With the Stanley Cup Finals coming to a close, hockey fans will begin to shift their focus to the next phases of the NHL’s yearly cycle; the NHL Draft, and Free Agency. With both events getting ready to kick off next week, NHL general managers will get ready to help push their rosters in the direction that want to be facing for next season -from draft day, to in-house extensions, to pursuing free agents.
From a fans perspective, Joe Sakic has a few obvious goals, and those goals are to re-sign Andre Burakovsky, Valeri Nichushkin, and Ryan Graves, as well as to swap out depth pieces with guys who won’t be around next year. With the market set to be stacked on all fronts, whether it be the free agents or the trade wire, the Avalanche have the ability to go out and get some very nice depth pieces for their bottom six.
While the Avalanche already have Logan O’Connor ready to make the jump to the NHL, there are still guys on the market who could be very serviceable pieces for the Avalanche in their roles, and I got together five players that the Avalanche could make a run at. Note that Vladislav Namestnikov and Matt Nieto could very well still be re-signed, but if not there could still be a roster spot to fill.
The following names are ones that aren’t necessarily linked to any specific offseason rumors. This is just pure speculation based off of prior moves from Joe Sakic, and roles the Avs need to fill to improve the team further.
1. Erik Haula (UFA)
Erik Haula has played for four teams throughout his seven-year NHL career, (MIN, VGK, CAR, FLA), and has been a decent player throughout. He had his best year in the 2017-18 season with the Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural season, scoring 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games. He’s had some tough injury luck the past two seasons, only getting into 63 regular season games, and doing so with three different teams. Haula could service the Avs as a 3rd line center, who is capable of providing scoring, winning faceoffs, as well as killing penalties. With the likelihood of Matt Nieto being on his way out, the Avs could use another penalty killing forward, and this would allow J.T. Compher to move to the wing, which may be a better place for him. The former Florida Panthers forward wouldn’t cost the Avs much, as Haula will likely be seeking a short-term “prove it” deal on October 9th.
2. Jake Virtanen (RFA)
Jake Virtanen has had a bit of an unfair tenure in Vancouver. Drafted 6th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, Virtanen was praised for his size, and especially his skating for his size. Likely on his way out, Virtanen could be a part of a trade with the Avs that was very similar to that of the Andre Burakovsky trade from last offseason. Virtanen adds physicality and scoring to the lineup, and could benefit very nicely from a change of scenery. Burakovsky flourished on the 2nd line, and Virtanen could be the guy the second line is missing, pushing Joonas Donskoi and Val Nichushkin (if he’s back) down the lineup. While being an RFA, Sakic would have to acquire his rights, or offer sheet him, and with the Avs luxurious cap situation, they could easily throw a decent deal Virtanen’s way that Vancouver wouldn’t be willing to match.
3. Michael Grabner (ARI)
The Arizona Coyotes are a hot mess at the moment. A team on the fringe of being a playoff contender, the Coyotes were first in the Pacific Division the day they acquired Taylor Hall from the New Jersey Devils on December 16th, 2019. Fast forward seven months later, and the Coyotes were the 11th seeded team in the west going into the modified NHL playoff tree, and had a losing record with Hall, granted Darcy Kuemper was injured virtually the entire time Hall was there in the regular season.
Reports have recently come out that the Coyotes are looking to get younger, and that anyone “nearing or on the wrong side of 30” could be trade bait this offseason. Grabner is a 32 year old winger, who would slot into the bottom-six, and would give the Avs penalty kill a huge jolt. Arguably the best penalty killing forward in the entire NHL, Grabner uses his blazing speed to pressure puck carriers, and gets his stick into the areas he needs to in able to create offense while shorthanded, leading the NHL in shorthanded goals in 2018-19, scoring six of his 9 goals that season on the penalty kill. With one-year left on his deal at a $3.35 million cap hit, he’s a rather expensive depth piece worth taking the chance on, despite his injury concerns.
4. Jake DeBrusk (RFA)
With the rumors swirling that Torey Krug could potentially be on his way out of Boston, the Bruins could be in the market for Taylor Hall, which would then make Jake DeBrusk expendable. A former 27 goal scorer, DeBrusk could be a guy that can slot into the middle-six quite nicely, adding another legitimate threat onto the 2nd powerplay unit. While some things need to happen for this to become possible, if the Bruins were to land Taylor Hall, this would open up the possibility to land DeBrusk.
The Bruins need to spend this offseason re-working their salary cap situation and a restricted free agent like DeBrusk could be moved out as a part of that.
5. Sean Kuraly (BOS)
This would be a potential plan B of picking a player away from Boston if Sakic chose to do so. Kuraly is a center, typically on the 4th line behind a stacked center core with the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Charlie Coyle. Kuraly embodies everything you would want out of a bottom-6 forward. He brings a physical presence, he can kill penalties, and can add a scoring touch when needed. With guys like Krejci set to expire after next season, it’s very possible that Kuraly could be in for a bigger role in Boston once that cap hit is off the table, and Kuraly could earn himself a nice payday afterwards, but anything is possible with the Bruins likely looking to get younger after next season, as the window could close for Boston after next year.