The Colorado Avalanche are rebuilding. I know that Avalanche fans are sick of hearing that a lot of last season's success was due to luck but that's the reality. Come 2010-11, the Avalanche really are more likely to have a PDO closer to 100 than the 101.6 (92.6% Sv% plus 9.0% Sh%) that they had in 2009-10, which leaves them a mountain of goal differential to make up just to maintain their eighth place finish in the Western Conference. They could easily improve substantially next season and still miss the playoffs. That's the downside.
The upside is that the Avalanche are a young team that is in fact very likely to improve substantially. Several of their best forwards will be twenty-five or under next season (Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, T.J. Galiardi, David Jones, and Peter Mueller) and most of them are still on cheap deals (Duchene, O'Reilly, Galiardi, and Jones). The Avalanche didn't spend to the cap last season and they can now wave good-bye to some pretty poor contracts that have now come to a close. With some intelligent spending the Avalanche could make up the goal differential they'll lose from a regression in percentages plus a whole lot more. After the jump we'll take a look at what the Avalanche have done since the trade deadline and take a peek at their cap situation for 2010-11.
What Have the Avalanche Done Since the Trade Deadline?
Signed F Michael Carman to a two-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $850,000 per year - The Avs made Carman a third round pick in 2006 but the man simply doesn't have enough offense to play in the NHL. He was a senior last season with the University of Minnesota and only scored 18 points in 39 games. I'm surprised they gave him a contract.
Signed F Zach Cohen to a two-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $735,000 per year - The Avalanche signed Cohen as a free agent out of Boston University, a school that also featured two Avalanche draft picks on defense (Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen), so they definitely got an eyeful before making this call. Nonetheless, I find it a tad baffling. (How can something only be a tad baffling? It just can.) Cohen's 25 points in 38 games as a senior was a career high which suggests to me that, like Carman, Cohen doesn't have the offense to play in the NHL.
Signed F Mark Olver to a two-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $850,000 per year - Olver was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and led Northern Michigan in scoring with 49 points in 40 games. He's a talented player but he's also tiny - 5'10'' and 155 lbs. - which means he'll likely need to fill an offensive role to make it in the NHL. He'll need to prove that he deserves a chance by putting up big points in the AHL, but even that may not be enough. Just ask Martin St. Pierre.
Signed D Kevin Shattenkirk to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $1,300,000 per year - Shattenkirk was selected 14th overall in 2007 and is one of several promising defenders that the Avs have signed over the last several months. The Avalanche have five defenders returning from last season so it will be extremely difficult for Shattenkirk or any of the others to make the club out of camp, especially if the Avalanche add a player or two in free agency.
Signed D Colby Cohen to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $875,000 per year - Cohen was drafted by the Avalanche in the second round of the 2007 entry draft and spent the last three seasons playing with Shattenkirk at BU. Cohen is a big defenseman at 6'3'' and 215 lbs. who racked up both points and penalty minutes in all three of his collegiate seasons. After the 2009-10 season, he was named to Hockey East's All-Star Team after scoring 30 points and registering 82 penalty minutes in only 36 games. He and Shattenkirk may be battling for the same spot over the next couple of years. It should be a fun race.
Signed D Adam Foote to a one-way contract for one year at $1,250,000 per year - Foote's game wasn't great last year and the two million dollar pay-cut shows that he knows it. The former shut-down defenseman took a step back from that role in 2009-10 leaving the toughest assignments to teammates Scott Hannan and Kyle Quincey. Despite the drop in competition, Foote was outshot by a greater margin than any other Colorado defender at even strength. Some of that is due to the fact that he was in a mentoring role against second toughs for much of the year - for all you Oiler fans, he was the Steve Staios to Ryan Wilson's Ladislav Smid - but some of it is the fact that Foote is getting older and slower. At this point in his career Foote is probably best suited as a #5 defender which is exactly how he was priced here. Considering Foote's leadership role with the team, his connection to past glory, and the low risk of having only a one-year deal, this is a very good deal for the Avalanche.
Signed D Jonas Holos to a two-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $612,500 per year - Another defender crashes the prospect party. Holos played the last two seasons in the Swedish Elite League with Farjestads and represented Norway in the 2010 Olympics and World Championships. In Vancouver, Holos led Norway in ice time while in Sweden he led Farjestads in points by a defender (though it was only 14). Holos is already twenty-two years old and has played a couple of seasons against men so he's likely a bit more mature than the collegians. If there's a job available in camp, this guy might be the one to snag it.
Signed D Joel Chouinard to a three-year entry-level contract with an NHL cap hit of $566,667 per year - Holy mackerel! These guys have a lot of defensemen! The Avalanche drafted Chouinard 167th overall in 2008, three spots before Holos. In his draft year, Chouinard scored 35 points and recorded 95 penalty minutes in 69 regular season games in the QMJHL. Over the next two seasons the point totals went up and the penalty minute totals went down, culminating in a 19 year-old season that saw him register 68 points in 65 games. That total was good enough for second in the QMJHL but his 23 were good enough for first. At 6'1'' he's not small either but given the depth on the Avs blue, he'll likely spend all of next season in the AHL.
Signed BW David Koci to a one-way contract for one year at $575,000 per year - The "BW" is for Bench Warmer. It is always stupid to waste an NHL roster spot on a goon. For a team like the Avalanche that employs a number of players who can both fight and play a bit, it's a whole new level of stupid.
Signed G Peter Budaj to a one-way contract for one year at $1,125,000 per year - Budaj is an above average back-up goalie and the Avalanche aren't taking on much risk by signing him for just one year. He has some experience as a decent starter which gives provides the Avalanche with insurance in the unlikely event Craig Anderson's game falls apart or the slightly less unlikely event that Craig Anderson's body falls apart.. With Anderson's cap hit sitting at just $1,812,500 this deal makes a lot of sense for both the player (goaltending jobs are scarce) and the team (you already have a guy you trust and he's pretty affordable).
Signed D Raymond Macias to a two-way contract for one year at $550,000 per year - Macias appeared in six games for the Avalanche last year and finished third among regular Lake Erie defenders in +/- with an even rating. He's a depth defender with a little bit of experience who will likely play all of the year in the AHL. But, if the Avalanche get utterly decimated by injuries, it's nice to know that the 11th guy on your depth chart can play a bit.
Signed F Kevin Porter to a two-way contract for one year at $660,000 per year - Porter was one of the two players the Avalanche acquired when they foolishly sent Wojtek Wolski - one of their very best even strength players at only twenty-three years old - to the Phoenix Coyotes. Terrible trade. Terrible. Anyroad, Porter was a huge scorer in the NCAA but last year was his 23 year-old season and he hasn't once cracked a point per game in the AHL. The NHL level has also been a struggle and at this point he's probably not a regular on a winning team. That said, I was surprised that Porter signed a two-way contract for less than his qualifying offer, especially since his AHL salary is just $62,500, a cut from what he earned the year before. That just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The guy should probably fire his agent.
Signed F Philippe Dupuis to a two-way contract for one year at $500,000 per year - Dupuis is now twenty-five years old and had a cup of coffee with the Avalanche in each of the last two seasons. If the Avalanche plan on being a good team in 2010-11, Dupuis will stay on the farm for the whole year.
Traded F T.J. Hensick to the St. Louis Blues for F Julian Talbot - This was a minor trade that saw the Avalanche and Blues swap older prospects who have just finished their entry-level contracts. Hensick is the substantially better offensive player at the AHL level - Hensick scored 1.09 points per game rate in 120 AHL games compared to Talbot's 0.57 in 226 - but has struggled to score at the NHL level. Talbot has never played in the NHL. This is a move that gets the Avalanche something for a player who wanted out of the organization but, in terms of actual player value, it's a clear win for the Blues.
Looking Foward to 2010-11
Those who've read here before know that I like to use the chart below as a cap space guideline. Because it's based on percentages, we need to set a cap figure for 2010-11 and I'll use 57M, which is a slight increase from last season. Here's the chart:
Top 3 Forwards - 27.5% or 15.675M
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0% or 11.4M
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5% or 15.675M
Goaltending - 10.0% or 5.7M
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0% or 8.55M
And here it is again with the players the Avalanche have signed:
Top 3 Forwards - Stastny, ???, ??? - $6,600,000 or 11.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - Hejduk, Duchene, O'Reilly, ???, ???, ??? - $7,100,000 or 12.5%
Top 4 Defenders - Hannan, ???, ???, ??? - $4,500,000 or 7.9%
Goaltending - Anderson, Budaj - $3,062,500 or 5.4%
Bottom 8 Players - McLeod, Galiardi, Jones, Koci, Wilson, Cumiskey, Foote, Liles - $9,922,500 - 17.4%
At least, this is how I would look at the lineup if I were Avalanche GM Mike Sherman. They've spent money in the past, so it seems like it should be an option now but the Avalanche had trouble with attendance last season so I suppose it may not be. Assuming it is, they should spend. It is incredibly important to capitalize on the fact that this team has so many cheap contracts right now and, Marc-Andre Liles aside, no contracts that are really killing them. They have $25.8M to spend and there are very few teams that have half of that. Wowzers could this team ever get good in a hurry. If I'm a fan of the Avalanche I'm hoping desperately that Mike Sherman is a liar when he says that the team won't "take any shortcuts" by bringing in free agents and that he plans to "build from within."
Eight players to sign and $25.8M to sign them. Let's start with the defenders. The Avs need three quality guys who can actually play defense. One of them is restricted free agent Kyle Quincey. I'll aim high on this one and say that the Avs give him the Grebeshkov contract at $3.2M per year. The next step is targetting two more players from outside the organization and if I were the Avs I'd save the big money for the forwards. $5.5M for two defenders probably puts them on the outside looking in when it comes to the big names on the market but could land them former Sabres Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, preferably on two-year deals. A defense led by Hannan, Quincey, Tallinder and Lydman lacks the kind of complete player one would like to have but it is a solid group with some depth in behind and in the minors in case of injury.
That leaves $17.1M left to spend on five forwards. Restricted free agents Chris Stewart and Peter Mueller should be brought back but I would wave good-bye to the rest. Stewart had a monster year but he's only had the one and doesn't have arbitration rights which leads me to believe that the Avs could get a short-term deal done somewhere around $3M which is the same estimate I used for Mason Raymond. Mueller had great numbers with the Avs after arriving in the (oh man was it ever a bad decision) Wolski trade. Even still, he's coming off a concussion and his 37 points in 69 games don't exactly scream "Pay me!" to an arbitrator. I figure $2.5M should be enough to get a deal done. Those two signings leave the Avs with $11.6M to spend on three more forwards and if I'm the Avalanche I go for one of the big prizes in either Ilya Kovalchuk or - my preference - Patrick Marleau. For the sake of argument, let's say that they can get one of them for $7M per seasons which leaves another $4.6M for two quality forwards of which there are several to choose from in the $2.5M range.
I think that's a very good team and if you keep all of the non-superstar signings down to one or two years, you don't hurt yourself when some of the younger players need to get paid. I don't know if this is the way the Avs will roll, but if they do, I think they'll be right in the mix for the division title. If not, and Mike Sherman waits on the kids, they'll be in the mix for the division basement and the decision to burn through Matt Duchene's entry-level contract last Fall becomes very poor indeed.
My next detailed look at the Avalanche will likely be around July 9th after the dust settles and the Avalanche have added a marquee star. Or not. I'd also like to acknowledge capgeek.com for providing all of the contract information.