*NOTE* This piece was largely written before Patrick Roy resigned from his positions of Head Coach and Vice President of Hockey Operations. It was originally intended to be about the Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy management team. The Roy-kic (Roy and Sakic) era is still the focus of this piece as is Joe Sakic’s track record as General Manager.
“The Avs are a tire fire.” “What are the Avs doing?” “LOLorado.” “Sakic doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
These are some of the many statements I have read on multiple occasions blanketed across social media accounts. I even see these kinds of statements in comment sections in connection to news regarding the Avs. Even though the Avs have made some moves in recent years to justify the above statements, I honestly believe that not only are those statements misinformed, they’re even a bit ignorant.
Before I get into disproving the conception that the Avs are a horribly run franchise, I first want to get into why the Avs get a ton of heat in the first place. And people will say the Avs make terrible moves, that’s why they get the heat. If they didn’t make terrible moves, they wouldn’t get heat for it. I’ll get into the Avs moves in more detail but first thing’s first.
I personally believe why the Avs get a ton of heat is because of the media. Let me explain and I’ll use the last couple of months as an example.
Respected media insiders such as TSN’s Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie as well as Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman have talked ad nauseum for the past few months about the Avs looking to trade star players Tyson Barrie, Matt Duchene, and even Gabriel Landeskog. The headlines read “THE AVS ARE LOOKING TO TRADE DUCHENE/BARRIE/LANDESKOG/FILL IN THE BLANK” but the story reads something entirely different.
The story goes on to say the Avs are willing to listen on offers for those players but will only trade them if they get the perfect offer. But the headlines doesn’t say that. The headlines just say the Avs want to trade their star players. People on social media read that and think “what idiots, why would they want to trade their best players?” “What a tire fire” “What a horribly run team” etc, etc. And soon, other people read what others are saying and are convinced that this is true. It’s being said so much that people think that the Avs are a laughing stock is a fact.
And you might think that’s a bit of a stretch but it really isn’t. I’ve seen many conversations from people on Twitter saying how a certain team could fleece the Avs in a trade because the Avs are idiots and don’t know what they’re doing. Which brings me to the point of the blog: It’s a misconception that the Avs are horribly managed and it’s a view that is ignorantly misinformed.
The Situation They Stepped Into
Lot of things are said about Joe Sakic (and Patrick Roy)’s ability or inability to run a franchise. Before I really get into things let’s take a look at the situation Sakic (and Roy) inherited when they were hired in May of 2013.
At the time of Sakic (and Roy)’s hiring, the Avalanche finished the lock out shortened season last in the western conference and second last in the entire NHL, missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season. The Avalanche were fortunate enough to win the draft lottery, winning it over the last place Florida Panthers. They would then select phenom Nathan MacKinnon with the first overall selection.
Sure, when Sakic (and Roy) were hired in May 2013 they inherited some great young talent with the likes of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stastny, Erik Johnson and Semyon Varlamov but their prospect pool was something entirely different.
The top 10 prospects that Roy and Sakic inherited were forwards Joey Hishon, Mitchell Heard, Troy Bourke, and Colin Smith, defensemen Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott, and Duncan Siemens, and goaltenders Calvin Pickard, Sami Aittokallio and Kieran Millan.
And with all due respect, that just isn’t good at all. That is grim as grim gets. Not only did Sakic (and Roy) inherit a team that finished second last in the NHL but a team with a very poor prospect pipeline. The only NHL-ers out of that group to this day are Tyson Barrie and Calvin Pickard (who will begin his first full year as an NHL goaltender at the start of the 2016-17 season).
Now let’s take a look at the Avs top 10 prospects as of right now.
The Avs’ top 10 prospects today include forwards Mikko Rantanen, Tyson Jost, J.T. Compher, A.J. Greer, Jean-Christophe Beaudin and Cameron Morrison, defensemen Chris Bigras, Nicholas Meloche and Sergei Boikov, and goaltender Spencer Martin.
Now that is a night and day difference between the Avs prospect pool 3 years ago compared to now. And I didn’t even mention forward Julien Nantel or defensemen Will Butcher, Anton Lindholm, Mason Geertsen and Andrei Mironov.
All 10 of these players should be NHL players, with the Avs or some other team. And despite a poor 2014 draft where the Avs only managed to sign only 2 of their draftees, the Avs have still built a solid prospect pipeline. And although the pipeline may still lack high end skill/talent, all of the guys listed above should make an NHL team in some role.
The point I’m trying to make here is that people criticize Sakic (and up until recently Roy) for not knowing what their doing but in reality, in a span of 3 years the Sakic-led Avs have managed to replenish a starved and weak prospect pool with players who have true NHL potential. Sakic (and Roy) have definitely rebuilt the prospect pipeline.
The 2014 Draft / Boedker Trade
Since I’m on the subject of drafting and prospects, I might as well as touch on the 2014 draft. On all accounts, the 2014 draft was nothing short of a disaster. That year the Avs, who didn’t have a 2nd round pick, drafted Conner Bleackley, Kyle Wood, Nick Magyar, Alexis Pepin, Anton Lindholm, Maximilian Pajpach, and Julien Nantel.
The Avs’ top two picks in this draft Conner Bleackley and Kyle Wood were eventually traded along with Alex Tanguay by the Avs to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Mikkel Boedker. The trade was made as the Avs were making a push for the final wildcard spot in the 2016 NHL playoffs. This trade ended up being a disaster for the Avs as the Avs ultimately missed the playoffs and Avs couldn’t re-sign Mikkel Boedker who signed with the San Jose Sharks as an unrestricted free agent. Kyle Wood would eventually sign an entry level contract with the Coyotes and Conner Bleackley would re-enter the 2016 NHL draft and be drafted by the St. Louis Blues.
And yes I’m aware that the above paragraph is kind of contradicting the point of this blog but it was a trade that had high risk and high reward. And unfortunately it didn’t land in the Avs’ favor. But it’s easy to look back in hindsight and call the Avs idiots for making the trade. But if you really look at it, the Avs didn’t lose a whole lot. Alex Tanguay is in the twilight of his career and was not in the Avs’ future plans. The Avs were not going to sign Bleackley to an ELC (entry-level contract) according to Avs GM Joe Sakic. Although, if the Avs didn’t sign Conner Bleackley they would have received a compensatory 2nd round pick in the 2016 draft. And as for Kyle Wood, he might be the biggest blow of the trade. However, the Avs have a ton of good defensive prospects so losing Wood isn’t a huge blow to the franchise.
As for the rest of the draft class, the Avs chose not to offer contracts to Nick Magyar, Alexis Pepin and Maximilian Pajpach. They did choose to sign 5th round pick Anton Lindholm and 7th round pick Julien Nantel. Both of these players are expected to play for the Avs’ AHL affiliate team the San Antonio Rampage for the 2016-17 campaign.
But when the news came out that the Avs chose not to sign most of their 2014 draft class many people on social media lambasted the Avs. “A banner year for them,” “What are they doing?” etc, etc. Many people roasted the Avs for not signing most of the draft class and again many people mocked the Avs for being a ‘tire fire’.
But here’s the thing that those people weren’t seeing or chose not to see. People criticized the Avs for not signing most of the draft class. But is that the issue? No, it is not. The issue isn’t that they didn’t sign those players, the issue was that they drafted those players in the first place. And that’s been the problem with the Avs since basically they moved to Denver in 1995. It’s drafting (and developing too but the main problem here was drafting).
And that leads to my second point. Rick Pracey the man who was head of scouting for the Avs and was responsible for the 2014 draft was fired only months after the draft. People laugh at the draft class and laugh at the Avs for drafting/not signing the players but don’t applaud the Avs for firing the man who was responsible for the train wreck that is the 2014 draft.
Alan Hepple is now the man in charge of scouting/drafting for the Avs and it’s been that way for the last two drafts. And those drafts (2015 and 2016) especially the 2015 draft is seen as one of the best drafts in Avalanche history… or has the potential to be.
Point being made here: The Avs brass saw a major flaw in their scouting/drafting and fixed it. It seems if they didn’t know what they were doing no changes would have been made. They pinpointed a problem and dealt with it.
The Paul Stastny Situation
One of the first big decisions that the Sakic led front office had to make was that surrounding the future of Paul Stastny in an Avs uniform. Since the Avs have gotten a lot of flack for how they handled the situation there was no way I couldn’t touch on it.
So let’s go back to the start. Paul Stastny was selected by the Avs in the 2nd round of the 2005 draft. After he finished his 2nd year with the University of Denver Pioneers, Paul Stastny signed an ELC with the Avs. In his first two years with the Avs, Stastny put up 149 points in 148 games. In his 3rd season (which was the final year of his 3 year ELC) Stastny signed a 5 year, $33 million contract extension with the Avs.
In the first year of his new contract, Stastny totaled a career high of 79 points. Unfortunately for the Avs, this was Stastny’s peek. In the final four years of his contract with the Avs, he put up 57 points in 74 games, 53 points in 79 games, 24 points in 40 games and 60 points in 71 games.
And that 60 point season happened to be the final year of his contract. And that season also happened to be the first year with Patrick Roy behind the Avalanche bench and Joe Sakic leading the charge in the front office.
Ultimately, it would be Stastny’s final year with the Avs as he left for division rivals St Louis Blues signing a 4 year, $28 million contract on July 1, 2014. Many have criticized the Avs for letting this happen, getting zero assets in return and letting Stastny walk for nothing. But it’s easy to criticize in hindsight. Now let’s take a close look at the situation.
The season was the 2013-14 campaign. That campaign was memorable for many reasons, notably Patrick Roy’s first year as a head coach in the NHL as well as Nathan MacKinnon’s rookie season. It was also the season where the Avs rocketed up the standings and became a top team.
So here was the situation. The NHL trade deadline was approaching and the Avs, who hadn’t made the playoffs since 2010, were firmly in a playoff spot. Paul Stastny, who was in the final year of his contract, was a major part of the Avs’ success. Stastny also claimed at the time that he was willing to sign a ‘hometown discount’ and a remain a member of the Avs.
Take all that into perspective. The Avs were a team who hadn’t made the playoffs in 4 years. The fanbase was starving for some playoff hockey. Stastny had said publicly that he would sign a hometown discount. Stastny was also a major part of the team. Now why in the world would the Avs trade Paul Stastny in this scenario? If the Avs were in the same position they were in the previous season (where they finished last in the western conference) and they didn’t deal Stastny then that’s a different story. In fact, if the Avs were at the bottom of the league they would have dealt Stastny.
The Avs finished the season 2nd in the western conference and 1st in the Central Division. And although they weren’t at that position at the trade deadline, can you name a time where a top team traded their 1st line center at the deadline? ….. No?
Point here: The Avs were put in a tough situation where it was damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Very easy to criticize in hindsight but if you put everything into perspective, they really had no choice.
The Ryan O’Reilly Situation
The Ryan O’Reilly saga was long and painful for Avalanche fans. It all came to a head at the 2015 draft. Ryan O’Reilly, who had one year left on his contract before he would become an unrestricted free agent, was traded by the Colorado Avalanche to the Buffalo Sabres.
I started to write about Ryan O’Reilly’s history with the Avs but it was turning into such a long write up I decided to stop. So, I’ll just stick to the actual trade. And the Avs have taken a lot of heat in some circles for making the trade. The Avs traded O’Reilly along with Jamie McGinn to Buffalo for Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Compher, and the 31st overall pick in the 2015 draft. The Avs would then trade the 31st overall pick to the San Jose Sharks for the 39th overall pick as well as a 2016 2nd round pick and a 2017 6th round pick. The 2016 and 2017 picks were re-acquired by the Avs. The Avs initially traded those picks a year earlier to San Jose for Brad Stuart.
With the 39th overall pick, the Avs selected power-forward A.J. Greer out of Boston University. The Avs used the 2016 2nd round pick on Cameron Morrison, who was named rookie of the year in the USHL playing for the Youngstown Phantoms. Buffalo would eventually trade Jamie McGinn to Anaheim for a 3rd round pick. They would then flip that pick to Nashville for the rights to Jimmy Vesey.
So the Avs took a ton of heat for trading the young two-way stud centerman Ryan O’Reilly. And I don’t understand why. Sure, Ryan O’Reilly is an incredible player. A player that can do it all.
But it’s very clear that Ryan O’Reilly’s time was done in Denver. And what happened with Paul Stastny had a major influence on how the Avs handled this situation. People criticized the Avs for getting nothing in return for Paul Stastny and letting him walk for nothing. Ryan O’Reilly, at the time of the trade, was one year away from unrestricted free agency.
The Avs loved having Ryan O’Reilly and it seemed Ryan O’Reilly loved playing for the Avs. But in the negotiating room, there was no love lost. The Avs and the O’Reilly camp always butted heads when it came to O’Reilly’s worth.
O’Reilly wanted $7 million or more on a long term contract and Avs wanted O’Reilly for around $6 million per on a long term contract. Obviously, that’s a wide gap. I’m personally a huge Ryan O’Reilly fan but I don’t think he’s a $7 million-plus guy. But that’s a different argument altogether.
So the Avs were faced with a tough decision. Already having a history of brutal negotiations with O’Reilly and far apart on a new contract, O’Reilly had all the leverage as he was one year away from being a UFA. So it was either pay the guy you can’t afford which would lead to a lack of team depth or trade him. And also the Avs couldn’t afford to sit and wait for a perfect trade because the longer they wait to trade O’Reilly the more his stock decreases.
And they traded him. And what they got for a guy they were going to lose for nothing is forward Mikhail Grigorenko (who at the time of writing this is 22 years old), d-man Nikita Zadorov (who is now 21) and prospect J.T. Compher. Compher in the 2015-16 campaign captained the Michigan Wolverines where he scored 16 goals and 63 points in 38 games.
Mikhail Grigorenko is expected to be part of the Avs top 6 for next season and Nikita Zadorov is expected to be a NHL regular as well. J.T. Compher will be competing for an opening spot on the Avs as well.
The Avs also have 3 more pieces because of the O’Reilly trade. A.J. Greer, Cameron Morrison and also a 6th round pick in the 2017 draft. A.J. Greer will play for the Avs minor league affiliate the San Antonio Rampage for the 2016-17 campaign. Cameron Morrison, who was named USHL rookie of the year, is bounded for the University of Notre Dame.
Does anyone not see what an unbelievable return this is for a guy they were going to lose for nothing? Mikhail Grigorenko is the oldest player in the trade and has a 1994 birth date. Sure it’s not granted that the pieces are going to turn out but the potential is there.
Also consider that if the Avs did re-sign O’Reilly they wouldn’t have Carl Soderberg (who was brought in as O’Reilly’s replacement and scored more even strength points than him this past season), Francois Beauchemin most likely and also Grigorenko and Zadorov. That’s four players on the team for next season that they wouldn’t have if they didn’t trade O’Reilly. And J.T. Compher might make the team too so it might be five.
Basically, if the Avs did sign O’Reilly they would be a top heavy team with zero depth.
My point here is the Avs got great value for a player that was leaving town anyway. Though the Avs might have traded the best player in the deal, the Avs are a much deeper team because of it and received good young talent with potential. Excellent trade for them.
Bad Into A Positive + Getting Rid Of “Dead Weight”
The Joe Sakic (and Patrick Roy) era aren’t without its faults. There have certainly been some not-so-good moves. Let’s take a look at some of those.
Firstly, the signings of Nate Guenin and Nick Holden during the 2013 off-season. The fact that the Avs sign these guys in the first place isn’t bad. They were smart, cheap signings meant for their minor league team and/or emergency call ups.
That didn’t end up being the case as both Guenin and Holden became staples of the Avs blueline during the 2013-14 season, the first season of the Sakic-Roy era.
Halfway through the season, Sakic signed Nate Guenin to2 year, $1.6 million contract season. At the end of the season, Nick Holden who had 1 year left on his contract was signed to a 3 year, $4.95 million contract extension.
Also, at the start of the 2013-14 season the Avs claimed Marc-Andre Cliche off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings. Then in February 2014 the Avs signed him to a 2 year, $1.4 million contract extension.
At the 2014 trade deadline, the Avs traded a 2nd round pick to the Calgary Flames for goaltender Reto Berra. He was brought in to replace J.S. Giguere as the backup to Semyon Varalmov going forward and was signed to a 3 year, $4.35 million contract extension.
On July 1, 2014 the Avs traded a 2016 2nd round pick and a 2017 6th round pick to the San Jose Sharks for aging defenseman Brad Stuart. At the time of the trade Brad Stuart was 34 years old and had one year left on his contract. And before the 2014-15 season began, the Avs signed Brad Stuart to a 2 year, $7.2 million contract.
Nate Guenin is a guy that his teammates loved but the fans really didn’t like. He wasn’t bad in his first year in Colorado but many point to Semyon Varlamov’s absolutely brilliant standing-on-his-head performance that year for the reason why Guenin wasn’t bad. Many believe Varlamov covered up Guenin’s faults and warts of his game. Advanced stats would indicate this was the case as well. Nothing drove Avs fans more crazier than seeing Guenin paired with Tyson Barrie or Guenin being played over ‘better’ or more capable d-men in his 3 years in Colorado. Many dubbed Guenin “the anchor”.
Nick Holden had an impressive first year with the Avs. He eventually became a top 4 d-men with the Avs and just wasn’t capable of doing so consistently. Holden was asked to play over his head and sometimes he did fine. Other times… well… Nick Holden was subjected to a lot of criticism from Avs fans. Nick Holden wasn’t/isn’t a terrible defensemen. He was just utilized terribly and given a responsibility he couldn’t handle.
Marc-Andre Cliche was a player many believed shouldn’t be playing in the NHL and he ended up playing 150 games for the Avs over the course of two seasons.He added practically zero offense and his defensive game was nothing to brag about either. In the end, the coaching staff believed the same thing and he didn’t play one game for the Avs in the 2015-16 campaign.
Reto Berra was actually a pretty decent backup goaltender. But was he worth a 2nd round pick and an expensive 3 year contract extension? Avs fans (and I guess everyone else) would tell you no. And that is precisely why Avs fans didn’t welcome him with open arms. Berra was doomed from the start. The acquisition cost was way too high to stomach. Also, the rising stock of young goaltender Calvin Pickard didn’t help Berra’s case either.
Brad Stuart was once a great defensman in the NHL. But by the time the Avs got a hold of him, Brad Stuart was not the Brad Stuart of old. He was just old and worn down. This might be the worst decision made during Sakic’s tenure. High acquisition cost and then signed him to an expensive contract extension without playing a single game for the Avs. Worn down and injury prone, Stuart would play only 71 games over the course of two seasons with the Avs.
Yeah, looking back at these moves it would be hard to make the case that the Avs management are a competent bunch. But you know what? This was their first year and they were still learning how to navigate the waters.
And guess what? It looks like they have learned from past mistakes.
The 33 year old Nate Guenin who played 173 games over the span of 3 seasons in Denver was not offered a new contract by the Avs after the 2015-16 season. He would eventually sign with the Anaheim Ducks.
Marc-Andre Cliche was traded at the the 2016 NHL trade deadline. He went to the New York Islanders minor league team while the Avs got back Taylor Beck who played for the Avs minor league team. Cliche is now with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL and Taylor Beck is with the Edmonton Oilers organization.
Nick Holden, still with two years left on his contract, was traded at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the New York Rangers for a 2017 4th round pick. This would allow the Avs to shed much needed salary in order to sign RFA’s Nate MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie, Mikhail Grigorenko and Calvin Pickard to new deals. This move also allows the Avs to give more time to some of their younger d-men such Nikita Zadorov and Chris Bigras.
Reto Berra had one year left on his contract before he was traded to the Florida Panthers for Rocco Grimaldi before the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Berra, seen as an expensive backup, had lost his job to Calvin Pickard. With the Avs needing to save money in order to re-sign MacKinnon, Barrie, Grigorenko and Pickard, Berra was traded for Grimaldi, a former 2nd round pick. Sensational asset and cap managment here.
And finally Brad Stuart. He was bought out of his final year of his contract. Though the Avs received no salary cap relief for doing so, Stuart was just a guy occupying a roster spot. This was a great move as it showed the Avs weren’t afraid of admitting when they made a mistake. And also, the 2nd and 6th round picks they traded to San Jose for Brad Stuart the Avs re-acquired with the 31st overall pick they received in the Ryan O’Reilly as well as an additional 2nd round pick. Not too shabby for a terrible front office eh?
My point here is that although Sakic made some poor decisions, he was a young GM at the time and has since rectified them by making great movies. Sakic signed those players as stop gaps. And he has now dropped all of that ‘dead weight’.
The 2016 Off-Season
When people say the Avs front office is a tire fire it’s ignorance above all else. And the 2016 off-season is the prime example of evidence that supports that those statements are ignorant. Because if you look at what the Avs as an organization did this off-season it would indicate that the organization has a vision and they know what they’re doing.
I’m just going to briefly point out the contract extensions given to Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie. I’ll talk more about that below.
So let’s look at what the Avs did this off-season. As pointed out above, they dropped the dead weight of Brad Stuart, Nick Holden, Nate Guenin and Reto Berra. In the process of getting rid of these guys, the Avs cleared much needed cap to extend MacKinnon and Barrie as well acquiring Rocco Grimaldi and a 2017 4th round pick.
All of these guys are considered stop gaps. The Avs successfully moved these guys out and acquired assets. They cleared over $2 million in cap room which ended up being needed as the MacKinnon and Barrie extensions has left the Avs with under $1 million in cap space. Very savvy moves from Joe Sakic. He didn’t get caught with his pants around his ankles and locked up core pieces.
Also during the off-season the Avs drafted Tyson Jost with the 10th overall selection at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Obviously no one knows how prospects are going to turn out but by all accounts this was a great selection made by the Avalanche. TSN’s Craig Button and Bob McKenzie rave about Tyson Jost’s overall play.
Although Jost is a ‘small’ player he has all the tangibles and intangibles. A centerman with character and leadership, he’s an excellent two-way player with a great shot and quick feet. He can play in all situations. Many analysts have said this is the guy that will replace what Ryan O’Reilly brought to the Avs during his time with the team. He’s committed to the University of North Dakota for at least the next season.
The Avalanche also signed forward Joe Colborne and Patrick Wiercioch to smart, short term deals this off-season. Colborne is coming off a career year where he scored 19 goals 44 points and was signed to a 2 year, $5 million contract. Wiercioch, although he had a down year, is a analytics darling and was sign to a 1 year, $800K contract. Colborne can play anywhere in the top 9 and Wiercioch adds much needed depth on the blueline. These were smart deals that will help the team on the ice and won’t hurt the team’s financial future.
The Avs also managed to build a pretty solid minor league time for the San Antonio rampage this off-season. The Avs already had some good prospects penciled in for the Rampage lineup next season with the likes of A.J. Greer, Sergei Boikov, Mason Geertsen, Julien Nantel, Anton Lindholm, Spencer Martin and potentially even J.T. Compher and Chris Bigras. And then via free agency the Avs went out and signed numerous top end AHL-ers to help out the youngsters. The players they signed and their track record can be read in this blog: https://wordpress.com/post/avalancheavenue.wordpress.com/702
One of the biggest, and frankly underrated, moves the Avalanche made this off-season was the hiring of Nolan Pratt to their NHL coaching staff.
Nolan Pratt, who was once a player for the Colorado Avalanche when they won the Stanley Cup in 2001, is a coach many people saw becoming a head coach in the NHL eventually. Pratt began his very successful coaching career with the Columbus Blue Jacket’s then-affiliate team the Springfield Falcons in 2011 as an assistant coach. He ended up winning the Calder Cup as an assistant coach with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters this past spring.
Pratt is a well-respected coach and is a wizard on the defensive side of the puck. The Monsters allowed just 38 goals in 17 games during a 15-2 run to the Calder Cup. The Avalanche’s defensive systems have come under much scrutiny for a long time. With the hiring of Nolan Pratt and with him getting to work with the likes Eric Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Nikita Zadorov and Chris Bigras, the Avs blueline should get a ton better. And in turn, so should the Avs.
The Avalanche also revamped their scouting staff by adding John Funk, Lyle Wingert and Wade Klippenstein. Wingert and Klippenstein have specifically been brought on to scout the Western Hockey League (WHL). Outside of Tyson Barrie and Calvin Pickard, the Avs have had little success in drafting players from the WHL. The Avs have only selected two players out of the WHL in the last 3 drafts. The Avalanche organization saw a problem, pin pointed the problem and made changes. Pretty good management there.
My point here the Colorado Avalanche had an outstanding off-season that saw them lock up core players to friendly deals, let go players that hurt them on the ice, signed good players to cheap low-risk deals, and made changes to their coaching and staffing staff. An A to A+ off-season for Joe Sakic.
Inability To Sign Top Players?
I’ve seen this narrative trying to be pushed to the fore front by hockey fans and media. “The Avalanche can’t sign their top players” or “The Avs struggle to sign their top guys,” etc, etc.
Well not only is this laughable but it’s just plain false. It’s a forced narrative that makes Avs fans want to pull their hair out and scream.
“The Avs can’t sign their top players.”
“Okay. Can you name another example?”
“They struggled with Tyson Barrie…”
“They successfully signed Tyson Barrie though.”
The Avalanche’s core pieces as of 2016 are forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, defensemen Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie, and goaltender Semyon Varlamov. You could also make the case Carl Soderberg, Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov are also part of the team’s core. But more or less, the team’s core is MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, Johnson, Barrie and Varlamov.
So let’s look at the Avalanche’s core – their best players… their top players.
The Avalanche, under Sakic’s regime, signed all of those players to long term extensions and for good money. During the 2013 off-season, the first off-season with Sakic leading the charge, the Avs signed Matt Duchene to a 5 year, $30 million contract extension and Gabriel Landeskog to a 7 year, $39 million contract extension. Duchene has an annual cap hit of $6 million while Landeskog’s cap hit is roughly $5.571 million.
In January 2014, the Avs signed goaltender Semyon Varlamov to a 5 year, $29.5 million contract extension, an annual cap hit of $5.9 million per.
In September 2015, before the start of the 2015-16 campaign, the Avs signed Erik Johnson to a 7 year, $42 million contract extension, an annual cap hit of $6 million per.
Then in the summer of 2016, the Avalanche signed former 1st overall pick Nathan MacKinnon to a 7 year, $44.1 million contract extension, a cap hit of $6.3 million per. A few weeks later, the Avs re-signed Tyson Barrie to a 4 year, $22 million contract that carries an annual cap hit of $5.5 million per.
So this “Avs can’t sign their top players” is malarkey. Yes, this couldn’t sign Ryan O’Reilly. But is that a reflection of the team’s inability to sign top players or it the player itself? It would suggest the latter. Everyone else didn’t have a problem signing on the dotted line except Ryan O’Reilly. The Avs wanted him but his salary demands prompted and forced the Avs to trade him.
I guess you could make the argument the Avs couldn’t sign Paul Stastny either. Whatever. Stastny had once signed a long term deal with the deal and decided he wanted a fresh start somewhere else.
My point here is that it’s ludicrous to say the Avs struggle to sign their top players when there is evidence to support the contrary. The Avs can and have signed numerous core players. I guess people like to push the narrative the other direction.
So what does the future hold for the Colorado Avalanche?
Well… The Avalanche currently have their entire core (MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, Barrie, Johnson, Varlamov) locked up for AT LEAST the next 3 seasons. This is massive!
Going into next summer the Avs will have Jarome Iginla, Brad Stuart and most likely John Mitchell off the books. With Iginla carrying a $5.33 million cap hit, Stuart a $3.6 million cap hit and John Mitchell a $1.8 million cap hit, the Avs will have roughly $10.7 million extra to add complementary pieces to go along side their core.
And that doesn’t take into account the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft where the Avs will lose one player. The Avs will most likely lose one of Carl Soderberg, Mikhail Grigorenko or Calvin Pickard. It really depends if Francois Beauchemin will waive his No-Movement clause. But let’s say if Las Vegas chooses to select Carl Soderberg, that will be additional $4.5 million off the books for the Avs. And if that does come to fruition (IF it comes to fruition) the Avs would have over $15 million to play with next summer. And the players the Avs need to re-sign next summer? Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Eric Gelinas are the biggest names. They shouldn’t cost much so the Avs are in a beautiful spot to add pieces to their already young and talented core.
As far as prospects, the Avs have some good ones. Of course Zadorov and Grigorenko are still young and haven’t come into their own yet but the Avs also have the likes of Mikko Rantanen, J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost, Chris Bigras, Sergei Boikov, A.J. Greer, Cameron Morrison, Julien Nantel, J.C. Beaudin in their pipeline.
My point here is the Colorado Avalanche, for the first time in a long time, are in the right hands and headed in the right direction. Not only are Joe Sakic and his staff committed to patiently build the Avs into a playoff contender they once were but they are also committed to building a successful and talented prospect pipeline… something that the Colorado Avalanche organization never had.
The narrative of “The Avalanche front office are a tire fire” gets tirelessly pushed by media and fans of hockey in general.
Frankly, it’s just an ignorant and misinformed opinion that if you took the time to analyze what the Avalanche have done and what they are doing, you would come away with an opinion that is the complete opposite.
Unfortunately a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge this. Instead they want to dump on another franchise because it’s fun and easy to do and because other people say it, it might be true.
But it’s just notthe case. Joe Sakic’s as a General Manager is a like a fine wine. He’s getting better with age. He’s maturing. Every year he makes better and smarter decisions.
Whether you wanna agree or not, the evidence is there.
“The Avalanche front office are a tire fire” is nothing more than a greatly misinformed, ignorant statement. It’s merely a misconception.