With the official 23-man (or less) cap-compliant roster due this afternoon at 3 p.m. mountain time, the Colorado Avalanche still have a few unanswered questions to finalize their own opening night roster.
One assignment was to transfer the professional try-out Jack Johnson to an officially signed player, and that happened yesterday when the Avalanche announced a one-year contract for $ 750,000 for Johnson.
The veteran of 15 seasons and 950 NHL games is now reunited with his friend and teammate Erik Johnson of Team USA, providing a glimpse of a possible Johnson & Johnson pairing on the horizon. Jack Johnson has become a kind of punching bag after several unsuccessful appearances with the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Avalanche are hoping for a handful of more games from the seasoned rearguard.
Johnson played in four of the Avalanche’s six exhibition games and generally looked solid scoring one goal and two assists. He had the best outing of a pair with Bowen Byram, but has also seen time with Ryan Murray, suggesting the Avalanche see him as a third couple or full-back. Since both Devon Toews and Cale Makar were limited by the training camp and neither was suitable for a preseason game, additional insurance was deemed necessary. As long as the Avalanche don’t get cute and force Johnson into the line-up if he gets stuck or something is achieved that resembles a perfectly healthy defensive core. Having a guy like him as seventh defender is only a competitive advantage if he remains a reserve option.
In another list of implicit messages, the Avalanche made another transaction when they put defense attorney Jacob MacDonald on waivers. The move was necessary because he has to approve a reassignment Monday morning before the duty roster deadline expires. For some it was a surprising decision, because MacDonald had become a regular last season and provided the Avalanche with a defender who had good offensive instincts and could be useful in an emergency, although the money angle found was a bit high. It’s possible he doesn’t clear up and get a chance elsewhere, but since the drafting depth from the Colorado Eagles is likely where MacDonald belongs after an average camp and preseason.
The rest of the roster gets tough when it comes to how many exempt (see Entry Level Contracted) players want to keep in the roster. Because of the easy way to send such players up and down, the avalanche does not have to give their hand early, but has to make a decision within the deadline. Pavel Francouz is already in the Injured Reserve which opens a squad spot and it remains to be seen whether Devon Toews will receive the same treatment. It is possible that the Avalanche will keep Toews in the active squad because they don’t need the squad spot and his return is relatively imminent.
The salary cap also comes into play especially after Johnson’s signing, and according to Cap Friendly, there is around $ 1.45 million left for the Avalanche with a 22-man squad. This means one more player can make the team, and it seems like two unlikely candidates as the preseason kicked off with prospects Sampo Ranta and Justin Barron. If Cale Makar really isn’t ready to leave for opening night, that could make Barron more likely. Ranta’s style of play seems to have drawn the coaching staff and he could get a number of games early in the season. However, both could return to the Eagles at some point, even if they make the team now, or both could be cut, which would keep the roster thinner and allow the Avalanche to have even more wiggle room for the daily cap. Lots of options, but it comes down to the final choices.