It is now 3 weeks out from the NHL trade deadline and in this episode we will take a closer look at what the Avalanche organization has on hand as far as capacity to replace any players that might leave. This greatly affects the front office’s ability to get value back as opposed to making like-for-like deals or god forbid, buying.
What To Watch
Last week I outlined a few areas to keep an eye on that are major components of the decision-making process for this year’s deadline strategy. Here’s what happened:
Standings: The Avs got a tie in Vancouver and a win in Edmonton, barely. They are a point behind the Wilds for the 8th spot with a game in hand and four points behind Dallas with 2 games in hand. Not much of a change, still bubble city.
Injuries: Nathan MacKinnon injured his upper body and will be out for some or all of the time between now and February 26th. That’s big. Tyson Barrie returned this week and had an assist both nights. Semyon Varlamov started at Winnipeg. Mark Barberio and Sven Andrighetto didn’t travel with the team and it’s unknown when they might return.
New/Increased Roles: Mack’s injury is a huge blow to the Avs obviously but it does create some major opportunities. Alexander Kerfoot took his spot on the top line and didn’t look way over his head. This had the trickle-down effects of putting Dominic Toninato as the 4th line center and getting AJ Greer back on the roster from San Antonio. Losing Barbs and gaining Barrie didn’t change much other than make defensive usage incredibly chaotic again.
Scouts in Attendance: There were lots of scouts at both the VAN & EDM games, which you would expect given both are cratered in the standings.
Ignoring who might be on the block for a moment, I want to examine the players that are possibilities to step into vacated roles. These guys fall into 3 categories, Underutilized Roster Players, Callups/Tweeners and Non-Roster/Amateur
Alexander Kerfoot is the best example here since he’s already been asked to step into the 1C role in Mack’s absence. He’s the 4th leading scorer on the team (12G/20A) despite being 10th among forwards in average TOI per game. The staff have balanced his scoring ability against his inexperience, especially in the d-zone, all season. Now that he’s closing in on 50 NHL games the experience factor is becoming less evident and after Mack returns he should be able to take over a 2C scoring line role. Joe Sakic must pinch himself every day for picking this fellow up for nothing last summer.
Tyson Jost is still very young and very raw. The points aren’t piling up but he’s a good shot generator and held back a bit by a poor (5.7%) shooting percentage. He’s also been tasked with more of a 2-way role this year rather than a sheltered offensive role. It isn’t as evident as earlier in the year but the staff still don’t seem to know exactly what he’s good at. I think the decision that looms is whether he’s a wing or a center long term.
Sven Andrighetto’s mystery LBI has caused him to miss the last month and before that was wandering around the bottom 6 in search of a line that could use his skills. He’s fantastic at shot generation, close to MacKinnon level if you can believe it, and zone entries with possession. The big knocks on him this year is the lowest on-ice save percentage on the team for reasons unknown and horrible personal shooting percentage. P/60 is right at Blake Comeau’s level, hint hint.
JT Compher should be mentioned but there’s not much higher he can move up. He’s only behind the top line and Carl Soderberg in TOI. His role is solid at this point
The defense is a lot easier to figure. Sam Girard could do with some more ice time, whether that happens this year or next isn’t critical. There’s no one else that can take more of a role and thrive so if a trade is in the plans then they either get weaker knowingly or get someone new in return.
Dominic Toninato seems to be the staff’s choice for 4C when the opportunity arises. He’s paid his dues in the AHL this season and could handle being a full-time player if needed.
AJ Greer has also paid his dues in the AHL and only needs to answer the question of if he’s ready to stick in the NHL permanently.
Vlad Kamenev broke his arm in half November 16th and has had a long recovery. At this point he’s practicing in a non-contact jersey with the Rampage and I expect he’ll spend most of the month in San Antonio before a callup is possible. He’s the most ready of the Avs prospects to step into an NHL role and it’s clear that Avs management acquired him with a roster spot in mind. While we don’t really know what he can do (4:06 is awful short) qualities like smart and responsible have been tagged on him. He might be getting healthy at exactly the right time for him and the org.
There’s not much at the D position to call up. Warsofsky’s one game was passable. Everyone knows what Duncan is at this point. Mironov is a bust. Bigras is unreliable. Meloche is improving nicely but not ready for prime time.
Without knowing when or how often Varly will be available in the next year and a half it’s tough to say a goalie trade would be smart but the Avs have Andrew Hammond back in Belleville for the next 32 games if needed and Spencer Martin in San Antonio.
This is more a “next year” category but some of these fellows could come in this season and fill roles vacated in San Antonio by the trickle down effect. Also, management needs to keep some long term flexibility for these fellows and others that follow. The Avs have eight top 100 picks over the next two drafts and they will need room to grow along with those above.
Cale Makar finishes up UMass’ regular season in a few weeks then has a round of the Hockey East tournament at least before calling it a year in the NCAA. If anyone has a shot at playing an NHL game out of the amateurs it’s him, although the Avs would be burning a year of his entry level contract to do so.
Conor Timmins is on the best team in the OHL and not expected to finish his season before the Avs do but upsets happen. The final amateur cut in training camp, he could find a home in San Antonio if the Hounds fall early enough.
Josh Anderson’s trade to Swift Current delays a possible ATO with the Rampage by a few weeks but it could still happen.
Ty Lewis has torn up the WHL this year and is already signed for next season. The Wheat Kings were unexpected sellers at their trade deadline so he could be in silver and black as quick as anyone.
Travis Barron’s Ottawa 67’s will be done early barring an upset.
Shane Bowers and BU are in position for a 1st round bye in the Hockey East Tournament and would play in the QFs March 9-11. If unsuccessful he would be eligible to sign with San Antonio or the Avs then. I don’t expect this at all but maybe the Avs do.
Denis Smirnov and Penn State have an outside shot at an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament so it’s hazy how soon he could be available. I do think the Avs will sign him this summer so an ATO in San Antonio is a possibility.
Cam Morrison and Notre Dame are #2 in the country and will definitely be in the NCAA Tournament. Like Bowers I don’t see him signing this summer but you never know.
That’s a lot of guys, especially for a Rampage roster that’s filled with entrenched dead weight and also a bunch of Blues prospects taking up a third of it. If I had to guess I’d say 2 or 3 at most will suit up and actually play there this season.
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What this boils down to is a lot of ifs, they’re the good kind of ifs though. This isn’t “how bad are we going to get killed if John Mitchell/Cody McLeod/Max Talbot is in the top 6?” anymore. It’s “how much more production can we get out of a youngster if we give them more minutes?” and “can we see some predictable play out of this youngster if we call him up and put him in the lineup consistently?”
The answers won’t all be positive but the Avs coaching staff has been savvy this year about pushing rookies then backing off when they get overwhelmed. This is a massive change from the past when they’ve been locked into overplaying guys, rookies & vets alike, due to a terrible lack of depth both in the minors and on the NHL roster itself. It’s still pretty thin but for year one after a catastrophe it’s looking very promising. All the fellows listed above have upside and could possibly handle more responsibility if needed.
When Joe Sakic and the Avs management staff look for easy solutions to holes in the roster created by potential trades I think they would be comfortable with moving on from a forward or two but defensively they really can’t at this point and stay competitive. What looked like promising D depth at the beginning of training camp has fizzled to being incredibly thin, and that’s with the addition of Sam Girard in November. As expectations grow, the pool of acceptable players shrinks.
Next week we’ll look at depth charts both now and next year and see what management should target at this point in the season.