The first of March means the official open of the Entry Level Contract season. While teams are free to sign their prospects at any time, this date is when contracts to begin for the following season (2018-19) can be executed immediately. There’s no contract slides or burning a contract year early needed with these signings, it is simple and straightforward. The Avalanche seem to love this time to get business done so while they have the fax machine warmed up they might crank a few signings out.
First and foremost the Avalanche are going to look at those they need to make a impending decision on. Specifically those with rights expiring on June 1st from the 2016 draft. Those most notably are left wing Travis Barron and defenseman Josh Anderson. Barron seems a likely candidate to sign a contract as he’s improved since draft day and could be a valuable depth piece in the AHL. The French media has also hinted that there’s a contract for Barron on the horizon.
Anderson is a tougher call as there’s simply fewer slots for defensemen in the system, especially developing prospects. He’s a classic defensive defenseman, as the Avalanche were aware when they drafted him, and he hasn’t strayed away from that identity. Anderson has matured his game over his last two years and could find success in such role in the AHL. The Avalanche may wait and see how his playoff season goes before signing, which is also more pressure for the guy, but ultimately look for Barron and probably Anderson signings sooner than later.
The two names highly anticipated to put pen to paper are the Avalanche’s two stand out 1998 born defensemen from the 2017 draft. It’s rumored that Conor Timmins‘ contract has been all but made official but not yet recorded due to several rule technicalities which would have made a signing before this date disadvantageous for Timmins. The basic gist is that if he had signed in the calendar year of 2017 his contract could have slid even while playing in the AHL in the 2018-19 season, giving the Avalanche a four year ELC out of Timmins. As it is now, any contract signed in the calendar year in which a player turns 20 cannot slide. (Keep this in mind for the next subject.) The bottom line is Timmins’ signing is imminent and should be announced soon.
The most compelling decision of the season will be if Cale Makar leaves school once his NCAA season with the UMass Minutemen is completed, likely by mid-March. If he plays even one game with the Avalanche this season it will burn a year of his contract and it’s unlikely the Avs would do this as it could also further complicate a possible expansion draft in 2020. However playing in the AHL on a try-out agreement with an ELC that begins in 2018-19 is a possibility and would not burn a year of the contract nor count as a year of service toward a potential expansion draft. Ultimately it is up to Makar and if he wants to pursue his professional career or wait in school another year. This one could go either way but the potential is there for Makar to play at least a dozen or more games in the AHL if he does in fact turn pro.
The other possibilities for ELCs will likely come up later into the spring and even summer. Forwards such as Denis Smirnov, Shane Bowers or Cam Morrison are options to leave school and begin their pro careers next season. They all are candidates to get AHL time if their seasons end early enough and they sign quickly. Penn State, BU and especially Notre Dame should go far into their conference playoffs or even make the NCAA tournament so this decision likely won’t come until late March. Bowers could take a Tyson Jost type path if he does sign and can get games in the NHL because he’s under 20 years of age and his contract would slide. It would not be a shock to see any of the three stay in school for another year however.
Then on the European side, any of the Avalanche prospects currently playing overseas are also possibilities. The KHL contract period ends on May 1st so any under expiring KHL contract would be free on that date such as Russian forward Igor Shvyryov. Keep an eye on the goalies from Europe as Petr Kvaca and Adam Werner are options as well.
Wild cards such as CHL overagers and NCAA free agents are also available during this time. CHLers can sign any time after March 1st and continue playing with their junior club. NCAA free agents will begin signing once their seasons end. This is no different than for Avalanche property prospects but just to keep in mind this is also prime timing to snag free agents especially while AHL time can be offered as an incentive to sign or even take on a professional try-out.
While not every matter of business will get completed right on March 1st, it is the start of a very busy period in preparing for next season. A few signings should happen right away and then more as the off season begins as the Avalanche build their pro rosters for next season.