There has been a lot of speculation and rumors over the last week but also stretching back to the beginning of the season that Samuel Girard is on his way out of Colorado. While he certainly isn’t untouchable, few truly are, there are several reasons why the Colorado Avalanche has been wise to manage their cap space and roster planning into the future. They are very much not considering making this type of move just to free up cap space from his five-year contract carrying an Average Annual Value of $5M. Here are five reasons why Girard is staying put.
He’s too good
Girard is a legitimate top-four defenseman and has been for at least the last four years. From the 2018-19 to the 2020-21 seasons Girard was in the top two in 5-on-5 ice time per game on the team including the most in the 2019-20 season, earning the trust of the coaching staff is not something the public always sees or values. In the shortened 2020-21 season, Girard also scored 32 points in 48 games, good for a 55-point pace. While the offense might take more of a backseat with Cale Makar now stealing the show Girard has been consistent at helping produce from the back end with 144 points in 340 career games, good for 11th in the 2016 draft class and ahead of fellow defenseman Jakob Chychrun. One other note of consistency is that Girard was the team’s Ironman with a streak of 231 games before COVID-19 early in 2021 put him out of the lineup yet he still toughed it out and played in the Lake Tahoe outdoor game the first day he was cleared to return to the ice.
Cost certainty is important
With only six contracts signed beyond the 2024-25 season knowing that Girard can keep providing top four defense on a $5M per year deal until 2027 is a very valuable asset to the Avalanche. Tough decisions will come up before then including extensions at the Unrestricted Free Agent market rate to Devon Toews and Mikko Rantanen if they are retained. Girard is 24 years old, still entering his prime, and will not become less valuable as time goes on. His contract was signed in the most team-friendly circumstances with no signing bonuses and will age well. Getting top four defensemen is near impossible on the market and teams have searched for the better part of a decade to add one.
Defense is Colorado’s competitive advantage
One of the reasons the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup with average goaltending and has made a bet on the tandem of Alexandar Georgiev and Pavel Francouz moving forward is because of the defense behind them. Girard was the first step in Jared Bednar executing his vision for the defense and the structure in which his defensemen are not just puck movers but the catalyst for the offense. He scored a huge goal in Game 82 in the 2017-18 season to start a string of five consecutive playoff appearances, which is no coincidence the length of Girard’s tenure with the Avalanche. The ability to run out Makar, Girard, Devon Toews and Bowen Byram on separate pairs or together is an advantage no team can match.
There’s nothing in the pipeline
The six regular Avalanche defensemen are an embarrassment of riches which could mean the $10.5M duo of Erik Johnson and Josh Manson seeing bottom pair minutes if everyone is healthy. However, if even one defenseman of the expected six goes down things thin out incredibly quickly with Kurtis MacDermid, Jacob MacDonald, and Brad Hunt the only safety valve. They are temporary stop-gaps at best with MacDermid likely taking on the role of extra forward more often than not and certainly, none are top four quality on defense. There’s nothing in Loveland except for depth AHL defensemen and rookies. Sean Behrens might be the organization’s top prospect but he’s several years away as he still needs to leave school, sign a pro contract, and put in his time in the AHL before becoming a realistic option. Eliminating defense for the sake of a surplus just isn’t reality.
Colorado doesn’t need $5M in cap space
The $3.9M balance in cap space remaining repeated in many articles is incorrect and actually includes sure minor leaguers Lukas Sedlak and Andreas Englund. Even if accounting for Ben Meyers to make the team that’s $4.5M left over and considering he’s waiver exempt some cap massaging could include him starting in the minors leaving the Avalanche with $5.46M in cap room. Now that’s not going to be enough to sign Nazem Kadri and the team will always want to leave about a million for call-up space but the math is certainly closer than it seems. There’s no need to make the team worse by trading a top-four defenseman for futures going scorched earth over a couple million in the cap. That is not how the Avalanche has operated up to this point and will not serve them well in the future.