With the end of the 2021 season coming a lot earlier for the Colorado Avalanche than many expected, general manager Joe Sakic and his front office will need to get to work quickly as they have a very busy offseason ahead of them.
Aside from looking outside the organization for ways to bolster the lineup, Sakic has to worry about both an expansion draft and re-singing some of the biggest pieces of his current roster.
Cale Makar is a restricted free agent while Brandon Saad, Philipp Grubauer and captain Gabriel Landeskog are all set to become unrestricted free agents. It’s not impossible to bring them all back but Sakic is going to need some astute cap management to get it done.
Makar is the absolute certainty to be back. He is the best young defender in the NHL and while he needs a new contract, he’s still under team control for a while. Some indications point to the team signing Makar to a two or (more likely) three year bridge contract - a move that will help the team keep the cap hit down while also allowing Makar to cash in once the salary cap goes up a little. That said, some media outlets outside of Denver have recently mentioned the potential for a longer term deal.
As the team’s captain and starting goalie respectively, Landeskog and Grubauer are also locks to be back - unless something crazy happens in their contract negotiations between now and the open of free agency.
Of the three main UFAs, Brandon Saad brings the most question marks. Matt Calvert, Carl Soderberg, Patrik Nemeth and Pierre-Eduard Bellemare are also free agents but none are likely to return. The team would like to bring Saad back but given the demand for his type of play in today’s NHL, there is a very good chance that another team will blow him away with an offer more expensive than the Avalanche feel comfortable with.
Acquired last offseason in a trade that sent Nikita Zadorov to the Chicago Blackhawks, Saad had a slow start to his career in burgundy and blue. It took a while for him to work his way into Coach Bednar’s system on Colorado’s second line but once he got comfortable, he became one of the team’s most reliable players.
After putting up 15 goals in 44 regular season games, Saad showed his worth in the playoffs. He finished behind only Nathan MacKinnon with seven goals in the team’s 10 postseason games - scoring the game opener on three separate occasions.
At 28-years old, this is probably Saad’s last chance to cash in on a big contract and with his Stanley Cup pedigree, there are going to be teams that throw a lot of money at him should he hit the open market. If the Avalanche want to bring him back, it is going to cost more than the $5m they were paying him this season - and will likely have to be a contract with a lot of term.
Sakic will have to decide if Saad is the player he wants to commit that money to.
Given all the money that needs to be spent on re-signing their own guys - Tyson Jost and Conor Timmins also need new contracts - there is a belief that Sakic won’t be in on any of the big name UFAs on the market. That may not be true. The Avalanche have enough cap space to sign their own guys and if they can move some money around, both during and after the expansion draft, it’s easy to see a plausible scenario where the front office makes a bid for an impact free agent - particularly if Saad decides to hit the open market.
Sakic has expressed interest in Taylor Hall on multiple occasions over the last 18 months, so it would stand to reason he’s still on the team’s radar. There are also guys like Dougie Hamilton and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins that would be expensive but would make a major impact in the growth of the current roster.
But before he can move on to the open free agency market, Sakic is going to need to get to work quickly on figuring out how the team will allocate their cap space to the team’s returning players.
It likely won’t take long for news to start dropping on that front.