Now that the dust has settled on the season ouster at the hands of the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche are back in hibernation until whenever the 2020-21 season begins it time to look ahead at what should be a wild a compacted offseason.
The Avalanche are in unfamiliar territory set to pick - according to reports - at 24th overall in the first round. Keeping in mind Best Player Available is the ideal position but what would you like to see accomplished with this pick?
Jackie: Despite seeing a pretty barren amateur pipeline at defense behind Bowen Byram I’d still like a lot more options at forward in this range of the draft. Ideally they find a player who has options in a strong development system before joining the Avalanche. Forwards who are already playing in men’s professional leagues such as Swede Noel Gunler, German John-Jason Peterka and Russian Rodion Amirov would fit the bill.
Tom: This draft class is a very strong one, as such, someone very good is going to fall to the Avalanche. I second Jackie’s thoughts on Gunler, if he’s there, he’d be a great pick - unfortunately he’ll likely be long gone by 24th overall. You absolutely have to take the best player on your draft board. Maybe it’s a guy like Jan Mysak, Jacob Perreault or Dylan Holloway.
Luke: As Tom said, this is a very strong draft class. You will find players in the later half of the 1st and going into the second round who will make NHL teams in a few years. The Avalanche are in good position to do 3 things: 1) Pick at 24th. Connor Zary & Ridly Greig, centers from the WHL could be available. There’s also winger JJ Peterka from Germany, defenseman Justin Barron and center Maverick Bourque from the QJMHL and Brendan Brisson, center from the USHL - all are likely to be availible. 2) Trade down. Acquiring more assets is never a bad thing. Why not trade back and get a 2nd rd pick? Ex. 24th to Ottawa for Ott 1st (NYI pick) + one of their second rd picks ( 45, 51 or 52)? 3) Trade up. Its a deep draft and moving up is never a bad thing. If they moved 24th with an asset you likely are moving anyways, like a Jost or Zadorov, could the Avalanche move in to the mid teens? Ex. 24th + Zadorov to Florida for 12th?
Which is one Avalanche restricted or unrestricted free agent must the team move on from and which one who should be top priority to bring back?
Tom: The team walked away from Mark Barberio and Colin Wilson a long time ago. I think it’s time they do the same with Matt Nieto as well. Of the UFAs, Vlad Namestnikov is the only one they should think about bringing back - as long as they can get him on a decent deal.
Of the RFAs, Ryan Graves and Andre Burakovesky have to be a high priority this offseason. Both need to be signed before they go to arbitration. Nikita Zadorov needs a new contract as well but given the young blue line options going forward, he might have played his last game in an Avalanche jersey.
Luke: Matt Neito, Colin Wilson & Mark Barberio (signed in the Swiss league i believe) have all played their last game in an Avs uniform. The RFA guys are a little more tricky. Burakovsky should receive a new multi year deal, but they have to be smart with term and length. Graves, should receive a new deal BUT I would be open to moving him IF the right deal came around. He struggled mightily in the playoffs, so I would he hesitant on a multi year deal. As mentioned above, I believe also that Zadorov will be moved this offseason. You have Timmins, who is NHL ready and Byram who is very, very close, and you need to open spots. Zadorov will cost you around $4m to re-sign. That’s a lot of money for a 3rd pair guy whose inconsistent play is a documented problem. I would be actively trying to move him.
Casey: For free agents, the Avs have some obvious players they need to ink to long-term deals. The Burakovsky trade was far and away the best move Sakic made last offseason in terms of this season’s production, and it’s important you sign him to a team friendly deal. On the other side of the puck, Ryan Graves has been an absolute steal for the Avs. He took a massive step this season, and at only 25 years-old, The Avs have the chance to lock up a Top 2 pairing option for his prime. As for the others, this is where the Avs luxury of depth will pay off. Zadorov likely won’t be back, as either Timmins or Byram will replace him in the top 6. Colin Wilson gone for sure, and probably Matt Nieto as well, as Logan O’Connor will most certainly make the opening night lineup next season with his physical play of style. Decisions will have to be made on Nichuskin, Namestnikov, and Jost, as there’s no reason to bring all three back. If I had to guess, Nichushkin will stay, Namestnikov will be dependent on any trades Sakic could make prior to free agency, and Jost will be the man out.
Jackie: Ideally none of the UFAs return. Signing role players in their late 20s to UFA contracts is how teams create salary cap problems. The Avalanche have been building their internal depth for precisely this occasion and need to take advantage now. Conversely all the RFAs have a case to return unless they are included in an upgrade type of deal but again, staying smart with term is key. I wouldn’t want to see any of them signed longer than three years and with the exception of Burakovsky they should all get one year deals.
What improvements would you like to see addressed in free agency?
Luke: I believe that they should look at improving the goaltending potion if the right guy comes along. You simply can't expect to compete for cups if that position continues to fail you. My suggestion: Darcy Kuemper.
The one guy, the Avalanche should make a massive free agency pitch for is Taylor Hall. Why? Because he is really, really, freaking good. He will solidify your top-6, he can drive a line, plays a position you're a little thin on and he wants to go to a place that can win. More than any other contender, the Avalanche have money to spend. That should be the move the put all their chips in.
Casey: There’s no need for drastic change, as the Avs lost in Overtime Game 7 with a lengthy injury list. Taylor Hall will be linked to Colorado, but unless Sakic plans on moving on from Landeskog in the 2021 offseason - I don’t see it. With his contract, Makar’s, and even Byram’s in 2022, there’s no way Sakic could fit them all under the cap. Sakic has surprised us before however, so it’s hard to say that he shouldn’t try it. The only thing Sakic should worry about for now is looking for a potential upgrade in goal, and swapping out depth pieces.
Jackie: I hope a free agent top six forward like either Hall, Evgeni Dadonov or Mike Hoffman could buy into the idea of chasing a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche before Nathan MacKinnon needs a massive raise and take a three-year deal to wait out the flat cap and position to cash in one more time before the late stages of their career. That may be unlikely but it should be the Avalanche’s aggressive pitch to potentially pay a decent salary and offer a pretty good opportunity in exchange for lesser term. Otherwise I’d be wary of spending too much future cap or assets to patch holes with talented reinforcements hopefully on the horizon.
How important is it to lock up Cale Makar or Gabe Landeskog this offseason with one year left on their respective contracts?
Tom: Not very. This offseason is a very special circumstantial for the NHL. With a flat cap and no idea of where the league will be financially at the end of the 2020-21 season, most teams are likely to push big contract decisions until next offseason. The Avalanche are likely no different. This October/November, the NHL will have no idea what the salary cap landscape will look like going forward. When will teams be able to sell tickets? How will the new TV contract be impacted by the “new normal”?
There are a lot of huge variables that will make any big financial commitment hard to accomplish this offseason. Both teams and agents are likely to wait until they have a better projection of the future. Landeskog might want to lock down his future security this offseason but I would be shocked if Cale Makar signs an extension before the end of next season.
Luke: Landeskog should be the 1st priority this offseason. Figure it out. Is there a deal that works for both sides? Or is this going to be the last year of Landeskog. I fully believe there will be a deal in place by the start of the new season. It will probably look like an over pay, but I feel in the big picture it will be a fair deal, considering the cap will not be moving for a few years. Makar on the other hand isn't as big of a priority, mainly because I think he will wait until next offseason to get his deal done. If a deal gets done now, I would be surprised and that would be a nice bit of business taken care of.
Jackie: Letting your captain go into his final season as a pending UFA is never a good look no matter the intention to retain Landeskog. The Avalanche need to be proactive on that front. With Makar it is up to him but the Avalanche should be aggressive in taking care of business before another round of RFA drama crops up.