Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has quickly cemented himself among the best GMs in the league. He navigated a historic trade that sent Matt Duchene for an ever-growing list of talent that included Sam Girard. He drafted guys like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar and Bowen Bryam. When the Avalanche needed a strong centerman, Sakic leveraged a surplus of young and talented defensemen to land Nazem Kadri, effectively revitalizing his career.
The running joke among NHL fans goes “when Joe Sakic calls, just don’t answer the phone.” When Sakic acquired Devon Toews and Brandon Saad in the offseason, the Avalanche looked poised to dominate alongside western powerhouses and make a run for the cup. Vegas had the Avalanche as the odds-on favorite to win it all at the start of the season. All that could derail these lofty goals would be injury woes.
Woe is me.
Last night the Avalanche played without the following players:
- Nathan MacKinnon
- Cale Makar
- Bowen Byram
- Erik Johnson
- J.T. Compher
- Connor Timmins
- Dennis Gilbert
- Pavel Francouz
Only five players have played at least 21 of the 23 contests so far: Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Valeri Nichushkin, Brandon Saad & Ryan Graves.
Where Does Sakic Go From Here?
The Avalanche and Joe Sakic are now at a crossroads. Does the GM hope the Avs can make it through these injuries and still be in a position to make a cup run, or does he go after a few trade deadline targets to bolster the lineup?
If he doubles down on moving forward with the patchwork lineups we’ve seen since the Lake Tahoe game, the Avalanche will likely be playing for the third- or fourth-seed in the west. At best. He also runs the risk of wasting a year of the Nathan MacKinnon discount window.
If Sakic does go for big fish or added depth before the trade deadline, it will likely cost him some of the future talents he’s worked hard to accumulate. At this point, no prospect is safe, especially considering the Avalanche are genuinely in the market for a solid body centerman and goaltender. Those are arguably the two most valuable positions in the sport and will require a substantial return.
Say Sakic does trade prospects or picks to acquire rental players, with Makar, Grubauer and Landeskog to be free agents, he won’t have the money to keep those rentals around after 2021. At that rate, those traded prospects and picks are a sunk cost and officially return nothing. Trading a roster player is an option, but how does that help solidify a team with so many injured bodies?
Who’s on the Market: Back-up Goaltender
The first thing Sakic needs to address for the Avalanche is the back-up goalie. Pavel Francouz is on long-term injury reserve, which means he has to miss a minimum of 10 games or 24 calendar days. He’s well beyond that now, and head coach Jared Bednar has made it clear that there’s no real timetable for his return. The shortened season has made back-up goaltending even more paramount, and the Avalanche in particular have a hyper-condensed season after postponing two weeks of action due to COVID protocol.
Jonathan Quick’s name has been thrown around a bit as a potential trade target, but that’s assuming the LA Kings are willing to part ways with their Stanley Cup-winning keeper. A player of his pedigree wouldn’t likely embrace a back-up role unless he sees it as a real shot to win another cup. That may not be the case anymore in Colorado. On top of that, with nearly $6 million against the cap for two more years, a trade for Quick would mean letting Grubauer walk as a free agent in the offseason. That’s not something Sakic should consider.
There have also been rumblings about Jonathan Bernier. Should we want to hop in the DeLorean and go back to Colorado’s first-round exit in 2018? The Avalanche need 1A and 1B in net to compete with the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s as simple as that. It’s unlikely Bernier fits that role.
The most viable target is Nashville Predators’ goalie Pekka Rinne. We’ve all seen Rinne at his best, and he has the potential to be a 1B keeper. There’s also likely to be a fire sale from Nashville as it looks to unload contracts and gear up for another era in Predators hockey. Rinne comes with a $6 million cap hit—coincidentally the same amount freed up by moving Johnson to the LTIR. He is a UFA at the end of the season, so it would be easy to absorb what’s remaining on his contract.
Who’s on the Market: Depth Center
The Avalanche when healthy have three reliable centermen in Mackinnon, Kadri, Tyson Jost. Jost made himself valuable on the NHL’s best penalty kill and has found a role that suits his ability. The Avalanche could use one more big body in front of the net, though—someone not shy in the gritty areas of the offensive zone.
Mile High Hockey Managing Editor Tom Hunter has said veteran Eric Staal would make an excellent rental center. He fits the profile, he’s a significant net-front presence not afraid to throw the body and he will make big plays on both ends of the ice. There’s also the added bonus that Staal is pissed off at the Wild for trading him to Buffalo. He might relish the chance to help Minnesota’s biggest rival win a couple of series in the playoffs.
A pretty decent option for the Avs to add depth down the middle https://t.co/CCHKPZTcLZ— Mile High Hockey (@MileHighHockey) March 8, 2021
Another potential target would be Nick Foligno. Foligno, however, would require a more substantial return from the Avalanche, and acquiring him involves more cap-related consequences. Foligno comes with a $5.5 million cap hit. It would be nearly impossible to address the back-up goaltender needs without swapping a roster player with a matching cap hit.
The Best Wrong Answer
When I was in school at Colorado State University-Pueblo, one of my favorite professors taught me a valuable lesson in management. Sometimes there isn’t a correct answer or obvious solution to a problem; sometimes you have to make the choice that hurts the least.
The best wrong answer is to push on with what the Avalanche have now and hope that some of the injured players return soon so they can put forth a cup-contending lineup again. The best wrong answer does, however, involve bringing in another goaltender. The Avalanche won’t grow on last season’s second-round playoff defeat with an AHL-level goaltender backing up Philipp Grubauer—no matter who else is in the lineup.