Eyes on the Dollar Preseason Edition: Colorado Avalanche

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:54 am by Cam Lewis

This is a 30 part series analyzing the short and long term cap situations of each team in the NHL as we head into the 2015-16 season. The stats and information that I use in these articles is courtesy of Hockey Reference, War on Ice, and NHLNumbers. 

After what pretty much everybody viewed as a massive overachievement in 2013-14, the Avs fell back down to earth last season, finishing dead last in the loaded Central Division. They had a busy offseason, dealing Ryan O’Reilly to the Sabres, and signing Francois Beauchemin, Carl Soderberg, and Blake Comeau, and they’re going to have another busy offseason next summer as Erik Johnson is set to become a UFA, and Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie will also be in need of new contracts. 

OFFSEASON RECAP

  • Traded a 2016 sixth round pick to the Bruins for the UFA rights of Carl Soderberg, then signed him to a five year contract with a $4.75 million cap hit.
  • Traded Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn to the Sabres for Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, JT Compher, and a 2015 second round pick. 
  • Signed Francois Beauchemin to a three year contract with a $4.50 million cap hit. 
  • Signed Blake Comeau to a three year contract with a $2.40 million cap hit. 
  • Signed Mikhail Grigorenko to a one year, $0.675 million contract. 
  • Traded Stefan Elliott to the Coyotes for Brandon Gormley. 
  • IN: Carl Soderberg, Blake Comeau, Mikhail Grigorenko, JT Compher, Nikita Zadorov, Francois Beauchemin, Brandon Gormley.
  • OUT: Ryan O’Reilly, Danny Briere, Jamie McGinn, Jordan Caron, Max Talbot, Jan Hejda, Ryan Wilson, Stefan Elliott. 

FORWARDS

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Remember a couple years ago when the Colorado Avalanche defied all logic and finished the season with the best record in the Central Division despite having some of the worst underlying stats in the league? Well, their very unsustainable PDO bubble burst last season and the Avs fell back down to earth, finishing seventh in the Central and 11th in the Western Conference. The Avs finished the season with the second worst even strength Corsi For percentage at even strength — ahead of only the hopeless Sabres — and probably could have ended up with an even worse record had it not have been for strong goaltending and the fifth highest shooting percentage in the league. In fact, no skater on the Avs had a Corsi For percentage above 50 per cent. The closest were Nathan MacKinnon (49.5), Gabriel Landeskog (48.6), and the now departed Ryan O’Reilly (47.2). 

If you don’t follow the Avs at all, you probably didn’t know that Jarome Iginla led the team in goals and tied for the team’s lead in points with Gabriel Landeskog. You also probably didn’t realize how much Nathan MacKinnon struggled in his sophomore season. While MacKinnon’s peripheral stats actually improved, his production took a pretty big hit, as he went from averaging 0.77 points per game to 0.59. His production at even strength has remained pretty consistent through his two seasons, but he suffered a big drop in power play production in his sophomore year. In his rookie campaign, 17 of MacKinnon’s 63 points came on the power play (27 per cent), and last year he had just seven power play points (18.4 per cent). This is probably because Colorado’s power play percentage dropped from fifth best in the league in 2013-14 (19.7 per cent) to second worst a year later (14.9 per cent). That being said, I’m sure MacKinnon will be fine, especially considering his possession numbers actually improved despite making more starts in the defensive zone than he did in his rookie season. 

Did the Avs get any better this summer? They traded away one of their most effective forwards, Ryan O’Reilly, who’s going to be replaced on the depth chart by either Mikhail Grigorenko — who they received in the deal with Buffalo — or Carl Soderberg, who they signed as a free agent. O’Reilly was consistently one of Colorado’s best all around forwards during his six seasons with the Avs. He produces at a solid level offensively, but he also consistently had a positive Corsi For percentage in relation to his teammates despite making pretty heavy defensive zone starts and facing difficult opposing competition. Soderberg, on the other hand, broke into the league in 2013-14 as a 28 year old, and has put up 48 and 44 respectively in his first two seasons. Grigorenko has struggled mightily since being drafted by the Sabres 12th overall in the 2012 draft. In fact, he only has six goals and eight assists in 68 games, so the Avs are probably hoping Patrick Roy, his former coach when he played for the Quebec Ramparts in the QMJHL, can get his career on track. 

While the drop from O’Reilly to Soderberg/Grigorenko/whoever else really is pretty significant, it was necessary in a financial sense. O’Reilly was set to become a UFA at the end of the 2015-16 season. He ended up signing a seven year extension with the Sabres with an average cap hit of $7.5 million. With Nathan MacKinnon’s entry level deal coming to an end after this season, and a handful of other contracts on the blue line to deal with on top of that, the Avs were best to move on from O’Reilly. The Avs have seven forwards signed beyond 2015-16 who have a combined cap hit of $27.2 million. Their biggest concern next summer will be signing Nathan MacKinnon to a new deal, they’ll also have to sign Mikhail Grigorenko and Dennis Everberg, among others to new RFA deals. 

DEFENCEMEN

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Like I mentioned earlier, the Avs have two key defencemen with expiring contracts at the end of the season. The Avs have four defencemen signed beyond 2015-16 at a combined cap hit of just under $12 millionn but unfortunately, their two best defencemen, Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie, will both need new contracts at the end of the season. On top of that, newly acquired Brandon Gormley will also need a new RFA deal at the end of the year, and Nikita Zadorov, who the Avs acquired as part of the O’Reilly deal, will also see his entry level deal expire at the end of the 2016-17 season. 

Johnson, who has averaged 0.49 points per game in his last two seasons, is finally emerging as the top pairing defencemen the St. Louis Blues were hoping for when they drafted him first overall in the 2006 NHL draft. Over the past two seasons, Johnson has taken on a bigger role with the Avs. His ice time has increased, and he’s facing more difficult opposing competition while making heavier defensive zone starts. Despite the more difficult splits, Johnson managed to have the best relative Corsi For percentage of any defenceman on the Avs last season. At 27 years of age, the Avs will certainly be trying to lock him up to a long term contract. That being said, with Mark Giordano inking an extension with the Flames, Johnson could possibly be the most coveted free agent defenceman on the UFA market next summer, so he’s going to command a decent pay raise from his currently $4.25 million annual salary. Tyson Barrie, who will need a new RFA deal at the end of the season, is blossoming into an elite offensive defenceman. Last season, he put up 12 goals and 41 assists — good for eighth in the NHL among defencemen. Barrie is a few years from hitting UFA status, but he can look at the likes of Dougie Hamilton, Justin Faulk, and Oliver Edman-Larsson as comparable young defencemen when negotiating a new contract this summer.   

While it’s difficult to argue that Colorado improved their group of forwards this summer, it’s pretty clear that their defensive core moved in the right direction. They added Francois Beauchemin on a three year deal who will be a nice fit next to either Johnson or Barrie in a defensive role. They also added Nikita Zadorov and Brandon Gormley to a really nice looking group of D prospects, including Duncan Siemens and Chris Bigras. That being said, the main concern for Colorado in terms of their blue line will be getting Johnson and Barrie signed to long term contracts.

GOALTENDERS 

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There isn’t much to talk about in terms of Colorado’s goaltending situation right now. They have a really good goalie in Semyon Varlamov locked up for four more years, so barring injury, they’re set in net for the next little while. The most interesting thing is what the Avs plan on doing with Calvin Pickard and Reto Berra. While Pickard is pretty obviously the superior goaltender, it’s hard to say whether or not the Avs want the 22 year old Pickard spending a good chunk of the year on the bench when he could be playing full time in the AHL. With Varlamov signed long term, the Avs will most likely look to trade Pickard to help fill another hole in the organization, because it’s difficult to imagine the Avs rolling with a 1A/1B tandem of him and Varlamov, especially considering they’re paying Varlamov $5.9 million a season to be a full time goaltender. 

CONCLUSION 

The Avs have a big summer ahead of them as Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie, and Erik Johnson, three of their most important players, are in need of new contracts. While losing Ryan O’Reilly was unfortunate — like losing Paul Stastny was a year before — and it obviously made the team weaker in the short term, it was a necessary move because the Avs need as much cap room as they can get in order to sign all of their impending free agents to new deals. As of right now, the Avs have seven forwards, four defencemen, and two goalies signed beyond the 2015-16 season at a combined cap hit of roughly $46 million. That’ll give them, depending on where the cap ceiling ends up, somewhere around $25 to $30 million to deal with those key free agents and flesh out and improve their roster. The Avs already have part of their core — Landeskog, Duchene, and Varlamov — signed long term, so if they can get MacKinnon, Barrie, and Johnson signed to nice deals this summer, they’ll have a really good, controlled core to build around for the better part of the next decade.