Starting Friday, NHL teams will be allowed to begin the buyout process for any players they would like to clear from their roster this offseason. Thanks to some great work from General Manager Joe Sakic, the Colorado Avalanche are in a situation where they don’t have to worry about clearing any contracts from the books - even in the new “flat cap” era.
While some Avalanche fans have brought up the name of Ian Cole, he only has one more year left on his contract and with the Avs in a good cap situation, he’s valuable to have around as a veteran leader that provides depth to the blue line. Sakic has created the type of financial flexibility that will allow the Avalanche to hold onto their players while being able to actually add a big contract to the group.
That same financial flexibility is very rare for other teams this offseason. Most are going to be looking to cut salary and as a result, we are likely to see more buyouts over the next week than we ordinarily would.
With a number of players being bought out, some will be looking to sign on with a contender and will likely do so at a steep discount. Here are some potential buyout candidates that might make sense for the Avalanche to consider as free agents:
Henrik Lundqvist - G - New York Rangers
There is a long standing belief among some in the hockey media that the Avalanche need a veteran goaltender to make them “true contenders”. It got to the point this past year that during trade deadline season, the Avalanche were being linked to everyone from Robin Lehner to Carey Price. The Avalanche were never going to trade for a goalie as Sakic had shown he had full confidence in Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz. That might have changed. When the Avalanche were eliminated from the playoffs Michael Hutchinson was starting in net for him. Both of Colorado’s goalies had been injured earlier in the postseason and for the second time this season, the Avs were forced into starting someone who isn’t necessarily a NHL caliber goaltender. Of the two, Grubauer’s injury was a lot worse and now the team isn’t sure that he will be ready for the start of next season. If that’s the case, bringing in another goalie will be a necessity.
One name that was brought up at the trade deadline was Henrik Lundqvist. With two young goalies waiting, it appeared as though his time with the Rangers was coming to an end. The Avalanche were never going to trade for him but now that he’s about to be bought out, he is the type of low maintenance veteran that Sakic could bring in on a short-term contract to bring in as insurance between the pipes.
One of the best goalies of his generation, Lundqvist is well past his prime but he is still a dependable NHL goaltender who can split time with Francouz if Gruabuer continues to be unable to stay healthy.
Devan Dubnyk - G - Minnesota Wild
Like Lundqvist, Dubnyk is a veteran goalie that could provide stability to the position for the Avalanche. He is coming off of a season in which he struggled to find his old form - though that’s understandable given the extenuating circumstances surrounding his home life. Until this season, Dubnyk was one of the best goaltenders in the Western Conference for half a decade. With a new GM that is looking to move on from veterans, the Wild look like they might buy him out and it they do, Dubnyk would be a great option for the Avalanche. Leading your former team’s division rival on a playoff run would be a great way for Dubnyk to get revenge if the Wild decide to buy him out.
Kyle Okposo - RW - Buffalo Sabres
This would be an expensive buyout but with the way the Sabres are looking to re-work their roster, it makes sense that they would move on from Okposo. Having his career threatened by some pretty serious health issues, Okposo appears to be healthy again but he is far from the dominating power forward he was while playing on the wing with John Tavares in Long Island. If he is bought out, Okposo would be a very good reclamation project for the Avalanche to take a flier on. In Colorado he would be protected from needing to be one of the top guys and fill in a middl-6 role very nicely as complimentary winger.
Zack Smith - LW - Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have a number of young players that need new contracts, as a result, they are likely to move on from Smith who is a useful but overpaid bottom-6 winger. He won’t contribute much at the offensive end but he would being an element of size and toughness that some believe is missing from the Avalanche lineup. A fourth line of Smith, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Matt Calvert is something no team would want to go up against in a seven game playoff series.
Alex Steen - LW/C - St. Louis Blues
Well past his prime, Steen’s contract in St. Louis is a burden if the Blues wish to have any chance of re-signing both Alex Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn. That said, he’s the type of low-fuss veteran that could help the Avalanche. He’s a Stanley Cup winning leader who would bring a strong voice as well as the ability to improve the team’s penalty killing - something that the Avs will need to do next season.
Olli Maatta - D - Chicago Blackhawks
Maatta’s play has declined over the past few seasons but he is still a serviceable NHL defender. The problem is that Chicago needs to clear cap space and at $4.1m is too much for Maatta. his buyout penalty is very low, so the Blackhawks are likely to move on, leaving Maatta available to another team on a more reasonable contract. If the Avalanche decide it’s time to move on from Nikita Zadorov, Maatta would be a very solid (and cheaper) replacement.