The Colorado Avalanche offseason continues to be fraught with wild trade speculations surrounding a potential Matt Duchene trade, hand wringing over the team’s search for another defenseman and outright mockery by some national sports media. Fear not, intrepid Avalanche fans, as there are reasons for hope in the myriad offseason moves. Follow along with the list of changes and see if you can find the silver lining.
1. The Avalanche roster lost goaltender Calvin Pickard to the Vegas Golden Knights during the expansion draft. While last year’s numbers were not as impressive as hoped, his performance for Team Canada in the World Championships earned some respect. A consistent system with defensemen who didn’t score on their own net definitely helped. Rumor has it Vegas indicated they would select goaltender Semyon Varlamov if left unprotected. Losing Pickard was undesirable but losing Varlamov would have been a disaster. Rock, meet hard place.
2. Forward Mikhail Grigorenko did not receive a qualifying offer from the Avalanche and subsequently signed with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. This was more of a ‘meh’ move. Grigorenko allegedly lacked a quality work ethic and needed to play with more of an edge. After seeing the young guns play at the end of the season, Grigorenko appeared expendable. Grigorenko’s release, however, meant the resurrection of the “Avalanche lost the Ryan O’Reilly trade “ news stories, thereby re-defining ‘fake news’.
3. Hobey Baker winner and long time defensive prospect Will Butcher looks like he will be testing the free agent market come August 15th instead of signing with the Avalanche. He may never have made the Avalanche but he could have been a good asset on the AHL level.
1. Please, please someone issue a cease and desist order for the speculation on trading Matt Duchene for other teams’ scraps. The good news – general manager Joe Sakic hasn’t settled for the scraps offered. The bad news – no trade has yet been made. The truly ugly news – until a trade happens, or the Avalanche announce they intend to keep Duchene, every day will offer some crazy media story suggesting a) Duchene should be traded for some team’s fourth line guy; b) Sakic stinks at being a GM; c) the Avalanche should be called LOL-orado; d) all of the above. This is what leads to drinking.
2. Waiting with bated breath for news defenseman Nikita Zadorov signed his contract has been – ugly, a fist-clenching-please-hurry-up-and-sign-something-so-I-can –enjoy-the-rest-of-my-summer-ugly. Speculations regarding a return to Russia have added to the ‘ugly’. Losing Zadorov would legitimately call in to question the return on the O’Reilly trade (unlike the Grigorenko stories). Yet, tying him up to a big money contract Zadorov has yet to earn would signal gross mismanagement by Sakic. Ugly. Hurry up, find a happy medium, and get it signed already.
3. Are the San Antonio Rampage going to be the AHL affiliate for both the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues for the upcoming season? (Vegas acquired the Blues AHL affiliate, which sparked the concern.) If so, that’s a tire fire just waiting to happen. And what will happen with Rampage coach Eric Veilleux? Will the Eagles become the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate next year? Will the Rampage coaching staff move to the Eagles? These, and other stories will continue to evolve in “As the skates burn…”
1. The Avalanche finally announced they hired two new assistant coaches – Ray Bennett, formerly an assistant coach for the St. Louis Blues for the past 10 years, and Jussi Parkkila, a goaltending coach who worked with Varlamov in Russia. Both gentlemen have an extensive background in hockey and should bring a fresh perspective to the team. The changes also usher in hope for an effective power play. Or is that too much to ask?
2. Colorado signed Sven Andrighetto to a two-year deal, after having him play only 19 games for the team at the end of the season. Initially acquired in a trade for Andreas Martinsen, Andrighetto tallied 16 points, placing him 12th on the team for points earned during the season. He brought a much-needed spark to a lackluster team and should be a quality offensive fixture for the upcoming season.
3. Speaking of offense, the Avalanche signed RFA’s Matt Nieto and Rocco Grimaldi to provide both some depth and continuity for the organization. While Grimaldi spent most of his time with the San Antonio Rampage, he proved capable of handling NHL minutes on his call-up.
4. Colorado proved selective as free agency unfolded, picking up both wing Nail Yakupov and goaltender Jonathan Bernier and trading a 2019 fourth round pick for Nashville Predator Colin Wilson, who plays left wing. Bernier will provide needed depth in goal after the loss of Pickard, Wilson brings in experience at left wing for a Stanley Cup contender, and Yakupov was a low-risk, potentially high-reward one-year deal. They have come a long way from the three-year deal for the player at the end of their career.
5. The team continued to work on depth for the organization and signed Duncan Siemens (defenseman), Gabriel Bourque (wing), Felix Girard (center), Joe Cannata (goaltender), and David Warsofsky (defenseman). While Siemens may be vying for a starting spot on the Avalanche, the other signings offer quality depth for the Rampage and possible injury call-ups for the Avalanche. And, contrary to the sentiment that one can’t go home again, left wing Andrew Agozzino returned to the organization on a two-year contract.
6. Adidas released the new Colorado Avalanche uniform with an homage to the original jerseys, maintaining the classic ‘A’ with the snow slide wave featured prominently on the chest. The updated jersey includes the newer ‘C’ logo featured on both shoulders and removed the much hated ‘unipron’ white piping. The Avalanche definitely scored one of the best jerseys so stick taps all around.
7. The Avalanche acquired quality players in the entry level draft, showing they learned their lesson by selecting two defensemen with their first two picks, including Cale Makar at fourth overall and Conor Timmins at 32nd overall. For a full rundown, see A.J. Haefele’s article at BSN on grading the draft class. Colorado selected some forwards and took a couple of interesting leaps for non-traditional players in the later rounds. Drafts are hard to evaluate until a few years down the road, but selections certainly appear better than the disastrous 2012 class. Training camp should be fun.
8. Sakic had said the team would get younger and the organization seems to be taking those directives seriously.
With the addition of Andrei Mironov as well as re-signing Duncan Siemens, there should be plenty of competition on defense with the likes of Anton Lindholm, Sergeiv Boikov, Chris Bigras and Nicolas Meloche vying with them for a spot on the big club.
9. In the category of “addition through subtraction”, Rene Bourque, Fedor Tyutin, Patrick Wierrcioch, Eric Gelinas, Cody Goloubef and John Mitchell are no longer with the Avalanche. While some of these players may fit better on other teams with different systems, they did not mesh well with Bednar’s vision. Will Bednar be effective without them? Only Wiercioch (Vancouver Canucks) has signed with another team so far. The rest are unrestricted free agents. For those arguing the players should have been traded, the fact they are currently unsigned hints there’s not a huge demand for their skill sets.
10. As of now, there are only two players over 30 on the team – Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau, both 31. While there’s nothing wrong with older players, their lack of presence on the current Avalanche roster signifies a historic shift for an organization that ended up buying out aging veterans Francois Beauchemin and Brad Stuart, retained salary on Cody McLeod and essentially traded away Jarome Iginla to open a roster slot. And that’s all in the last year. Joe Sakic is making good on his promise to make the team younger. Let’s all hope that equates to better as well.
WHAT TO WATCH
1. Will there be a Matt Duchene trade before the start of training camp?
2. Will Nikita Zadorov sign a contract with the Avalanche, and if so, what will be the term and salary?
3. Will Will Butcher find a professional hockey home outside of Colorado?
4. The Colorado Avalanche will participate in the San Jose Sharks Prospects Showcase Sept. 9-12th, facing off against the Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks, and the Arizona Coyotes. As of now, there is no public information on whether the showcase will be broadcast.
As always, stay tuned to BSN for all the latest and greatest Avalanche developments.