The guys running this show are cheap, cheap, cheap.
Long version after the jump.
Signed G Jason Bacashihua to a two-way contract for one year at $500,000 per year - Bacashihua is a veteran goalie who's bounced around the minor leagues quite a bit. He has a back-up for the St. Louis Blues in 2005-06 and 2006-07 but has since fallen out of the league and hasn't been able to put up elite numbers in the AHL. Last season he played twenty-two games with the Hershey Bears and posted a .911 save percentage, his best performance since 2003-04. Assuming Bacashihua is the leading candidate for the starting position in Lake Erie, this deal doesn't strike me as being all that good. To put it bluntly, if I had to choose between this guy and Jeff Deslauriers, I'd take Deslauriers.
Traded a fourth round pick in 2012 to the Phoenix Coyotes for F Daniel Winnik and signed F Daniel Winnik to a one-way contract for two years at $950,000 per year - It's hard to know how one ought to value penalty killing skill but it seems like that's one of Winnik's primary contributions. He led Coyotes' forwards in ice time last season and was a part of the PK unit each of the last three. Assuming Winnik was looking for similar money from the Coytoes as he was from the Avalanche, the Coyotes must not think much of his penalty killing. Penalty killing aside, Winnik is a pretty typical big-bodied fourth liner. One point in his favour against some others of his ilk is his ability to draw significantly more penalties than he takes. He's also only twenty-five, so at least in theory, he may eventually be able to step into a slightly bigger role like third minutes at even strength. A good trade and signing by the Avalanche.
Signed D Kyle Quincey to a one-way contract for two years at $3,125,000 per year - I thought that the Grebeshkov contract was aiming high for Quincey but it turns out that's exactly what he got give or take $25,000. Quincey was an important contributor for the Avalanche a year ago, playing on the top defensive pairing with Scott Hannan and having a lot more success than I would have expected from someone with Quincey's pedigree. The wildly positive goal differential results are due largely to some very favourable percentages, but even if he had had league average percentages, he would have ended the year with an even strength goal differential of -8, which is pretty darn good considering the circumstances he faced. His numbers on the power play were much less than what the Avalanche had hoped for, considering how well he'd performed the year before with the Kings, but I have to think that Quincy exceeded expectations overall. The money seems a bit high for a restricted free agent (it's the number I would have expected had they locked him up for five or six years), but at least Quincey isn't unrestricted when the current pact runs out.
Signed D David Liffiton to a two-way contract for one year at $500,000 per year - Liffiton is a physical defender with a bunch of professional experience at the AHL level. Last season, Liffiton scored twenty points, the highest total of his career - he's not being hired for his abilities with the puck. Liffiton's signing makes the competition for ice time in Lake Erie that much more interesting. The Avalanche have plenty of good defense prospects, but it doesn't hurt to make them earn their ice.
Signed F Julian Talbot to a two-way contract for one year at $550,000 per year - Julian Talbot is the player the Avalanche got in exchange for T.J. Hensick. As I said in my last Avalanche article, he's nowhere near as good as Hensick and has actually regressed with each passing year. In 2007-08 Talbot had a very promising season at twenty-two, scoring fifty points and posting a +13. 2008-09 saw those numbers fall to forty-three points and +7 and 2009-10 saw them fall further to thirty-two points and -7. I assume the Avalanche traded for this player because they wanted him, but there's not much there to like.
Signed F Greg Mauldin to a two-way contract for one year at $500,000 per year - Mauldin is an AHL veteran who can score a bit and has been near the top of his team in plus/minus as well. He's averaged 0.6 points per game in the AHL over the last three seasons, but at twenty-eight years old, he's certainly not a prospect. As you'll see, the Avalanche have signed a bunch of guys like this so far in the off-season. If I were to guess at the reason, I'd say it's likely because their most important AHL prospects are defenders and they likely want to make sure their young defenders are getting responsible support from an experienced group of pro forwards. If that's the plan, this signing makes good sense.
Signed G John Grahame to a two-way contract for one year at $500,000 per year - With Craig Anderson and Peter Budaj firmly entrenched on the NHL team, and Jason Bacashihua likely to start in the AHL, Grahame's signing is surprising, even if the idea is for he and Bacashihua to work as a tandem. I would have thought that the club would go with someone younger than the thirty-five year-old Grahame since two older goalies doesn't make a whole lot of sense from a development perspective. I also would have thought that the club would go with someone a bit better (Grahame's career save percentage in both the AHL and NHL is .898). Strange decision here.
Signed F Ben Walter to a two-way contract for one year at $500,000 per year - Ben Walter is a solid AHL player who's had a cup of coffee in the NHL each of the last five seasons and I expect he'll be getting the same treatment again this season. He had twenty goals and fifty points in each of the last four AHL seasons, so he's a scorer at that level, even if he hasn't been able to translate that success to the NHL. A good depth pick-up that should help in Lake Erie.
Signed F Brandon Yip to a one-way contract for two years at $725,000 per year - A special congratulations to Yip and his agent for getting a two-year deal. In that I don't think Brandon Yip is a very good NHL player, this strikes me as a great deal for him. I've talked a lot about percentages evening out for the Avalanche as a team and Yip is basically the poster boy for that on the player level. He had one the highest PDO number on the team at 104.8 (94.2 Sv% and 10.6% Sh%) which isn't the kind of thing that players can often repeat. On the personal level, he scored on 16.9% of his shots last season, compared to 14.3% for his four-year college career which means that number is probably also going to come down in the future. Yip was destroyed in terms of Corsi even if we just compare him to his teammates. I thought that a good barometer for whether or not the Avalanche were going to be good next season was whether or not Yip was on the team. It looks like he will be. G
Signed F David Van Der Gulik to a two-way contract for one year at $500,000 per year - The last of the AHL veteran brigade, Van Der Gulik is a very good AHL player who brings more than just offense to the table. Although he's only scored 161 points in 297 career AHL games, he's been either first or second among forwards on his team in plus/minus in each of his four AHL seasons. His biggest obstacle in finding a home in the NHL is likely his size since most teams are unwilling to carry a 5'10'' forward with little offense on their bottom two lines, no matter how hard the player is on the puck. At any rate, Van Der Gulik is likely better than a few of the guys who played for the Avalanche a year ago. He'll certainly help Lake Erie if that's where he ends up but should have a shot to stick with the big club if he performs well. A good deal for all involved.
The Big Picture
The cap has been announced at $59.4M, but I like to use $59M is a guidline because most teams will start the year with at least a small amount of wiggle room. For the Avalanche, the budget is probably a lot smaller, as in, closer to the floor of $43.4M. Here's the chart I've used before, but this time I've included the numbers for a cap spending team ($59M) and for a floor spending team ($43.4M):
Top 3 Forwards - 27.5% or $16,225,000 (C) / $11,935,000 (F)
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0% or $11,800,000 / $8,680,000 (F)
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5% or $16,225,000 / $11,935,000 (F)
Goaltending - 10.0% or $5,900,000 / $4,340,000 (F)
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0% or $8,850,000 / $6,510,000 (F)
And here it is again with the players the Avalanche have signed with the percentages reflecting the Avalanche spending to a $43.4M budget:
Top 3 Forwards - Stastny, Duchene, ??? - 22.6% or $9,800,000
Middle 6 Forwards - Hejduk, O'Reilly, Galiardi, Yip, Jones, ??? - 14.6% or $6,337,500
Top 4 Defenders - Hannan, Liles, Quincey, Foote - 30.1% or $13,075,000
Goaltending - Anderson, Budaj - 7.1% or $3,062,500
Bottom 8 Players - (Preissing), Cumiskey, Wilson, McLeod, Winnik, Porter, Koci, ???, ??? - 12.2% or $5,286,667
If the plan is to spend to the cap floor, as I suspect it is, the Avalanche are right on track, although I suspect the actual player budget is around $45M. The percentages above are cap hits, but all of those players combined are set to earn $35,144,167 in actual cash before bonuses. If Matt Duchene, Adam Foote and T.J. Galliardi hit all of their bonuses that salary figure rises an extra $2,787,500 to $37,931,667. Since they (well Duchene, anyway) won't hit all of those bonuses, that leaves another $8M or so to sign Chris Stewart, Peter Mueller plus another forward and a defenseman. Given the weakness of the roster they should probably be something more than a fourth line forward and a bottom pairing defender, but I suspect they'll be exactly that. Estimates in the range of $3.5M for Stewart, $2.5M for Mueller and $1M for each of the other slots seem about right. And that's it, they're done and headed into next season with a team that will likely get its head blown off.
In my opinion, this is a very bad way to use the cheap years of their good players. It may work out that the Avalanche build a good team in the end, but it seems to me this next year of sucking would have been avoidable had the Avalanche been willing to spend. That Greg Sherman is building a floor team and still saying that "the Avalanche organization is about winning, so certainly our expectations are that," is ridiculous. This team isn't very good. They likely won't win, and since Sherman isn't a stupid, I'm sure he knows that. Framing the issue as "building from within" to avoid losing your players later is also pretty goofy. Are there really no free agents willing to sign one or two year deals? Obviously, the answer is "no." There's still plenty of time in free agency, and maybe the Avalanche will prove me wrong and sign a couple of useful free agents that take them closer to the cap. But I doubt it. After all, it's plain to see that they're
playing on a budget "building from within."