Last offseason, it looked like we had seen a shift in how NHL general managers were approaching free agency. Teams were frugal, conservative and showed an unwillingness to commit big dollar amounts to longer term contracts. We found out Wednesday that last year was an anomaly as GMs through all that out the window.
During the first 12 hours of the free agent market being open, we saw a return to the craziness of the past as 163 contract were signed for a little more than $785m. Now that the dust has mostly settled, teams like the Colorado Avalanche are going to pick away at the few remaining available players in the hopes of finding discounts.
The Avalanche made a big move trading for Darcy Kuemper but are yet to add anyone from the free agent market beyond signing depth defenseman Roland McKeown to a two-way contract. They are likely still looking for a middle-6 winger to fill the hole created by the loss of Joonas Donskoi and Brandon Saad, as well it’s safe to assume another top-6 defender is in Joe Sakic’s plans as the team has traded away both Ryan Graves and Conor Timmins in the last week.
While most of the impact players are already off the market, there are still a few floating around and as more teams get close to the cap, the remaining free agents might need to start lowering their asking price and creating value for teams.
After finding their starting goalie for only $3.5m, the Avalanche still have nearly $9m in cap space to work with as they go bargain hunting.
Here is a look at a few players still on the market that could be a target for Sakic and the Avalanche:
Tomas Tatar (W)
Tatar is by far the best forward still available on the open market. He is a high-end possession driver and playmaker who would fit in very well on Colorado’s second line. His production took a step back this past season but even having a down year, he was still on pace for 50 points over an 82 game season while leading the Canadiens in shot assists.
Over the past three seasons, Tatar has been one of the best two-way playmakers in the NHL. He can play both sides of the ice and could drive a second in a way that would help both Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky see a lot more scoring chances at 5v5.
At 30-years old, Tatar still has some gas left int he tank and is reported to be looking for a contract for up to four years in the $4m range. That’s a price any contending team should be happy to pay.
Marcus Johansson (F)
Another strong playmaker for the middle-6 Johansson wouldn’t necessarily be a splashy signing but he might be the perfect replacement for Donskoi. A speedy forward that can play all three forward positions, Johansson is a guy who forechecks hard and while not overly rough, he doesn’t shy away from board battles. He’s not someone who will put up huge offensive numbers but he makes his linemates better and plays a defensively responsible game. He can both kill penalties and serve as a setup man on a second powerplay unit.
He’s got an excellent hockey sense and by all accounts is a great teammate. Johansson the kind of low maintenance player that coaches love because of their versatility and ability to adapt to any role.
Casey Cizikas (C)
Though word is he’s waiting on a new deal with the Islanders, the longer the wait, the more likely it is that the 30-year old center moves on. He is one of the better defensive centers in the league and would fit in very well as the 3C in Colorado allowing Tyson Jost to fill the hole on the wing.
He is looking for a little bit of term on a contract but he would likely be able to be brought in on a deal cheaper than the one Joonas Donskoi took with him to Seattle. He wouldn’t solve the secondary scoring issue in Colorado but he would proved them with a very strong penalty killer and shut down pivot.
Ryan Murray (LHD)
Of all the defenders left on the market, Ryan Murray might be the best option to fill the the third pairing role previously occupied by Ryan Graves. Murray has fought through injury issues in his career but is still only 27-years old and brings a style of game that could mesh really well with the Avalanche.
He is a solid puck mover who skates well and is underrated in the defensive end. He benefits from great instincts and would be a very solid depth addition who could play up in the lineup in case of injury.
Nick Ritchie (LW)
After not receiving a qualifying offer from the Boston Bruins, Ritchie became an unrestricted free agent that a number of teams are likely looking at. He’s only 25 and is coming off a season where he scored 15 goals in 56 games. He is a very solid middle-6 guy who has improved his game at both ends of the ice each of the last three seasons.
Ritchie is a big body that can play in front of the net on the powerplay and would make the second line a little harder to play against. He won’t drive play but has at times played a lot of minutes with David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron so he would also be a decent option as the third guy on a Nathan MacKinnon-led line during those games where coach Bednar wants to spread out the big-3.
Mark Jankowski (C/LW)
He’s probably not an option for the second line but Jankowski is a big body who can play down the middle as a solid 3C and penalty killer. Though he doesn’t bring a ton of offense, Jankowski is a guy who does a very good job of suppressing scoring chances against despite being deployed in a very tough defense-first role. Offense dies when he is on the ice for both teams - in much the same way we saw from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare over the last few seasons.
Bobby Ryan (RW)
After a rough few years, Bobby Ryan is back and seems to be having a bit of a renaissance as an elder statesman in the NHL. He had a decent season on a terrible Detroit team before getting hurt, now he’s out on the market looking to help a contender get over the hump. On a one year deal for a little more than the league minimum, Ryan could be a decent depth option for the Avalanche on the wing.
Brandon Saad (W)
There’s still the possibility that the Avalanche would being back Brandon Saad. Wednesday evening, Joe Sakic mentioned that the team had moved on from Saad but during the same press conference he said they wouldn’t be making a big splash for a goalie - an hour later he made a huge trade for Darcy Kuemper.
Saad knows the system and despite a slow start with the team last season, he began to see some very solid chemistry with Kadri by the end of the year. He’s an automatic 20 goals for the middle-6 and if the initial asking price goes down, Saad coming back to Denver would be a great fit.
**UPDATE** Brandon Saad has signed with the St. Louis Blues for 5 years with an AAV of $4.5m