As the Stanley Cup Finals and 2020-21 season draw to a close, the Colorado Avalanche looks back on a busy month that will include the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, the NHL Entry Draft, and finally the start of the Free Agency on July 28th.
Who of the Avalanche will Seattle choose in the expansion draft?
Tom: I still think it will be Joonas Donskoi unless the Avs surprise us with their protection list. Ryan Graves would be another potential target, but considering how many good defenders there are, Seattle will likely be able to fill its roster with people better than Graves. On the other hand, the front group available to the octopus will be much weaker. A player like Donskoi who can move up and down the line-up will be incredibly valuable to a team that is forced to put together a relatively weak group of strikers. The Kraken will see through his unsustainably high percentage of shots, but he’s the kind of low-maintenance team trainer who wants to fit into their system.
Patrick: Until we get the final protected list of possible surprises (if Tyson Jost gets somehow unprotected he would be a slam dunk pick for Seattle in my opinion) I have to agree with Donskoi who is the best bet. The projected list of available forwards looks terrible. Centers will be extremely expensive, so Ron Francis may bring a flyer about JT Compher as 2C / 3C.
Jackie: Donskoy’s 17 goals give Seattle an option on offense, but a highly analytical team might notice their poor defensive stats and see a 20% shot percentage that may not be worth the nearly $ 8 million he owes over the next two years is. Seattle will be incentivized by many teams to take on bad contracts so they will have to decide where to best spend their remaining cap space. Still, 17 goals are 17 goals and a team that needs an early start cannot ignore this statistic.
Luke: I think Ryan Graves will be taken over by Seattle. A top 4 defender with a good contract for a couple of years is a great asset. Seattle will have teams calling for him and he could be flipped over for picks or players for them.
Vegas made many unexpected decisions in its draft expansion and Seattle could be even more unpredictable given how much they will rely on analytics. Jacob MacDonald and Logan O’Connor both offer strong early returns in limited positions of $ 725,000 for a year and could be under the radar options. Similar players to theirs will be available, but Seattle also has to decide whether to help a conference rival free up significant cap space and over a two-year term, or simply choose a useful, cheap option with a pinch of plus.
Aside from the best strategy available to players, what would you like to see the Avalanche goal in the draft?
Tom: There is nothing, in my opinion, beyond being the best player. Whoever thinks has the highest profit on every pick. This is the only way a team should ever draft. Potential pools are made up of players who ever make a difference at the NHL level, and if they ever do, it is years away. This isn’t the NBA or NFL where the guys come into play right away and you have to take care of position needs. That means the only thing you should worry about is amassing as much talent as you can, no matter what your depth chart looks like.
Given the nature of this year’s draft and the lack of scouting teams I could do, when I’m Sakic I’ll try to sell a few tips, either to go down – turn one lottery ticket into two – or swap out completely to store picks for the 2022 draft.
Patrick: When Sakic sits down with two players with similar grades on a given selection, I think he’s shown that he’s looking for skill and up every time. I would like more center depth, but it’s so hard to find potential top two centers in general. I liked the swings Sakic did on previous designs with players like Justin Barron and am expecting to see more of them.
Jackie: I will propose it until the Avalanche do it: in this area of the late first round they have to design a European. It’s something they almost completely avoided, which is giving out a top 100 picks on a player who continues to develop in Europe. The player will still be out for a couple of years so you won’t have to see it in North America until it is ready or about to be. Many talents have been passed over because they are unwilling to invest in them. In terms of position there is a need in the center and in the gate.
Luke: Best player available. With only 3 picks in this year’s draft so far, my game would be to take the player with the greatest advantage. I would also lean towards a forward just because the forward pipeline is a bit thin. I will repeat what Jackie said about the European way. Having a potential player in the pro leagues is a notch higher than what the CHL offers here. The NCAA route is also another solid option for this year’s draft.
To paraphrase Tom too, if Sakic has decided to go to # 1 this year to find a player who can help them now or try to add picks in drafts 2022 and 2023 (which look very strong), this is also a good option.
What improvements would you like from the free agency?
Patrick: Engagement of the team’s own top free agents must be a priority; But since it seems unlikely that the Avalanche can afford to bring them all back, upgrading the bottom six will be crucial. With Alex Newhook likely to take on the third line center role from the start, for a Cup run in 2022, finding a veteran with some scoring chances to boost his line and make up some of the Saad production loss will be crucial .
Jackie: There probably won’t be much money left to expect the Avalanche to bring back their own players, but mid-depth needs to be addressed. Even if Nazem Kadri, JT Compher and Tyson Jost all return, that is still not good enough and Alex Newhook will be much better pointers on where to get in after a full year in the NHL. It might make sense to bring back a cheap but effective veteran like Paul Stastny when he’s ready to make such a deal. As a 35+ contract candidate, the Avalanche could now also reduce costs with performance bonuses. Oh and stay away from the big names in trade or the market they are waiting for them that the organization has avoided so far.
Luke: Last year Free Agency received the Avalanche Matt Calvert, Pierre-Edward Bellemare, Jonas Donskoi, Ian Cole and Pavel Francouz. They all seem to be the “all around the edge” type of players and I think Sakic will be similar this year. He has tried big game hunting with Taylor Hall, Artemi Panarin and John Tarvares and failed. I can see them trying to get a 3C and a lower 6 wing. Blake Coleman is a guy I really like, but he won’t be cheap. Bringing Saad back is a solid option too.
Seeing the team having a really hard time replacing Kadri in the playoffs really showed me that the middle group of six lack that extra boost to be more than outside of Saad. I think I’ll add at least one guy who can play the top 6 if necessary and is a solid third line guy. Hopefully a C is where I think Sakic and Co. should look.
I believe they will be more active in the trading market. We’ve made it seem like Sakic was dynamite there over the past few years, adding Devon Toews, Brandon Saad, Ryan Graves, Nazem Kadri, Phillip Grubauer, and Andre Burakovsky. I’m expecting a “how the hell did Sakic do it again” trade this summer. Some GMs just never learn.
Tom: When I’m Sakic, I’ll call Taylor Hall one last time. He has spoken in the past about the fact that money is not a driving force in his decision-making. If Brandon Saad leaves, one conceivable scenario is conceivable where Hall could land on a relatively similar deal. If that is possible, the team needs to look into it. Hall still fits nicely into the Avs top-6 and is the kind of seasoned winger who could help Alex Newhook shine on an offensively minded line.
If a legitimate contract renewal were announced tomorrow, who would you want?
Jackie: Despite the fact that Cale Makar is a restricted free agent and therefore has nowhere to go, I would be most relieved to hear that his contract has been made, assuming he is actually long-term as some reports suggest. I understand the urgency and uncertainty surrounding unrestricted free agents is greater, but Makar could be the most important player on this team to be signed.
Tom: For me it has to be Philipp Grubauer. Makar is the main free agent, but as an RFA, the Avalanche can take its time without risking losing a star player. Grubauer must be locked up before the market opens. The last thing Joe Sakic wants to do is let his starter go to the open market because at this point there is a good chance his salary will be inflated and if another team blows Gru away with an offer it will be incredibly difficult to replace him. With Pavel Francouz still having a huge question mark and Jonas Johansson being the only other goalkeeper close to an NHL player in the organization, the Avs absolutely cannot afford to lose Grubauer this summer. He must be the first to be signed.
Patrick: Can I be a little silly? A ten-year extension for Nathan MacKinnon that keeps him well below market value and opens the Avalanche competition window for a decade. The citizens of Denver elect him mayor and give him a key to the city, and the Avalanche wins five consecutive Stanley Cups. (I know it’s not legal, but we can dream right?)
In the real world, I’d love to see Gabriel Landeskog sign a contract that would keep him in his prime in Burgundy and Blue for a fair price. I know he’s capable of hasty decisions and premature punishments, but he draws rave reviews from his teammates, has a physical presence and scores goals. With the “C” on his sweater, Landeskog should stay in Denver for at least the next six seasons.
Luke: I went back and fourth in that regard. Between Cale Makar and Gabe Landeskog. I think both are critical to the group’s progress, both will be great when they fight for the cup. But I think if the Landeskog is announced tomorrow, it will hold the captain down and take the largest UFA off the market. The Avalanche just cannot afford to let anyone speak to him. This deal needs to be finalized. You have 10 days before the Seattle lists are due, I expect it to be in that time frame.
While Cale Makar is very important. He’s an RFA and isn’t going anywhere. It has been reported by Elliotte Friedman that they are talking about an 8 year contract worth 8 million per north. That should inspire Avalanche fans!