Reports around the league indicate that the Colorado Avalanche are still in the mix to sign playoff hero Nazem Kadri, and new Avs GM Chris MacFarland said a couple days ago that the door had not been closed on a Kadri return to Denver.
Chris MacFarland said #Avs still in play for Nazem Kadri.— Mike Chambers (@MikeChambers) July 13, 2022
The issue here is cap space. Barring a completely unforeseen turn of events, Kadri’s contract will be far larger than the $3.9 million in cap space, give or take depending on which lower salary players are sent to the minor leagues, the Avs have available according to Cap Friendly. This means that in order to fit Nazem Kadri under the cap, the Avalanche must trade someone making a fair amount of money.
How much money?
That’s a guessing game given the lack of public knowledge around what Kadri can reasonably expect in his next contract. Johnny Gaudreau received a seven-year contract with an average annual value of $9.75 million from Columbus, and that is a helpful example to use as the ceiling for any potential Kadri deal. It’s unlikely that he receives that much given that Gaudreau is four years younger than him and has a longer track record of top tier play, so for the sake of simplicity let’s assume that Kadri’s annual average value comes in at around 80% of what Gaudreau received for a simple round number of $8 million per year.
So who is likeliest to be traded to free up money for Kadri?
It must be someone making at least $4.1 million or a combination of players who count that much against the cap, or else the Avalanche cannot even get to the $8 million minimum they would likely need to re-sign Kadri. We can rule out trading core pieces like Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Raantanen, Valeri Nichushkin, Cale Makar and Devon Toews. It’s also likely that new signings Artturi Lehkonen and Josh Manson are also not going anywhere, as the Avalanche most likely did not give up serious prospects and money just to turn around and trade two of their better playoff performers a week after re-signing them.
So who does that leave?
No player on the Avalanche better exemplifies the friction between sentimentality and the cold hard reality of the cap than the longest tenured professional athlete in Denver. Erik Johnson lived through the lowest lows the Colorado Avalanche had to offer and he was rewarded with a Stanley Cup championship. He is one of the most important locker room leaders on the Avs, and you quite literally cannot put a price on his contributions to help navigate a young team out of the doldrums and to the mountaintop.
That said, the Avalanche would be in so much better shape if he did not count $6 million towards their salary cap. If Johnson was playing for the veteran minimum, the Avalanche would have enough money to sign Kadri now, and likely still have some left over to add some depth contributors. Moving Johnson is difficult given that he has a limited no-trade clause and can only be dealt to 19 teams, and that’s before you get into the fact that he is still a very solid defenseman whose play would not be easy to replace on the cheap—to say nothing of his importance to the culture the Avalanche have built.
It’s not out of the question that Chris MacFarland and Joe Sakic trade Erik Johnson in order to make room for Nazem Kadri, but given that Johnson only has one year left on his contract, it seems unlikely that the Avs would turn him into a cap casualty when the Andrew Cogliano, Darren Helm and Josh Manson re-signings demonstrate they clearly value having quite a bit of veteran leadership in this very young locker room.
Girard is the most divisive player amongst the Avalanche fanbase, as his poor series against Vegas two years ago is the lens through which many Avs fans see him. While he is not Cale Makar or Bowen Byram, he very clearly is a top four defenseman who is excellent at getting the puck out of his own zone and can create a lot of offense on the other end. If the Avalanche put Girard and his eminently affordable contract at $5 million per year on the trade market, he would have an endless line of suitors. Any Avs fan who thinks Girard is bad would be disproven in a heartbeat by 31 other teams banging on Joe Sakic’s door trying to acquire the young and still improving defenseman.
The issue with trading Girard to free up space for Kadri is that it creates a huge hole on defense that the Avalanche would not have much money to patch up. Assuming Kadri gets $8 million per year, a Girard trade would leave the Avalanche with less than a million to find his replacement (to put this in perspective, Jack Johnson made $750,000 last year and that would be the kind of player they could afford). As bad as a significant slice of Avalanche fans want Girard gone, it just seems very unlikely unless they can pull off some kind of magic to get a cheap and viable defensive replacement in a Girard trade. Sending his contract out creates an entirely new set of problems that the Avalanche simply do not have the cap space to properly address.
Which brings me to the likeliest scenario.
J.T. Compher + Another Contract
Trading Compher’s $3.5 million contract alone does not get the Avs to $8 million, it leaves them just short at $7.4 million. They could add someone like Kurtis MacDermid’s $987,500 deal to the trade to get them over the hump. Of all the potential options on the table for the Avalanche, this one clearly makes the most sense. The Avalanche already have depth at center and giving that up to bring Kadri back would not require another move to replace the player they traded like a Girard or Johnson deal would. The Avs could slide Alex Newhook or Darren Helm into Compher’s third line center position and be just fine.
It still feels like a longshot for Kadri to return given that it would require trading a significant player for picks or minor leaguers to clear the requisite cap space to sign him, but reporting indicates that both he and the Avalanche would like to reunite in a perfect world. Chris MacFarland and Joe Sakic have proven themselves to be incredibly savvy cap operators, so it’s impossible to rule a Kadri return out, the only certainty is that it would cost at least one player on the Avalanche’s current roster in order to do it.