As the sting of losing to the Seattle Kraken in Game 7 begins to wear off, the Colorado Avalanche have a busy offseason on the horizon after a very quiet month of May. At least 20 contracts will need to get signed in addition to any other trades or moves to bolster the roster for the 2023-24 season. Here are some objectives we’d like to see for the Avalanche to have a successful offseason.
First and foremost a good four months of rest, recovery and training will do the members of the Avalanche well especially since it will be their longest offseason since 2018. For those who have nursed injuries all season or are facing overcoming long-term issues this will be a blessing in disguise. Still, the time alone won’t be enough to cure all ills and there’s always someone who suddenly can’t participate in training camp due to an undisclosed offseason surgery or recovery. That’s also why the other aspects of summer planning will prove to be just as vital.
Have a good draft
Next event on the agenda for the organization is the NHL draft which will be held on June 28th and 29th in Nashville. Unless something changes between now and then Colorado will make four selections; once each in the first, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. The first round pick is locked in at the 27th selection because winning the division pushed Colorado back several spots. Though the organization has received very little contribution from drafted players outside the top 10, smart picks will hold their value as trade chips for future utilization at least. Moving around the board or selling off rights to Unrestricted Free Agebts who won’t return to pick up a few more picks wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Sign some good contracts
It will be a busy summer in just dealing with Restricted Free Agents before looking outside the organization for help. On the NHL roster the big contract to figure will be for budding star defenseman Bowen Byram, which was detailed in the above piece. In addition, forwards Alex Newhook, Ben Meyers, and Denis Malgin, with the latter holding arbitration rights, need new deals as well. How much Byram and to a lesser extent Newhook are expected to receive will set the budget for the rest of the forthcoming contracts,
Further down in the system several more players need to be dealt with including Wyatt Aamodt, Nate Clurman and Sampo Ranta all holding arbitration rights plus Ryan Merkley and goaltender Justus Annunen are RFAs as well. Not all are guaranteed to receive qualifying offers and that deadline this year will be June 30th, right before the opening of free agency will be of great intrigue.
On the UFA front even more players need new contracts (or replacements brought in for) including most notably JT Compher, Lars Eller, Evan Rodrigues, Andrew Cogliano, Matt Nieto, Darren Helm, Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson plus reserve goaltender Keith Kinkaid. Of less importance but still minor league players who suited up for the Avalanche in Alex Galchenyuk, Charles Hudon and Mikhail Maltsev would need to get re-signed in order to return.
Not all will return as always but the decisions among the group will be key. It might be time to say goodbye to some veterans or long-term members of the team if they price themselves out of the budget. Forecasting the health of the veterans is something the Avalanche might want to focus on if they don’t want to continue being the most impacted team by Man Games Lost this century. Hint, it wasn’t just the toll of a long Stanley Cup run that came up once.
Make tough decisions
Without pulling a rabbit out of the hat there seems to be a deficit in all areas of tradable (valuable) assets, cap space and prospects ready for the show. That is going to make filling holes let alone improvements difficult. Gabe Landeskog’s outlook for the next season has been clarified with him expected to miss the entire regular season and Val Nichushkin’s situation might not clear up anytime soon. Those two dictate where a good chunk of the cap goes and are a big part of what makes a successful top six, which are very difficult to replace.
If Landeskog’s $7 million cap hit is going to LTIR and get used elsewhere the answer isn’t to go out and sign a big free agent to term, which isn’t how the Avalanche operate anyway. One option is to take on short term overpriced players that capped teams are desperate to unload, which could also bring in usable assets for the deadline or in the future, for example Sean Monahan last season was sent to Montreal along with a first round pick. Another is to offer a big one year contract to a UFA looking to Cup chase, perhaps Vladimir Tarasenko who can still put the puck in the net could fit the bill.
Any type of trade with the lack of assets the Avalanche possess is going to become a tough decision. If their best chip, which at this point is probably the 2024 first round pick with the uncertainty of the roster heading into next season, can be used to get a good young player with team control then that is an attractive option, and if not then things get tricky. Moving a roster player such as giving up on the upside of Alex Newhook or monetizing the last year of Devon Toews’ contract would have to be in careful consideration but could bring a Nazem Kadri type of impactful return.
Bring in better depth
The Avalanche went with familiar veterans last offseason to mixed results. If guys such as Cogliano and Jack Johnson can return for a million or less then they could still help as leadership and dependable depth but the answer can’t be to just bring the band back together.
The rejected RFA cohort who won’t receive qualifying offers from their original organizations seems to be where other teams are finding bargains for players like Sam Steel and Sonny Milano who were smart pickups for at or near league minimum prices. Someone like Max Comtois who clearly needs a change of scenery will be another former highly touted and productive prospect that hits the bargain bin this summer. Going older for someone like Jonathan Drouin might lack upside but if the price is right it is another option.
Of course the best depth is internal depth especially if it’s still on an Entry Level Contract and that leads us to…
Fix the development system
This one isn’t going to happen overnight or even in one summer but there’s no time like the present to enact changes which might eventually pay dividends before the window of contention closes. This is a long and complicated topic but in the short term adding prospects of all ages through development and rookie camp could help supplement another thin draft class and their older NCAA free agent pickups. A plan of how to move along prospects who could graduate to the NHL in the coming season is also critical to hammer out now.