Before NHL free agency officially kicks off on October 9th the Colorado Avalanche will undoubtedly put together a shopping list for which roster holes to address for the upcoming 2020-21 season. With the impending flat cap of $81.5M and looming extensions to Gabe Landeskog and Cale Makar the Avalanche have to watch expenditures more closely than they are used to despite currently sitting on over $22M in cap space with 28 contracts signed.
The window of contention doesn’t have to last through just the remaining three years of Nathan MacKinnon’s bargain basement $6.3M contract if the Avalanche make smart decisions and don’t commit term especially to role players. If the Avalanche want focus UFA efforts and dollars on landing an impact forward, defenseman or goaltender they will need cheap options in the short term as well to fill the other holes. Now more than ever it’s important to look internally at the players who are ready to help sooner than later before those precious Entry Level Contract savings are up.
Logan O’Connor: (Contract RFA)
The only option on this list whose ELC has already concluded as O’Connor only signed a two-year deal out of college as a 22-year old. He won’t be expensive to retain but arbitration rights might get O’Connor a hefty guaranteed salary if not an outright one-way deal surely under a million. O’Connor brought energy and speed to the Avalanche lineup in a reserve role and with Vladislav Kamenev moving on to the KHL that 13th forward position is now open on the team. O’Connor proved he can hang with the NHL squad but won’t provide a whole lot of offense with a career three points in 26 games and therefore the team should look elsewhere first for an every night player but O’Connor will be a welcome sight when the Avalanche need an injury replacement.
Martin Kaut: (Contract $863,333 x 3 years)
The Avalanche got what they wanted in preserving the entirety of Kaut’s ELC by keeping him off the postseason roster and now is the time to put that asset to use. Kaut had a successful nine game stint with the Avalanche in the spring where he scored an important two goals and a primary even strength assist which each led to one goal victories and a 8-0-1 record with him in those games. Despite not joining the team for the postseason Kaut should be a major consideration in planning for the 2020-21 roster. Moving on from Matt Nieto as an unrestricted free agent coming off of a contract paying him $1.975M annually would make an opening to where Kaut could slide in especially since he filled in for an injured Matt Calvert on that line.
Shane Bowers: (Contract $925,000 x 2 years)
The unlikeliest candidate for an immediate role on this list since Bowers has yet to see any NHL action despite playing an entire year with the Colorado Eagles in the AHL and accompanying the Avalanche to the postseason bubble in Edmonton. Bowers is more likely a in-season call-up should they choose to give that opportunity to a young player in preparation for a permanent spot in the lineup heading into the 2021-22 season when Matt Calvert and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s contracts will expire.
Bowen Byram: (Contract $894,167 x 3 years)
The defensive grouping heading into 2020-21 is more difficult to handicap since it is unknown if the Avalanche will chose to leverage any of their top six under contract in any sort of trade. If everyone including Nikita Zadorov remains with the team then there really isn’t a spot for Bowen Byram unless one of the veterans assumes 7th defenseman responsibilities. It is tough to gauge if the Avalanche are ready to commit to Byram who needs to stick in the NHL or else get returned to the junior in WHL for the season. Byram was part of the postseason bubble but was never a consideration to play and the Avalanche can’t take a half-hearted approach to one of the top prospects in hockey. Their view on Byram’s immediate future will likely dictate the moves the Avalanche make on the backend in the impending offseason.
Conor Timmins: (Contract $925,000 x 1 year)
Another factor on the blue line is Conor Timmins as someone who did see two games of postseason play but yet again missed time with an injury. The Avalanche seem to want to give him an opportunity but may not feel comfortable with a full commitment. As such it’s tough to pencil Timmins into a role especially when he would be available as an injury recall from the AHL. The Avalanche are resistant to carrying a younger player as a seventh defenseman but Mark Barberio and his $1.45M contract’s departure to Switzerland does free that opening up so long as they don’t backfill it with another veteran depth defenseman.
Adam Werner: (Contract $842,500 x 1 year)
Werner’s immediate future in North America is known as he will in all likelihood be back with the Colorado Eagles whenever their season begins. The larger question is whether or not Werner is seen as the organization’s number three netminder or if that role will have to go to another career backup the vein of Michael Hutchinson and Antoine Bibeau. If the Avalanche go that route ideally they just sign someone in free agency rather than making yet another trade just to avoid waivers. The easiest solution is if Werner can be trusted in that role because he still has a final year remaining on his ELC, is waiver exempt and still possesses some NHL backup upside.
Preparing for the future can begin today if the Avalanche take advantage of the monetary savings on the talent they have already stockpiled.