CHICAGO – It was a relatively uneventful night for the Colorado Avalanche on the first day of the NHL Draft, as general manager Joe Sakic quelled the expected fireworks with another display of passivity.
Flying in the face of intense trade winds league-wide and armed with arguably the most desirable asset known to be on the market in Matt Duchene, Sakic continued to hold firm on an asking price deemed too much by his peers. When asked about the lack of action, Sakic seemed to casually shrug off the notion he should be in a hurry to trade one of the faces of his franchise.
“We’re open to ways to improve our club but there’s nothing to talk about really. Matt’s a great hockey player. Why wouldn’t you want him on our team? We need to add skill and speed to our lineup. When it comes to bringing in a younger guy, we’re deciding on the direction to go. Are we there yet? We’re building to get there. That’s not an overnight thing but we love the younger guys we do have,” Sakic told BSNDenver.
Despite hanging on to its beleaguered star forward, the Avalanche still had business to tend to in selecting potentially the next face of the franchise with the fourth overall pick. In a move forecasted earlier in the week by BSN, the Avs did in fact select Brooks Bandits (AJHL) defenseman Cale Makar, adding the kind of explosive young defender the team simply did not have in its pipeline. Makar’s new GM couldn’t rave enough about his latest prospect.
“He’s an unbelievable hockey player. He skates, has tremendous hockey IQ, very exciting. When you see him play, he’s one of those guys that can be a game-changer. Now with the way the game is being played, you need to have a quick back end. He can make a big difference,” Sakic said.
“He was really, really high on our list. He’s a game-changing type of player. He’s the guy. We may have lost the lottery but we’re very happy to get Cale on board. Obviously, not only was he the best player in that spot but we’re looking at the way he skates as well. He’s a perfect fit.”
The path forward for Makar seems to have been laid out by fellow Junior-A prospect and 2016 first-round selection Tyson Jost, who attended North Dakota last season after being the 10th overall selection in the draft. Following a dominant freshman season, Jost signed with the Avalanche and began his pro career. Sakic didn’t immediately place that kind of pressure on Makar, however.
“He’ll go (to UMass-Amherst) next year and that’s the plan and development camp next week. We’ll see how he develops. You’re not going to rush anybody but when he’s ready he’ll be here,” Sakic said.
As the night went on, there was still business to attend to for Sakic as his club begins tomorrow with the first selection of the day, 32nd overall. Having previously owned the first selection in the second round in 2015, Sakic traded down to 39th overall while netting two additional picks in the process. He did not rule out a repeat of 2015 tomorrow morning.
“We’ll see what our options are tonight. That’s the best thing about our pick. We’ve got all night. We’ll look at our board and you never know what happens at the end of the first round but we’ll see the list we have. Usually, you’re going to find someone you had rated in the first round. You want to go skill, speed, and compete. We’re going to take the best player on our list.”
The 32nd pick stands as the only pick the Avs for a while tomorrow as they are not currently slated to select again until 94th overall, the first pick of the fourth round. Sakic admitted in order to recoup the lost pick, the first of the third round traded away in a 2016 trade deadline deal for Eric Gelinas, they would have to use 32nd overall.
“We’ll see what happens. To get those picks, we’re going to have to move off 32. If there’s a player we really, really like, we’ll take the player. If there’s an opportunity to move down and acquire a couple more picks, we’ll look at that and see what best fits.”
Following the completion the draft Saturday, the NHL will switch gears into free agency, which opens next weekend. The lack of fireworks appears to be sign of things to come as the team heads into the next phase of the offseason.
“We don’t plan on attacking free agency. Our plan is to stay young and keep building that way. I’m not saying we’re not going to do anything, we’re not looking to do anything big,” Sakic said.
Colorado’s most pressing situation facing them is the restricted free agency with young thumper Nikita Zadorov, who has had noise he might leave for the KHL if the Avalanche do not satisfy his contract demands. The process is still early but Sakic intimated the ball was in the young defenseman’s court.
“We’re waiting on him to be honest with you. In fact, he’s got a contract offer,” Sakic said.
There’s plenty of intrigue left as the Avalanche continue building their prospect coffers tomorrow but for at least this night, the expected firework show never got off the ground.
Sakic also told BSNDenver that recent reports of the Avalanche reaching out to other people, such as Toronto’s Kyle Dubas and Windsor (OHL) GM Warren Rychel as possible replacements are a “non-story.” It is possible the Avs will try to add such people to the front office in other roles, but as of now, Sakic appears in no hurry to relinquish his current job.
Sakic also addressed the loss of goalie Calvin Pickard to Las Vegas in the expansion draft, saying the team wasn’t going to risk losing Semyon Varlamov for nothing, as he believed was very possible.