As the deadline for official cap compliant 23 man (or fewer) rosters are due this afternoon at 3pm mountain time the Colorado Avalanche have a few loose ends to tie up to finalize their own opening night roster.
One order of business was transferring Professional Try-Out Jack Johnson to an officially contracted player and that occurred yesterday when the Avalanche announced a one-year $750k one-way contract for Johnson.
The veteran of 15 seasons and 950 NHL games is now reunited with fellow Team USA friend and teammate Erik Johnson which provides a glimpse at a possible Johnson & Johnson pairing on the horizon. Jack Johnson has become a punching bag of sorts after a couple of unsuccessful stints with the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Avalanche hope to get a handful more games from the experienced rearguard.
Johnson played in four of the Avalanche’s six exhibition games and generally looked solid as he chipped in a goal and two assists. He had the best outing on a pair with Bowen Byram but has seen time with Ryan Murray as well which indicates the Avalanche see him as a third pair or depth defenseman. With both Devon Toews and Cale Makar limited through training camp and neither had suited up for a preseason game some extra insurance was deemed necessary. As long as the Avalanche don’t get cute and force Johnson into the lineup if he begins faltering or anything resembling a fully-healthy defensive core is achieved. Having a guy like him around as your seventh defenseman is only a competitive advantage if he remains a reserve option.
In other roster implicating news, the Avalanche made another transaction as they placed defenseman Jacob MacDonald on waivers. The move was necessary as he needs to clear Monday morning for reassignment before the roster deadline. It was a surprising decision for some because MacDonald had become a roster regular last season and provided the Avalanche with a defenseman who possesses good offensive instincts and could be useful in a pinch, although the found money angle was a bit much. It is possible he will not clear and get an opportunity elsewhere but as callup depth from the Colorado Eagles is probably where MacDonald belongs especially after an average camp and preseason.
Where the rest of the roster moves gets tricky is in how many waiver exempt (read Entry Level Contracted) players they want to keep on the roster. Due to the ease of sending such players up and down the Avalanche do not need to tip their hand early but will have to make a decision by the deadline. Pavel Francouz is already on Injured Reserve which opens a roster spot and it remains to be seen if Devon Toews will get the same treatment. It is possible the Avalanche keep Toews on the active roster because they don’t need the roster spot and his return seems relatively imminent.
The salary cap also comes into play especially after Johnson’s signing and according to Cap Friendly there’s roughly $1.45M left in cap space for the Avalanche with a 22 man roster. This means one more player can make the team and it seems to be down to two unlikely candidates when the preseason began in prospects Sampo Ranta and Justin Barron. If Cale Makar really isn’t ready to go for opening night that could make Barron more likely. Ranta’s play style seems to have captivated the coaching staff and he might get an early season run of games. Both could find their way eventually back to the Eagles even if they make the team now, however, or both could get cut which would keep the roster thinner and allow the Avalanche to bank even more daily cap space. Plenty of options but it’s getting down to final decisions.