As the Stanley Cup Finals and 2020-21 season are wrapping up the Colorado Avalanche are looking ahead to a busy month ahead which will comprise the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, NHL entry draft and finally the start of free agency on July 28th.
Who from the Avalanche will get selected by Seattle in the expansion draft?
Tom: I still think it’s going to be Joonas Donskoi unless the Avs surprise us with their protection list. Ryan Graves would be another potential target but given how many good defenders will be available, Seattle will likely be able to fill out their rosters with guys who are better than Graves. On the flip side, the forward group that will be available to the Kraken is going to be a lot weaker. A player like Donskoi who can move up and down the lineup will be incredibley valuable for a team that will be forced to put together a relatively weak group of forwards. The Kraken will see right through his unsustainably high shooting percentage but he is the kind of low maintenance team coaches want to fit into their system.
Patrick: Until we get the final protected list with any possible surprises (if somehow Tyson Jost goes unprotected, I think he would be a slam dunk pick for Seattle), I would have to agree with Donskoi being the best pick. The projected list of available forwards is looking awful. Centers are going to be at an extreme premium, so maybe Ron Francis takes a flyer on JT Compher as a 2C/3C.
Jackie: Donskoi’s 17 goals will give Seattle an option for offense but a heavily analytic based team could notice his poor defensive metrics and see a 20% shooting percentage which might not be worth the nearly eight million dollars he’s owed over the next two years. Seattle will be incentivized by a lot of teams to take on bad contracts so they will have to decide where is best to spend their remaining cap space. Still, 17 goals are 17 goals and a team needing a jump start can’t ignore that statistic.
Luke: I think Ryan Graves will be the one taken by Seattle. A top 4 defender on a good contract for a couple of years is a great asset to have. Seattle will have teams calling about him and he could be flipped for picks or players for them.
Vegas made a lot of unexpected choices in their expansion draft and Seattle could be even more unpredictable given how much they will lean on analytics. Jacob MacDonald and Logan O’Connor both offer strong early returns in limited roles at $725k for one year apiece and could be under the radar options. Similar players to them will be available but Seattle also has to decide if they want to help a conference rival free up significant cap space and over a two-year term or just take a useful, cheap option with a pinch of upside.
Aside from the best player available strategy, what would you like to see the Avalanche target in the draft?
Tom: There’s nothing beyond best player available in my opinion. Whoever you think has the highest upside at every pick. That’s the only way any team should ever draft. Prospect pools are made up of players that are long-shots to ever make an impact at the NHL level and if they ever do, it’s years away. This isn’t the NBA or NFL where guys come in right away and you need to worry about positional need. That means the only thing you should be worried about is amassing as much talent as possible, regardless of how your depth chart looks.
That said, given the nature of this year’s draft and the lack of scouting teams were able to do, if I’m Sakic I look to sell off a few picks, either to move down - turning one lottery ticket into two - or trading out entirely to stockpile picks for the 2022 draft.
Patrick: If Sakic is sitting with two players with similar grades at any given pick, I think he’s shown that he’ll go for skill and upside every time. I’d like to see some more center depth drafted, but it’s so hard to come by potential top two centers in general. I have liked the swings Sakic has made with past drafts with players like Justin Barron and expect to see more of the same.
Jackie: I’m going to keep suggesting it until the Avalanche do it: in this range of the late first round they need to draft a European. It’s something they’ve avoided almost entirely which is spending a top 100 pick on a player who continues to develop in Europe. The player will be a few years out regardless so there’s no need to see him in North America until he’s ready or close to it. A lot of talent has been passed over because this is something they aren’t willing to invest in. Positionally there’s a need at center and in goal.
Luke: Best player available. With only 3 picks in this years draft to date, taking the player with the highest upside would be my play. I would also lean towards a forward just because the forward pipeline is a little thin. I will echo what Jackie said about going the European route. Having a prospect play in the pro leagues is a step above what the CHL offers here. Also going the NCAA route is another solid option for this years draft.
Echoing Tom as well, if Sakic decided to move this years 1st for a player that can help them now or look to add picks in the 2022 & 2023 drafts (which are looking very strong) that is a good option as well.
Which improvements would you like to see addressed via free agency?
Patrick: Signing the team’s own top free agents needs to be the priority; but since it looks unlikely the Avalanche will be able to afford to bring back everybody, retooling the bottom six will be critical. With Alex Newhook likely occupying the third line center role out of the gate, getting a veteran with some scoring ability to wing his line and make up some of the Saad production loss will be vital for a Cup run in 2022.
Jackie: There probably won’t be much money left to spend assuming the Avalanche bring back their own players but center depth has to be addressed. Even if Nazem Kadri, JT Compher and Tyson Jost all return that’s still not good enough and Alex Newhook will give a lot better indication of where he slots in after a full year in the NHL. Bringing back a cheap but effective veteran like Paul Stastny could make sense if he’s ready to take that sort of deal. As a 35+ contract candidate now the Avalanche could also lower the cost with performance bonuses too. Oh and stay away from the big names in trades or on the market, they are trouble waiting to happen which the organization has avoided thus far.
Luke: Free agency has gotten the Avalanche Matt Calvert, Pierre-Edward Bellemare, Jonas Donskoi, Ian Cole and Pavel Francouz in recent year. They all seem to be players that are “fill around the edge” type guys, and I think Sakic will do much the same this year. He has tried to go big game hunting with Taylor Hall, Artemi Panarin and John Tarvares, and came up short. I can see them trying to a 3C and a bottom 6 wing. Blake Coleman is a guy I really like, but he won’t be cheap. Bringing back Saad is also a solid option.
Seeing the team really struggle to fill in for Kadri during the playoffs really showed me that the mid 6 group lacks that extra push to be more than they are outside of Saad. I think adding at least 1 guy who can play top 6 when needed and is a solid 3rd line guy, hopefully a C is where I think Sakic and co should look.
I do believe they will be more active in the trade market. We have seem Sakic be dynamite there in recent years, adding Devon Toews, Brandon Saad, Ryan Graves, Nazem Kadri, Phillip Grubauer and Andre Burakovsky. I’m expecting a “how the hell did Sakic manage that again,” trade this summer. Some GM’s just never learn.
Tom: If I’m Sakic I give one last call to Taylor Hall. He has spoken in the past about how money isn’t a driving force behind his decision making. If Brandon Saad leaves, there is a conceivable scenario where Hall could come in at a reletively similar contract. If that’s possible, it’s something the team has to examine. Hall is still a great fit in the Avs’ top-6 and is the kind of veteran winger that could help Alex Newhook shine on an offensively-minded line.
If one eligible contract extension was announced tomorrow whose would you wish it was?
Jackie: Despite the fact that Cale Makar is a restricted free agent and thus is not going anywhere I actually would be the most relieved to hear his contract was completed, assuming it is indeed long term like some reports have suggested. I understand there’s greater urgency and uncertainty over the unrestricted free agents but Makar might be the most important player on this team to get signed.
Tom: For me it’s got to be Philipp Grubauer. Makar is the most important free agent but being an RFA means the Avalanche can take their time without risking the loss of a star players. As for Grubauer, he needs to be locked up before the market opens up. The last thing Joe Sakic wants to do is let his starter go to the open market because at that point, there is a good chance his salary becomes inflated and if another team blows Gru away with an offer, replacing him then becomes incredibly difficult. With Pavel Francouz still a giant question mark and Jonas Johansson the only other goalie who is close to an NHLer in the organization, the Avs absolutely can’t afford to lose Grubauer this summer. He needs to be the first one signed.
Patrick: Can I be a little silly? A ten year extension for Nathan MacKinnon that keeps him way below market value and opens up the Avalanche contention window for a decade. The citizens of Denver elect him mayor and give him a key to the city and the Avalanche go on to win five consecutive Stanley Cups. (I know that’s not legal but we can dream, right?)
In the real world I’d like to see Gabriel Landeskog sign a deal that keeps him in burgundy and blue through his prime at a fair rate. I know he’s capable of rash decisions and untimely penalties, but he draws rave reviews from teammates, has a physical presence and scores goals. Landeskog should remain in Denver for at least the next six seasons with the “C” on his sweater.
Luke: I’ve gone back and fourth on this. Between Cale Makar and Gabe Landeskog. I think both are critical for the group moving forward, both will be big in them competing for the cup. But I think if Landeskog is announced tomorrow, that will lock in the captain, and remove the biggest UFA off the market. The Avalanche just cannot afford to let anyone speak to him. This deal needs to get done. They have 10 days before the Seattle lists are due, I expect it to be done in that time frame.
While Cale Makar is very important. He is an RFA, and not going anywhere. It has been reported by Elliotte Friedman that they are talking a 8 year deal, worth north if 8 million per. That should get Avalanche fans excited!