NHL lineup. His on-ice shooting and save percentages over the last two seasons show a player that was still driving play at an elite level but that was done in by bad luck and bad circumstances.
Hall is a high-end offensive winger who can drive possession and generate scoring chances at an elite level. Beyond that, he’s one of the few wingers in the NHL that is fast enough to keep up with Nathan MacKinnon and would fit in perfectly with Colorado’s fast paced, high-event style of play.
The Avs are already the most dangerous offensive team in the Western Conference, but there’s no rule against them getting even more lethal. Adding Hall to a forward group that already includes MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky would give the Avalanche the most talented top-6 in the NHL and two lines that would cause matchup nightmares for any opponent - particularly in the playoffs.
For both players, this is their one chance for a huge pay day so either would almost certainly require a contract of either six or seven years in length. Pietrangelo is two year older and has tougher miles on his body than Hall, so there is a good chance we will see a decline in play sooner. The addition of another high-end defender would also complicate the expansion draft for Colorado a lot more.
Yes, the Avalanche have a few big extensions to sign in the next few years but even still, they have enough room to fit in one more big-money contract under the cap - even if the cap is frozen for a couple season.
Colorado’s window to win a Stanley Cup is open now, and while the age of the team’s core suggests it looks like it will be open for a long while, it will never be wider than over the next three years. Nathan MacKinnon is in his prime and is currently on the best contract in hockey - but that only matters is the Avalanche take advantage of the value. A contract like MacKinnon’s only has value if spend the savings. Paying MacKinnon half of his market value means nothing if you just hoard the cap space until the contract expires.
After attempting to be a part of the bidding for John Tavares and then Artemi Panarin, Sakic has tried to spend big money over the last couple of offseasons. This year should be no different. The financial reality is that he can fit one elite free agent into his team’s cap structure - something that could lead us to seeing either Alex Pietrangelo or Taylor Hall in burgundy and blue next season.
Would Sakic make the Stanley Cup winning veteran defender who could block one of the youngsters on the Avalanche blueline his first priority, or would he prefer the younger star forward who plays a position that could use more depth - but has never been able to find team success?
Either one would be a huge addition to the Avalanche and given the opportunity to sign one, Sakic would jump at the opportunity to fully push his team from “hopeful” to “contender”.
Who would you rather see the Avalanche spend $9+ million a season on?
This poll is closed