Joe Sakic made three trades this week… first of all let’s think about that for a minute. That’s a lot and there’s been criticism over the past few years for not being very active along with a perception that the front office is pretty cavalier when it comes to asset management. I won’t say this is a change in philosophy but it’s something new and a step forward.
None of the trades stand out as incredibly positive in the micro view but Sakic’s job is to take the macro view. Putting all three together begins to make some sense, and how these moves were made allows them to enter July 1st with more certainty than they usually do. Instead of analyzing whether they got the best value in each of the three (they didn’t), I’m going to put them all in the player personnel blender and see where we ended up.
2nd round Draft Choice in 2020
By far, the most significant piece leaving here is Carl Soderberg. He has been the Avs 2nd line center for the last 2 years and their most consistent producer behind the three-headed monster. He also eats a lot of tough defensive minutes and kills penalties, which I would say is something he did decently but not as well as public perception. He was asked to play a role that historically wasn’t his strong suit and adapted. Carl will turn 34 years old right as this season begins and it’s easy to say now that keeping him beyond his current contract was not going to happen. Replacing his offense is key but not as difficult as it sounds, over the last 2 seasons he’s put up slightly more than a half-point per game. His shot suppression will be missed but thanks mainly to usage and linemates his percentages weren’t actually that great. Coach Bednar will probably miss Carl at first but I saw him as a crutch that was overused and perhaps misused.
The rest of what the Avs gave up doesn’t amount to much. The 2nd rounder they included in the Burakovsky deal hurts a bit because they also don’t have a 3rd rounder next year due to the awful Derick Brassard trade. Dominic Toninato was an RFA qualified at $874k, two-way, and arbitration eligible. He had another year (or 20 games) of waiver exemption, which is nice, but wasn’t in the Avs NHL plans anymore and was more or less a block for guys like Shane Bowers, Igor Shvyrev and Josh Dickinson. Scott Kosmachuk will be an unrestricted free agent tomorrow so his inclusion remains a mystery.
Andre Burakovsky is the centerpiece going towards Colorado. Microanalysis has this as an overpay with two draft choices (plus Kosmachuk!), which I totally agree with. Add to that his qualifying offer by the Capitals is $3.25M, one-way, with arbitration rights. That’s a little high relative to his production so they see something there that hopefully will emerge with more TOI and responsibility. His usage was in the Tyson Jost range last year, meaning 4th line minutes, and he did not participate in special teams play. He’s a good skater, has a great shot and adds a little physical play but has never hit his potential in DC. This is definitely a bet, but one that doesn’t need much to pay off.
Kevin Cannauton seemed like an odd acquisition at first until news was released that Ian Cole could be out until December and EJ is iffy to start the season. He’s a bottom pair/7th D with a little size and 310 games of NHL experience. It’s pretty clear that the staff was not comfortable with Mark Barberio’s total unreliability and Ryan Graves lack of experience in a long term situation. I can’t really argue with the thinking but it creates the usual logjam of sub-replacement level D’s that have blocked the Avs young defensemen since the earth cooled. The good news is that Connauton is signed only through this season and is probably a better pickup than what they’d be looking at in UFA.
Jacob MacDonald is a younger version of David Warsofsky for the Eagles this year. I’ve had several people ask me why this matters and my response is that having a vet scoring D at the AHL level is a proper role and actually helps prospects to a point. MacDonald was an All-Star in Binghamton a couple years ago so this is a premium AHL vet that they locked in by trade rather than taking their chances in the UFA game. It’s not a big move by any means but it is a smart one.
Now we measure what the net gains/losses are and where this puts them going into Free Agent Frenzy on Monday afternoon. Soderberg was the Avs 2C by default but not by choice since the staff and Avs social media always went out of their way to tag him as a 3rd liner. There are no UFA options at 2C so this is a role they appear to have someone in mind for internally. Most people don’t like this option even though paradoxically most want to see young players get opportunities ahead of the same old vets. The Avs have plenty of young center talent and recent draftee Alex Newhook tailor-made for this role in the near future. In the very short term this might be a step back but not for the team as a whole. The second hole Carl’s departure creates is on the PK where he was often on the top forward pair but not all that effective in reality. This is an area I can see being filled in UFA with a middle-6 two-way winger.
Other than that, there’s a hole in next year’s draft that just got a lot bigger. Not that I expect the Avs to finish exactly where they did last year but for reference they would be picking at #16 then not again until #109. They can fix that if they want to and it would be nice if they did. 2nd round picks are iffy to become NHLers but given a choice between Drew Helleson and nothing I’ll take Drew Helleson. For now it’s not a big deal and they have close to a year to act. No offense to Scott Kosmachuk but losing his rights for a few days is absolutely meaningless. Toninato could be missed in various ways but he’s got a much better chance to play in Florida than he does with the Avs so I’ll be rooting for him.
Kevin Connauton fills a hole in the roster, sort of. He’s an answer in search of a question until we know exactly how long EJ and Cole are out and if Ryan Graves can fill a bottom pair role. The org wants some certainty rather than betting on their own prospects so this is an effect of not training young players to fill in when needed and further blocks that from becoming reality. I’m fairly optimistic about MacDonald filling the Warsofsky role from the last two years and getting a guy they targeted works better than throwing the dice in free agency.
Free Agency Looms
Since they traded one NHLer for two NHLers, that takes care of one potential signing. The swap of AHLers is a wash so that just shifts a decision. Over the years the Avs have averaged 25 forwards, 16 defenseman and 5 goalies on NHL contracts each season. This is where we are right now:
Assuming that all the RFAs are signed, the Avs need around 5 more. I think Brandon Saigeon will be one and if not they probably won’t use the spot. It seems odd that Andrew Agozzino hasn’t been re-signed, I would think that gets done or someone similar takes the AHL vet scorer slot. The vet defensive forward slot is still open too, which is scary. That’s not the juicy stuff though.
The juicy stuff is what Colorado does to themselves at the NHL level. I’m in a very small minority that would be fine with doing nothing and believe that all external UFAs are terrible. The best players now and in the future are in all likelihood already in the org in some capacity, adding fringe players on bad contracts is unappealing. Flame away, I can take it.
That said, they’re going to sign someone unfortunately. It may as well be a useful players. Rumors have gravitated to a few here on the day before. Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi is a popular name. Former Senators and Blue Jackets forward Ryan Dzingel keeps popping up. There is disturbing talk of aging plug Ryan Carpenter being brought in to clog the 4th line.
Donskoi fits actual needs somewhat well and won’t command a lot of term, which is nice. He reminds me of Blake Comeau without the breakaway tendencies. Lots of folks weren’t a fan of Comeau but I think having a player like that was missed this past season.
Dzingel is a good scorer or at least he was on a weird Senators team. His time in Columbus at the end of the season was concerning and enough to raise some red flags for me. This would be the most dangerous type of player to target because there will be overpayment in both term and dollars involved.
Signing a player like Carpenter would be dumb even if it was for free.
Right now there are 16 D’s under contract or RFA control so this should be all set. I won’t say it’s impossible they sign someone, there could be trades on the horizon or maybe they don’t end up with all the RFAs for instance. It would be a little bit of a surprise let’s say.
The NHL appears to be set with Grubauer and Francouz and Adam Werner will be in a backup/tandem role with the Eagles. The need is a more experienced AHL goalie and if they want to have an AHL 3rd goalie in Utah under NHL contract like Joe Cannata has been for the last couple years. My pick to click here is Hunter Miska from the Coyotes/Roadrunners. He checks a lot of Avs requirements and they’ve been familiar with him since his U17 years with the USNTDP. As far as a 5th goalie, who knows plus I’m not sure they really need one on NHL contract. If they do sign one then I couldn’t begin to guess who.
Overall, the Avs got some youth and some depth this week. The key factor is whether Burakovsky can become more than he’s been to this point. If so then they killed it. They did some minor league depth chart shuffling that should work well in Loveland. The downsides are Burakovsky perhaps flailing and the defensive depth chart becoming a mess where no one under 25 has a chance at improving. The most terrifying day of the year is tomorrow and we’ll see how Joe Sakic and staff answer the rest of our questions on next season.