It is now officially March first and time for the Colorado Avalanche to get down to business. It is finally Entry Level Contract season which means this is the first day contracts that begin in the 2019-2020 season are eligible for filing and this is the favorite time of year for the Avalanche organization to sign prospects and potential roster fillers for next season. So let’s take a look at the candidates who might have a contract announced sooner than later.
There aren’t many in this cohort for the Avalanche these days but the two who are reside very much in the same boat. Forwards Brandon Saigeon and Nick Henry both look to be the first signings in contract season for the Avalanche. They have done everything asked of them and found success this season holding for most of the year in the top ten in scoring for each of their respective leagues.
Where the difference lies is Saigeon is playing in his overage (fifth year of junior and 20-year old season) and therefore cannot go back to the OHL next year. The Avalanche have his rights for an additional year so options of an AHL contract or even going to Europe for a year are technical possibilities but it’s most likely Saigeon is offered an ELC to begin next season with the organization.
Henry is in the opposite boat, he still has junior eligibility in 2019-2020 but his rights to the Avalanche expire on June first of this year so now is the time to sign him to an ELC. Henry could also be offered an AHL deal as well but he would be a free agent and could look for a better ELC offer elsewhere. It is also expected that Henry will sign an ELC for the 2019-20 season.
Also worth noting both Saigeon and Henry could join the AHL Colorado Eagles for the last couple of weeks this spring on an Amateur Try-Out if their junior seasons end early enough for this possibility. Typically this is no later than after the first round of the CHL playoffs and both teams, Oshawa Generals and Lethbridge Hurricanes respectively, look like they will participate in at least the first round but could experience an early exit as neither are contenders. Try-outs do not impact the current 50 NHL contract limit (Avs currently stand at 48) and neither does any of these potential signings for the 2019-20 season.
Update 3/1: The Avalanche wasted no time in signing Nick Henry
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) March 1, 2019
Things get more complicated as we move on to the group of players with more options. Cale Makar is the one everyone is waiting for to sign and join the Avalanche possibly for a late season or playoff run. If Makar makes the NCAA tournament, which is looking likely with 24-7-0 record then he might be tied up until April 13th if UMass participates in the national championship game. That timing could place him entirely out of Colorado this spring and it is possible he does not join the Avalanche and just signs an ELC at some point to begin the 2019-20 season. If he does not make it to the Frozen Four then Makar could be available after March 29th. It is highly anticipated Makar signs something very soon after his collegiate season ends as it would be unfortunate to have the signing and uncertainty drag on into the summer. Keep in mind if Makar plays one game with the Avalanche this spring then it will count toward the 50 contract limit and the first year of his ELC is burned off, which is a very typical leverage play from high-end NCAA prospects.
Shane Bowers is another possibility to leave school after his sophomore season. He could also sign and play with the Avalanche right after the Hockey East tournament concludes on March 23rd (or March 17th if they lose in the quarter finals) as Boston University is unlikely to win the conference tournament or get a slot in the NCAA tournament. He also would burn a year off his ELC to play in the NHL. Another possibility for Bowers is he could finish the year on try-out with the Eagles and keep the ELC intact or just sign the ELC and start his professional career in the fall. A lot of options exist for Bowers and could go any number of different directions as it is not a certainty he will turn pro at all either.
The other possibilities to leave college after their junior seasons and sign either in the spring or summer are junior forwards Cam Morrison and Denis Smirnov. If either sign it would more likely come in the summer months. It is also most likely that each of them return to college for their senior seasons.
The this most complex situation among potential Avalanche prospect signees. The KHL’s new year begins on May 1st and that is when those jumping from the Russian system to North America would occur and follow in Igor Shyvrev‘s footsteps across the pond. Nikolai Kovalenko and Danila Zhuravlyov would have to get out of their KHL contracts to do so and presents a hurdle. Goaltender Shamil Shmakov is also a possibility but not expected.
Others who look to sign from Europe would be goaltenders Adam Werner and Petr Kvaca. Werner’s team in Sweden, Färjestad looks to make a lengthy postseason run and probably does not leave him much opportunity to finish out the year in the AHL on try-out as he did last season. Gustav Olhaver‘s rights expire on June first and if there’s any interest in him, though unlikely, he would need a contract before then.
This time of year isn’t just for those who are already part of the organization on the Avalanche’s reserve list. They have found favor in filling holes with free agents from each of these three avenues in recent years. The Colorado Eagles should look to bring in some players via try-out as early as March once those players become available when their NCAA or CHL seasons end and they can sign a contract for next year as well. Josh Dickinson was an ELC signing in early April as a NCAA free agent.
This is a factor that will receive a great deal of consideration in determining what to do with players signing and playing professional games this season. Anyone who begins their professional career in the fall will be exempt from a 2021 Seattle expansion draft but those who get a contract year burned off or some professional games this season are in more uncertain territory because the CBA does not outline what constitutes a professional season for expansion draft purposes. The working assumption is under 10 games played is safe, any more than that may be subject to expansion. None of these players should play for the Avalanche any more than that anyway and hopefully clarity will be provided on these matters as top prospects begin to sign and play professionally this spring.