As the NHL begins the Stanley Cup Finals this week, 30 teams around the league are already working on their plans for the offseason. Coaches are being replaced, blockbuster trade rumors are already swirling and some pending free agents have already been given permission to start negotiating with new teams.
For Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic, the first task at hand is re-signing some major parts of the roster. Cale Makar is a restricted free agent, and his negotiations are going to have a major impact, as his contract could help reset the team’s salary cap structure over the next half decade. If both sides decide on a longterm deal, Makar’s new contract would likely carry the biggest cap hit on the team and would make everything else afterward a lot more difficult. There’s also the potential for Makar to sign a bridge deal — a la Charlie McAvoy — that would save the team some cap space to make a bigger push for a Stanley Cup over the next few seasons.
After Makar, the Avalanche have a number of key unrestricted free agents to worry about, particularly Gabriel Landeskog and Brandon Saad. Sakic has already spoken about wanting to keep both players, but it’s become obvious that re-signing the team’s captain is the bigger priority. That leaves the likelihood of Saad going to the open market, at which point he’d probably price himself out of the team’s plans.
If that’s the case, the Avalanche are going to be forced to look elsewhere for a second line winger who has the ability to score consistently.
Enter Zach Hyman.
Hyman is a right-shooting left winger that would fill a lot of holes for the Avalanche. The veteran forward has spent his entire career playing in Toronto and is about to become an unrestricted free agent. Thanks to a lack of salary cap space, it looks exceedingly likely that he will be moving on from the Maple Leafs.
At 29 years old, Hyman likely realizes that this is his chance to sign the biggest contract of his career. He’s a player that fans in Toronto would love to keep around, but because of the bad contracts given to Mitch Marner and Alex Kerfoot, it looks as though the Maple Leafs won’t be able to afford him.
Once viewed as a tertiary piece that was able to play the role of a hard fore-checking grinder, Hyman has provided a lot of offensive production over the last few seasons. He broke out with a 21 goal season in 2018-19, added another 21 goals in only 51 games a season later and then chipped in 15 goals in only 43 games during the abbreviated 2020-21 season that just concluded.
His goal-scoring output is nearly identical to Saad’s over the last four seasons, with each player scoring at a 0.29 goal per game pace.
While Hyman would fill the scoring void left by a Saad departure, he also brings a very strong defensive game. He finished 39th in the league with 1.78 goals against per 60 minutes while finishing second on the Maple Leafs in expected goals against.
The strong contribution at both ends of the ice are evident in Hyman’s great play-driving numbers, as he lead Toronto with an amazing 65.9% even strength goal share while finishing 13th in the entire NHL with a 59.95 xGF% at 5v5.
Hyman’s impact on the game has become somewhat underrated due to the fact that he wasn’t one of the “big four” forwards in Toronto.
He also has the ability to play up and down the lineup — a trait that has been very appealing to Sakic when perusing free agents. Hyman was a perfect fit as a complement to Auston Matthews and Marner on the team’s top line, but when he was moved down to the third line, his play actually improved, becoming the line’s play driver.
He is a player that isn’t afraid to get physical. Playing a hard forechecking game, Hyman is the type of player who can often generate offense by winning battles down low and against the boards.
Hyman’s great top-speed and high-end hockey IQ allow him to contribute on the PK as well. He was Toronto’s top penalty-killing forward this season — that’s something Saad couldn’t do. The ability to add someone like Hyman to the top PK unit would help to make J.T. Compher expendable as well — something that could free up more cap space, as Compher could then be replaced by a cheaper option on the fourth line.
Add that to everything else, and Hyman brings the type of complete package that every team is looking for in a middle-six forward.
Right now, most analysts are expecting Hyman to get a contract with a cap hit somewhere in the $5 to 5.5 million range. That’s a cap hit that would be of good value right now but has the potential to age poorly if the contract term is too long. As with Saad, Hyman is a guy you might not want to be paying like a second line winger into his mid-30s. That said, a contract worth something in the neighborhood of $25 million over five seasons is something that could be palatable with the salary cap expected to begin moving upward again after next season.
Bringing back Brandon Saad is likely the more popular option for the Avalanche front office given his familiarity with the team, but if that doesn’t happen, perusing Hyman to fill the same role would be a great fallback plan. Not only that, but he might actually be the better overall option, especially when considering he would likely cost less against the cap.
As Sakic works through a pivotal offseason for the Avalanche, he will be looking for ways to push one of the most talented rosters in the NHL toward the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Signing a player like Zach Hyman could be a major step in doing just that.
Would Zach Hyman be a good option for the Avalanche?
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